Lord of the Bling

For more than 150 years, Cartier has been the jeweler of choice for royalty, celebrities, the rich and, most recently, gold teeth/gold record rappers. Now, the French-bred Jacques Cartier's bling is on display in the exhibit "Cartier design viewed by Ettore Sottsass," making its sole U.S. showing at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston.

The twist is that the 200 pieces on display -- all from Cartier's vault of more than 1,200 items -- were chosen specifically by 87-year-old Italian architect and industrial designer Ettore Sottsass. He has no prior experience in jewelry, but organizers consider that an asset.

"He was able to bring a fresh perspective to choosing and displaying the jewelry," says Cindi Strauss, MFAH's curator of modern and contemporary arts and design. "He applied his own sense of design to the exhibition, so these objects are viewed in a way they never have been before." Sottsass oversaw the grouping and the lighting of the jewelry, housing it in little "temples."

Make no mistake: The MFAH isn't showing baubles, it's showing art. "The craftsmanship is extraordinary," says Strauss, "whether the piece is art deco or classical in design."

The exhibit includes cigarette cases, diadems, brooches, necklaces, rings and bracelets of impeccable design (and astronomical value), with a heavy emphasis on the art deco period. At one time, people wore these precious things -- who were they? The exhibition clues us in with photos of Cartier's most famous clients, such as Queen Elisabeth of Belgium, the Duchess of Windsor, actress Gloria Swanson and the Maharaja of Patiala.

Among the most famous objects: the Elephant Mystery clock, the Tutti Frutti necklace and a Tiger lorgnette that belonged to the Duchess of Windsor. Maybe 50 Cent can afford the lorgnette -- after all, can you think of anything more playa than using jeweled opera glasses to check someone out across da club?

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Bob Ruggiero has been writing about music, books, visual arts and entertainment for the Houston Press since 1997, with an emphasis on classic rock. He used to have an incredible and luxurious mullet in college as well. He is the author of the band biography Slippin’ Out of Darkness: The Story of WAR.
Contact: Bob Ruggiero