Sneak Peek - Cartier, The Exhibition at Canberra’s NGA

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Mar 29, 2018

More than 300 spectacular Cartier items – many on loan from royal families and celebrities – are on display at Canberra’s National Gallery of Australia in a first for the country. Here’s our guide to four of the exhibition’s most impressive sparklers. 

Elizabeth Taylor’s diamond and ruby suite, 1957

Film producer Mike Todd was a smitten new husband when he gave his pregnant wife, actress Elizabeth Taylor, a suite of Cartier diamond and Burmese ruby jewels while they holidayed in Cap-Ferrat on the French Riviera. She was in the pool when he presented her with the stunning bib necklace that forms part of the exhibit. “It was like the sun, lit up and made of red fire,” Taylor recalled years later. “I shrieked with joy, put my arms around Mike’s neck and pulled him into the pool after me.” A matching bracelet and earrings followed.

Queen Elizabeth’s “Halo” tiara, 1936

In April 2011, Queen Elizabeth lent the Cartier “Halo” tiara, which has 888 brilliant- and baguette-cut diamonds, to Catherine Middleton for her wedding to Prince William. King George VI commissioned it for his wife, Elizabeth (later the Queen Mother), who passed it on to their eldest daughter, then Princess Elizabeth, when she turned 18. 

The Duchess of Windsor’s “Flamingo” brooch, 1940

Cartier is synonymous with the scandalous love story of the Duke and Duchess of Windsor. Twice-divorced Wallis Simpson had a mind-boggling collection of jewellery, much of it given to her by the former king, Edward VIII, but the “Flamingo” brooch he commissioned as a birthday gift was a favourite. A necklace and four of the duchess’s bracelets were “recycled” to create the flamingo. Its plumes are set with emeralds, rubies and sapphires – 42 of each – while the legs and body are made up of 102 diamonds. The Cartier Collection didn’t acquire the piece until 2010, when it went up for auction at Sotheby’s in London.

María Félix’s two crocodile brooches, 1975

Mexican actress María Félix was a Cartier diehard and as flamboyant as her jewellery was colourful. Legend has it she took an aquarium containing her baby crocodile to the Cartier flagship on rue de la Paix in Paris to request an exact likeness of her beloved pet in the form of two brooches, the first made up of 1060 emeralds and the second comprising 1023 brilliant-cut fancy intense yellow diamonds. The brooches join together to form a necklace and the feet are replaceable with clawless paws so as not to scratch the skin of the wearer.

Cartier: The Exhibition is showing until 22 July. Visit nga.gov.au/cartier.

SEE ALSO: The Must-see Attractions on Any Trip to Canberra