‘The Cartiers’

 

Francesca Cartier Brickell, Random House, 656 pages, $35. “Family came first,” Francesca Cartier Brickell’s grandfather tells her of the family’s jewelry empire. The author of “The Cartiers: The Untold Story Behind the Jewelry Empire” didn’t grow up steeped in its history. She wasn’t even particularly interested until she came across a trunk of letters in her grandfather’s wine cellar. Ensuing conversations led to what is as much a tribute to a bygone era as a thorough account of modern luxury. While Cartier is now a fixture in every major city, its origins were modest. Through a combination of industry, shrewdness, and sheer luck, the author’s great-great-great grandfather managed to transform his small shop founded in 1847 into a fashionable destination. Brickell highlights the complementary skills different members of the close-knit Cartier clan brought to their ever-shifting business: innovative design, meticulous craftsmanship, an early appreciation for the power of public relations. Early on, Cartier also, critically, developed a reputation as an honest and reliable dealer when droves of aristocrats were hocking their jewels following the Franco-Prussian War. The author tells us that her grandfather was initially reluctant to discuss Cartier’s early history: He was ashamed that it was his generation — the business’ fourth — that had failed to keep the company in the family. But he gradually embraced the project, and his accounts are the beating heart of “The Cartiers,” elevating this from a company story to a human story — one even the unadorned will read with pleasure.

NEW YORK TIMES