The snake is the last piece in the exhibition. Completely mobile, created in platinum and diamonds with emerald eyes and a body made of black, red and green enamel, the visitor finds her in an attack position, with her head raised. This position was a suggestion, or rather the fruit of a reproach, from María Félix, who was the owner of the jewel. In 1999 the snake, which she had already sold and Cartier had repurchased, returned to Mexico, to an exhibition of the French house at the Palace of Fine Arts in the capital.
The day before the opening, Pierre Rainero, Cartier’s heritage director, toured the show with La Doña: “I was very happy to see her jewelry again and that it belonged to Cartier. She was very interested in everything related to the house, because she had a lot of contact with them in the sixties, but she didn’t know so much about the twenties or thirties. She was joking and in a very good mood until we got to the snake, which was shown lying on a cushion, as if resting. She then she got mad at me, she told me that snakes were animals mean (wicked), which had to be shown in attack position. He was right. We mounted it on a pin and since then we have always shown the snakes in that position”, explains Rainero on the day of the inauguration in Mexico City of Cartier design, a living legacy, that can be seen in the city’s Jumex Museum from March 15 to May 14.
Ana Elena Mallet, curator of the exhibition, recounted at the inaugural round table her surprise at diving into Cartier’s extremely careful archives and finding a relationship between the house and Mexico and Latin America. “This exhibition is important because in Mexico we have a very interesting audience for culture and we have to offer new proposals, such as telling history through jewelry. Also through the characters who wore those jewels”, explained the curator in the presentation, where she named not only María Félix, but also the Mexican Gloria Guinness or the actresses based in the North American country Barbara Hutton or Merle Oberon, clients of home. For the first time, the mysterious watch that the philanthropist Luz Bringas gave to José Yves Limantour, who was Secretary of the Treasury of Mexican President Porfirio Díaz, is also shown.
Cartier’s relationship with Mexico does not end here. In fact, the exhibition begins with a pyramid-shaped brooch, a special order made in platinum and diamonds in 1935. “In the archive there are other pieces that are reminiscent of the pyramids. Not exactly like this one, but similar to other pyramids of the Mayan civilization. Those images were present in the minds of the designers. Let’s not forget that pre-Hispanic art arrived in Europe as early as the 16th century”, explains Rainero.
To wrap the pieces and place them in their context, the architect Frida Escobedo, who will be in charge of the new extension of the Metropolitan Museum of New York, turned to the photographs that Josef Albers took in 1939 of the Teotihuacán pyramid, as well as the drawings abstract paintings that the brothers Josef and Anni Albers made during their trips to Mexico. The result is a layered and dark scenery, “a bit brutalist, but there is also something very manual and organic that appeals to the Mexican land, to the mountains, the plateaus, the strata of the earth, which contrasts with the pieces,” he explained. Escobedo.
A new context and a new place to show Cartier jewels 24 years later in Mexico with 160 iconic pieces and some never shown before and that captures the synergy established between a jewelery maker and a local force: the leather belt and gold pesos from María Félix, a jewel of a different character.