the sleek beauty of Cartier’s panthers

Panthers are emblems of elegance and grace in the natural world and in the world of fine jewelry from the house of Cartier.

Courage, beauty, freedom, confidence, power and ingenuity are all symbolic attributes of the panther, feline of folklore and myth throughout the world. So it isn’t surprising that panthers have been associated with some of the most elegant jewelry of the last 100-plus years — the legendary creations of the panthère de Cartier line.

The origin of Cartier’s panthers isn’t an ancient legend but a modern one — Jeanne Toussaint, a remarkable 20th century woman who embodied and inspired Cartier’s panthers.

Toussaint was a designer, businesswoman and tastemaker par excellence in Paris’s most fashionable circles for 50 years. She was an intimate of luminaries like designer Coco Chanel and luxury businessman Louis Cartier, whose pet name for her was “petite panthère.”

Toussaint was a great influencer long before that term was invented. Beautiful, sleek and fearless, she wore a panther fur coat, moved with a panther’s grace and championed the original, daring and sensual in design. 

Panthers — the genus panthera includes leopards, snow leopards, jaguars, lions and tigers — were the mascots of high style in the early 20th century. Travelers to colorful, faraway locales such as Africa and Asia popularized the use of exotic animal skins. Panthers and their intriguing patterning appeared in interior design and clothing and as motifs in fine and applied art.

In 1913, Cartier wanted an advertising campaign to appeal to the wealthy, sophisticated women who were his target clients. He went to Georges Barbier, the leading fashion illustrator of the day. Barbier created the image that symbolized les pantherès de Cartier — an elegant Art Deco beauty with a chic black panther stretched at her feet. 

Cartier jewelry’s first panther-influenced design appeared in a diamond and onyx bracelet wristwatch in 1914. The small irregularly shaped gems were artfully set in platinum to recall the distinctive markings of the panther’s fur. The next Cartier panther appeared on a diamond-framed onyx vanity case that Cartier gave to Toussaint, by this time his lover as well as his muse.

Soon the panther prowled throughout the realm of Cartier, appearing on rings, bracelets and cigarette cases. Toussaint, who had started in 1913 as director of handbags and accessories, became an increasingly important member of the creative team and eventually the artistic director of Cartier’s fine jewelry, the company’s most expensive and luxurious creations. 

The panther evolved from a two-dimensional stylized motif to a dynamic, sensual creature of beauty, mystery and power. Cartier and Toussaint’s panthers reached new heights of fame in the 1940s and 1950s, in the form of fabulous pieces custom-designed for the world’s most glamorous socialites — the Duchess of Windsor, Barbara Hutton, Daisy Fellowes and the Princess Aga Khan.

The first fully modeled panther appeared in 1948, a gold and enamel great cat atop a huge emerald. It was a gift from the Duke of Windsor to his American duchess, the former  Wallis Warfield Simpson. The fabulous feline was such a success that it was succeeded the next year by another royal panther, this time of diamonds and sapphires and seated majestically on a cabochon sapphire.

Other Cartier panthers soon adorned other fashion-forward women. Bracelets, necklaces, rings, earrings, pendants and watches incorporating the elegant animal are an important part of Cartier’s luxury creations. The panther motif continues today, with rare and unexpected materials and faceted carvings joining the menagerie. New expressions of the timeless design include abstract interpretations that convey the supple grace of a panther’s movements. 

Fashions change but style is forever. Cartier’s stylish evocations of the panther over the last 100 years are continuously evolving. They are as endlessly fascinating as the beautiful animals to which they pay homage.

For more, contact Katie at or 212-787-1114.

More from Katie Banser-Whittle
A man for all seasons
He died with $13 in his bank account and was forgotten for...
Read More
Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *