Generally spiky, awkward of form and not immediately lovely, if it seems like a try-hard diversion, a flick through Cartier’s glorious design history proves otherwise. From the then-shocking panther motifs of the art deco period through to Aldo Cipullo’s precious hardware designs of the early 1970s, Cartier has never shied away from its designers’ creative peculiarities. Rather, it has created a hugely successful business out of them – both the Panthere and Cipullo’s 'Love' bracelet design, which comes with its own screwdriver, are recognised design greats today.
And now we have Cactus de Cartier. ‘We did consider other flowers but we liked the reality of the cactus because you can find beauty in reality – it can be realistic and imaginary at the same time, and as a house we are not afraid of reality,’ explains Pierre Rainero, Cartier director of image, style and heritage.
Another draw was the variety – so many species, so many deserts, so many narrative connotations. ‘This choice is not a one-shot inspiration for us,’ Rainero confirms. ‘We wanted a flower with a Cartier look and Cartier flowers are never banal; throughout our history there has always been a singular design element to them, such as abstraction or a drooping, faded bloom in an otherwise vivid bouquet.’
This first outing for Cartier’s Cactus toys with volume and materials – light, lattice-like gold, semi-precious stones and brilliant, unexpected colours. Perhaps the most successful pieces are those with the most refined proportions – the small, semi-hoop beaded drops of gold, emeralds, carnelians and diamonds, for instance, are such a modern take that they have the feel of an instant classic about them. ‘There is a 1970s spirit to the designs,’ Rainero admits, ‘but the designs of that era were also reflective of 1930s styles, as in the colour codes and that audacious, free spirit.’
The bracelets, too, which look slightly too big at first glance, have a retro feel that becomes instantly modern when clasped, cuff-like, to the wrist. Some seriously creative engineering – as in the articulated gold bracelet with lapis lazuli and diamond flowers, where each side opens out to enable it to fit on the wrist – and exceptional craftsmanship on the reverse side, give Cactus de Cartier all the sumptuous, tactile quality you’d expect of designs bearing the Cartier hallmark.
And, reflecting the sassy character that can so often make a Cartier design stand apart, there is humour, too. ‘We were very sensitive to the fact that the flower is sensual but at the same time it is "piquant", spiky, unapproachable,’ says Rainero, ‘that fiery, unexpected character is all part of the attraction for us.’