Coloratura: High Jewelry and Precious Objects by Cartier
By Amber Michelle – Chief Curator & Storyteller
© Coloratura: High Jewelry and Precious Objects by Cartier

The nuances of an operatic voice are described as coloratura, but author François Chaille takes that concept and applies it to jewelry. In his newest book, Coloratura: High Jewelry and Precious Objects by Cartier, published by Flammarion, 2019, Chaille explores the use of colored gemstones in the work of this storied design house.

Elevating jewelry to the status of art, this 240-page tome is bursting with 230 color illustrations celebrating the use of color in Cartier jewelry. Each chapter of the volume is dedicated to a color or color combination — one chapter even poses the question, “Is white a color?”

Interestingly, the beginning of each section in the book discusses the featured color, or colors, from an historic perspective and its relationship to social status, symbolism and art. The conversation then segues into the use of the gemstone colors in Cartier’s jewelry. From the flamboyant combination of the blue, green and red of Tutti Frutti to more subtle monochromatic pieces, Coloratura draws you in to the magic of color that so clearly defines the high jewelry and precious objects created by the designers at Cartier.

Amravati Necklace, photo Vincent Wulveryck © Cartier

Cartier’s founding brothers — Louis, Pierre and Jacques – were known for traveling the world in the early-twentieth century, bringing back intriguing gems and then creating jewelry with unexpected, pioneering designs. The pieces that were designed in the early-twentieth century are still coveted by collectors today. And the firm continues to draw upon those inspirations for its current collections. Part of what set Cartier apart from the pack was its innovative use of colored gemstones. From the groundbreaking introduction of blue and green gemstone combinations to the blend of green and red gemstones, inspired by the jewels of the Indian maharajas, Cartier challenged the conventions of jewelry design at the time by its unconventional use of color.

In addition to the fabulous jewels of Cartier, Coloratura celebrates the joy that color brings into our lives through art. Throughout the book, images of famous artworks steeped in color punctuate each section. Works by such noted artists as Claude Monet, Mark Rothko and Willem de Kooning, among others, highlight the artistry of the colors of the gems in each Cartier jewel.  Author Chaille, who is an art and decorative arts historian, draws beautiful parallels between the harmony of music, the subtle shadings of nature and historic uses of color in culture. These analogies highlight the way the House of Cartier showcases gemstones in unexpected ways that seemingly break the mold, but in reality are rich in tradition.

This is a luxe cocktail-table book that is comprised mostly of incredible images of Cartier jewelry accompanied by minimal, but very focused, copy. The simplicity of the storytelling combined with dramatic images is very powerful and makes for a compelling and easy read that is a visual treat for the eyes. Chaille is an expert on Cartier, having penned a few other books on the design house, and his knowledge shines through, not only about Cartier but about art as well. Ultimately, Coloratura is all about Cartier’s creative expression through color and it is a delight to read.