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September 15, 2009

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Historic venue for Cartier treasures

BEIJING'S Forbidden City is a fitting venue for a collection of pieces made by the renowned French jeweller which now numbers more than 1,360 items, many of which are on show in the capital. Michelle Zhang reports. In 1973, Robert Hocq, then President of Cartier Paris, went to the Geneva auctions and bought "Portiques," the first "mystery clock" created by the French jeweler back in 1923. At that time, he might not have realized that the acquisition of this piece, 50 years after it was created, marked the start of a collection that would later travel through the world's finest museums.

Today, the Cartier Collection contains more than 1,360 historical pieces that have been purchased directly by the company from private owners or at public sales. A total of 346 pieces from the collection are currently on show at the Meridian Gate Exhibition Hall of the Palace Museum, which is better known as the Forbidden City, in Beijing.

The "Cartier Treasures ? King of Jewellers, Jewellers to Kings" exhibition will run through November 22.

On display are sumptuous jewels, precious watches and exceptional timepieces such as the mystery clocks, practical objects and accessories such as decorated boxes, writing instruments and cigarette cases, as well as an important collection of original drawings and plaster casts. Each piece symbolizes a significant treasure dating from the early beginnings of Cartier more than 150 years ago, to the accomplished creations of the 1960s.

Over the years, Cartier has successfully organized its collection exhibitions in famous museums worldwide such as the British Museum in London, the Metropolitan Museum of New York, the Kremlin Museum in Moscow and the Hermitage Foundation of Lausanne. The display in Beijing, according to Pierre Rainero, image, style and heritage director of Cartier, is so far the foremost and largest of Cartier's art pieces.

"The international praise for the Forbidden City is extraordinary, due to the quality of its art collection, the incredible originality of its architecture and, of course, its fabulous history," he says. "We feel very privileged to be able to organize the exhibition here."

The exhibition has been divided into four zones: "Contribution to the European Royal Courts and the High Society," "Art Deco ? Yellow Gold ? Flora and Fauna," "Chinese Elements" and "The Compatibility on Cultures of the World." The first two reflect European artistic style and the latter two are devoted to treasures that have been created based on inspiration from Chinese elements and other artistic forms from around the world.

Most of the exhibits were created before the 1950s, while a small range of major works of great artistic value and high technological advances created after the 1950s are also on display, such as the famous crocodile necklace customized for Mexican star Maria Felix, who took a live baby crocodile to the Cartier workshops for the jeweler to copy. The necklace, which can be worn separately as two clip-brooches, is made of 1,023 brilliant-cut yellow diamonds and 1,050 circular-cut emeralds.

Other highlights include the most famous Panther clip brooch specially made for the Duchess of Windsor, an Academician's sword created for Jean Cocteau, as well as the diamond tiara worn by Elisabeth, Queen of Belgium.

"The exhibition is an opportunity to underline the strong influence of Chinese elements on Cartier," Rainero says. "Never have so many different Cartier pieces bearing Chinese characters been put together in one exhibition."

In the "Chinese Elements" zone, more than 60 jewelry pieces and objects of Oriental aesthetics are on display. Some of these works were designer recreations, while others were directly converted from Chinese-made artworks. They are made of traditional Chinese materials such as jade, coral, mother of pearl, lacquer and various precious stones.

For example, there is a screen clock made of white jade, the dial of which is carved with a Chinese scene on the front and a landscape one the back. A Buddha ornament is made of carved rose quartz, lapis lazuli and sapphire, the head, the tongue and the hands of which are articulated. Also on display is a powder compact with lipstick holder featuring the phoenix pattern, and a pendant featuring the traditional tai chi pattern.

"These exhibits are of tremendous research value in studying changes, revolution and interactions of Eastern and Western artistic styles," says Ma Jige, deputy director of exhibition department of the Palace Museum.

"We hope that after experiencing the exhibition, audiences are able to sense the beauty of European art, appreciate the infiltration and influence of Chinese culture in European art and acknowledge Cartier's unique designs and exquisite accomplishments."

Date: through November 22, 8:30am-5pm

Venue: Meridian Gate Exhibition Hall, Palace Museum, 4 Jingshanqian Street, Beijing

Ticket: 20 yuan (10 yuan for students, Palace Museum ticket holders get free entrance to the exhibition)

The exhibition is equipped with freeautomatic e-guides in Chinese and English.


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