Cartier: An Iconic Luxury Brand at the Right Place at the Right Time

One of the key elements in the six P’s of the marketing mix is “Place“.

This is also referred to as “location” or “distribution channels” in marketing parlance.

“After hard work, the biggest determinant is being in the right place at the right time.”

Michael Bloomberg

A brand must employ a proper place, location, or distribution channel strategy that would enable it to effectively reach its target market in a manner that is consistent with its brand positioning and brand personality.

A brilliant brand knows when to be in the right place at the right time.

Image from The Cartiers website. Founder Louis-François Cartier with some of the early products that he retailed, not created, under the brand name Cartier Gillion.

One of the most iconic brands in the world that became a global luxury powerhouse, in part because of its ‘place strategy’, is Cartier.

The jewelry house was founded by then 27-year old Louis-François Cartier in 1847 in France. He turned 200 years old back in 2019.

Today, Cartier has 200 stores across 125 countries around the world, including three “Temples” (Historical Maisons) in Paris, London and New York, the three pivotal cities in the glittering history of this brand.

We will explore these three fabulous cities and how Cartier sought to conquer these places and their high society during its early decades as an emerging Parisian brand.

As it was in the nineteenth century, Paris, London and New York remain until today the places where any luxury and fashion brand has to make a mark in order to establish itself as a major global player in this industry.

PRN wrote that: In 2020, the Global Language Monitor, the worldwide leader in the documentation, analysis, and tracking of trends in the English language worldwide, announced the Top Global Fashion Capitals of the Decade (2010-2019) and of the Year 2019New York was named the Top Global Fashion Capital of the Decade, while Paris Takes the 2019 Crown – its Third in the last 10 years…London took third place on the decade’s ranking.

We take a look at this marketing element of “place” and how it relates to Cartier through the lens of sixth-generation Francesca Cartier Brickell, the granddaughter of the late Jean-Jacques Cartier (1919-2010), the latter being a fourth generation great grandson of the founder.

Fourth-generation Jean-Jacques Cartier, the last Cartier to manage the London branch of the jewelry empire until it was sold in 1970.

Jean-Jacques was the last direct descendant of the Cartier family to manage the London branch of the famous jewelry empire until it was sold in 1974.

Image from The Cartiers website: A treasure trove of sketches, letters, telegrams, document and photographs found in the chest in Jean-Jaques’ cellar.

After Francesca accidentally found a treasure-trove of old sketches, letters, telegrams, documents and photographs in Jean-Jacques’ cellar, she has embarked on a personal journey to independently research her family history. The discovery of the trunk full of these archives set her off on a ten-year journey around the world to learn more about her ancestors and the global brand that they built. She also began recording regular conversations she had with her beloved grandfather as they pored over the long-lost documents and photos together for several years. After ten years of meticulous research, Francesca’s best-selling book The Cartiers, The Untold Story of the Family Behind the Jewelry Empire was published in 2019.

Image from The Cartiers website. The Cartiers by Francesca Cartier Brickell was published in 2019.

“Can’t Afford a Shopping Spree at Cartier? This Book Is the Next Best Thing… a human story — one even the unadorned will read with pleasure.”

The New York Times

In The Jewelry Editor, Francesca was quoted back in 2018 as saying: “Now Cartier that is a globally-recognised luxury brand, perhaps it’s hard to even imagine that it was once a small family firm.

Sixth-generation Francesca Cartier Brickell, granddaughter of Jean-Jacques Cartier.

But back in the 1840s, it was barely even a business, just a little Parisian workshop struggling to survive in difficult conditions.

Start-up founders may complain that times are tough today but when Louis-François Cartier set up his jewellery firm in 1847, he had a (French) revolution to contend with in his first year of operation. It’s no easy undertaking to sell diamonds when people are so hungry they’re forced to eat rats.”

So how did the ‘place’ strategy of this brand contribute to it becoming a global powerhouse?

In order to answer this question, we need to understand the Cartier family behind this famous brand. In particular, we need to appreciate the role of the three third-generation Cartier brothers, namely Louis, Pierre and Jacques (eldest to youngest, respectively) in bringing this brand to the world stage during the early part of the 20th century.

Paris

“The City of Light”

“Paris is always a good idea.”

Audrey Hepburn, 1929-1993

We begin in Paris, ‘La Ville Lumière‘, or ‘The City of Light’ one of the most captivating, breathtaking, and if I may add, spiritually-engaging cities in the world, being the home of the iconic Notre Dame de Paris, a.k.a Notre Dame Cathedral.

World Exposition in Paris, 1900.

Cartier was founded in Paris in 1847 by Louis-François Cartier when he took over the workshop of his master, Maitre Picard. Louis-François came from a poor working-class family, being the son of a metal worker father, Pierre, and washerwoman mother, Elisabeth. This original place where Cartier was founded was “amid the bustle of the grain exchange and the smells of the oyster market where the city’s jewelry craftsmen and specialists were based. The established workshop was two upper floors of a large six-story building at 31 Rue Montorgueil, right by the church of Saint-Eustache,” according to Francesca.

“Pierre had managed to secure for him an apprenticeship in the jewelry trade,” wrote Francesca. “It would be hard work for little pay, but professional jewelers were part of the ‘six marchands de Paris,’ a prestigious group of skilled merchants and artisans who were considered middle-class. The prospects for the young Cartier would be far better than if he had followed his father into the metalworking industry” she said.

And that move by the elder Pierre for his son Louis-François would prove to be the turning point of the fortunes of the Cartier family. Following the work-ethic of his father, Louis-François pursued this newfound career with hard work, grit and fierce determination. He was initially an apprentice, but later on became the owner himself of the workshop when Maitre Picard sold it to the young Cartier for 20,000 francs in 1847, an amount that was put up through the help of his extended family and the agreement of Picard to have it partially paid on installment.

Six years later, by 1853, Louis-François made his first-ever transfer of location to Palais-Royal area of town, following the move of his old master Picard. “It was here that the most beautiful Parisian ladies went in their carriages to shop, eat lunch, and be seen. From his new second-floor showroom at 5 Rue Neueve-des-Petits-Champs, above a fashionable restaurant and just across from the exquisite gardens, the thirty-four-year-old Cartier founder started welcoming those clients who would help spread his family name within Paris,” wrote Francesca.

In luxury retail, location is everything. And the founder knew early on that he had to make this first move in order to fulfill his goal of becoming a serious name in jewelry in Paris.

Image from Wartski: For several decades the brand was known as Cartier Gillion

Another six years later, by 1859, Louis-François transferred again the brand’s premises to 9 Boulevard des Italiens, known to be a glittery neighborhood in Paris. The founder learned that the sixty-five-year old Monsieur Gillion, a well-known Parisian jeweler was considering retirement and Cartier made an offer to take over the business. This would be the second strategic move of Cartier with respect to the ‘place’ marketing element. In this Gillion building, a far larger place compared to Cartier’s Palais-Royal premises, he and his son Alfred (who had began to join the business by then) built up a loyal clientele that included not only newly affluent businessmen but also eminent figures from Napoleon III’s court (1808-1873, the last French monarch), such as the Countess of Nieuwerkerke (1811-1892) and, later, Princess Mathilde (1820-1904). In the ensuing decades, the firm would be known as Cartier Gillion.

“Most significantly it was extremely well located for passing retail trade. The Café Anglais, just two doors down at number 13, was considered the best restaurant in the capital and became such a landmark of the city,” wrote Francesca.

As early as then, the Cartiers knew where to position themselves for their well-heeled target segment.

Boulevard des Italiens in Paris over a century ago.

By 1874, Alfred Cartier (1841-1925), the founder’s only son, took over the company. One of the notable moves by Alfred was his overseeing the brand’s transfer to its present location at 13 Rue de la Paix, upon the suggestion of his eldest son Louis who had just joined him in the business towards the end of the 19th century. By such time, the brand name was brought back to the original Cartier, sans Gillion.

Alfred had three sons, namely, Louis (1875-1942), Pierre (1878-1965) and Jacques (1884-1942), the triumvirate who are largely credited for the global expansion of the brand beyond their Parisian roots. The motto of the brothers was ‘Never copy, only create’.

Image from The Cartiers website: From left to right: Pierre (middle brother), Louis (eldest), Alfred (their father) and Jacques (youngest brother and great grandfather of Francesca), circa 1920s.

Louis (2nd from the left in the photo above), the eldest and also recognized as the creative genius amongst the three (i.e. he was the one who created the world’s first wrist watch for men, the Santos, to replace the fashionable pocket watch for the man on the move; he also designed the timeless Cartier Tank watch; etc.) entered the business in 1898 and was appointed to be in charge of the Paris branch. The first place strategy that he did was to initiate the move of their flagship store, together with his father Alfred, to 13 Rue de la Paix, right at the middle of this famous street, which was then and remains to this day “the centre of fashion in Paris, the latter being a renowned fashion capital of the world.

Cartier in 13 Rue de la Paix, Paris circa 1899.

This ‘Temple’ or Historical Maison of Cartier in Paris still houses the original office of Louis Cartier and is still considered the geographical heart and soul of this Maison.

London

“The Big Smoke”

“When a man is tired of London, he is tired of life; for there is in London all that life offers.”

Samuel Johnson, 18th century English writer

The second critical ‘place’ strategy employed by the brand was to open the London branch, the brand’s very first international outpost.

London in the 19th century.

Alfred Cartier had always dreamed of having a permanent base in London ever since he first visited the city to sell courtesans’ jewels during the Siege in the late 1800’s. The Cartiers would travel back and forth for many years to put on exhibitions in Mayfair hotels and meet the high-society ladies in their Georgian townhouses while gaining knowledge about the taste and requirements of the English for jewels.

When Pierre was finally sent by Alfred to look for a place to rent for their initial store in London, he gave specific instructions that they must locate themselves within the high-end Mayfair district in order to attract the right clientele. When a space on Burlington Street came up in the Mayfair district, the brand collaborated with well-known French couture brand Worth of Paris, owned by Gaston Worth, the uncle-in-law of Louis, to secure the lease for the entire building on 4 New Burlington Street.

It was a respectable entry by an emerging Parisian brand in the London scene.

Joshua Hendren wrote in Tatler: “The French Maison’s relationship with the Royal Family began in 1902 after Pierre Cartier opened a branch in London at the time of the coronation of King Edward VII. One of the firm’s earliest royal patrons, after ordering 27 tiaras from Cartier for the event, King Edward VII rewarded the company with a Royal Warrant, making Cartier an official purveyor of jewels to the crown.”

Prince of Wales, the future King Edward VII

Even before becoming King Edward VII, the Prince of Wales was known as a style icon and travelled to Paris regularly “returning to London not only with the latest handmade suits, shirts, and high-end jewelry but also with new fashion rules for his country to follow. He invented the smoking jacket, popularized the tuxedo, and declared that the bottom button of a waistcoat should remain undone. Put simply, Edward VII personified extravagance and style. So when he named Cartier ‘King of Jewelers and Jeweler of Kings,’ it was praise indeed”, wrote Francesca.

That’s why when he asked the Cartiers to open a store in England in time for his coronation in 1902 after his mother Queen Victoria died the year before, saying no was not an option. By the time the brand moved into its initial showroom in the Mayfair district, they had already secured large amounts of orders due to the upcoming events of and around the coronation of King Edward VII.

Their jewelry and service were so impressive that by 1904, Cartier became the official purveyor to the court of King Edward VII and was issued the Royal Warrant.

By 1909, as the brand grew in prominence in England, they eventually moved from their initial showroom in New Burlington Street into a new location which became their flagship store in London on the fashionable New Bond Street in the West End, where the same store stands until this day.

Jacques, the youngest amongst the brothers, then took charge of the London branch in the 1920s. “By the time he moved to London,” wrote Francesa, “He found himself, for a jeweller, in the right place at the right time. Jewels of course were de rigueur, and nowhere more so than in the presence of royalty. Unlike their French neighbours (who no longer had a monarchy), British high society revolved around the Crown and the high point of a young lady’s life was her presentation at court in front of the King and Queen, the moment that formally launched her into society.”

Jacques was also the one who started a workshop above the New Bond Street store to cater to the English aristocracy who were known to love tiaras.

In addition, he was also the expert on gemstones amongst the three brothers. “This expertise and his integrity earned him a loyal clientele in England and abroad. He travelled often to the Persian Gulf (now Bahrain), Sri Lanka and India, where he bought the highest quality pearls and coloured gemstones to take back to Europe,” according to Francesca.

Cartier’s flagship store London on 175-177 New Bond Street at the beginning of the 20th century.
The recently refurbished flagship store today in London has a floor dedicated to Cartier’s most important clients.

From the onset of its presence in London, Cartier has continued to this present day its close relationship with The Royal Family, its most prominent clientele, carrying on with the declaration of King Edward VII back in 1902 as the ‘…Jeweler of Kings.

Princess Margaret, 1955; Princess Anne, 1970; Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge, 2011

New York

“The Big Apple”

The third major ‘place‘ strategy for Cartier was New York.

“Make your mark in New York and you are a made man.”

Mark Twain, 1835-1910
New York in 1900’s.

The brand then set its eyes on New York, The Big Apple itself. It was clear to the family, especially to Pierre, that they had to follow the money. And booming New York was the most logical bet. It was around the time of the Industrial Revolution in the United States and several wealthy families were gaining prominence in New York which was a natural market for Cartier.

Aside from establishing the London branch, Pierre Cartier was the one who would bring the brand outside of Europe. Among the three, he was the business guru and was the one who had the worldwide vision for Cartier decades before globalization was a buzzword.

Pierre aligned himself with the leading (and wealthiest) families of America, marrying the daughter of a rich industrialist from St Louis, Missouri. The company quickly out-grew its single story Fifth Avenue location, and soon needed to move into a much larger place.

He was the one who eventually opened the flagship store in New York on 5th Avenue which was acquired in a very unusual way.

“We can start French luxury in New York.”

Pierre Cartier, in a letter to his brothers during World War I

Pierre was in the market for a piece of property for their flagship branch in New York. It was in a dinner party where Pierre met Maisie Plant, the second wife of Morton F. Plant, a railroad and steamship magnate who was also the commodore of the very prestigious New York Yacht Club. Morton also owned a residential mansion along 5th Avenue in New York, the epicenter of Manhattan high-society.

In the INSIDER website, Francesca wrote that, “In 1916, Pierre Cartier put what he believed to be the most expensive necklace in the world in his New York showroom. With two strings of 55 and 73 perfect pearls, it was worth more than a million dollars (around $24 million in today’s money) and became an overnight sensation. Many admirers traveled to see it in the flesh, but the 31-year-old Maisie Plant was more captivated than most. 

“She was extolling the beauty of Cartier’s pearl necklace but claimed not to be able to afford it. Pierre knew that Morton Plant, in his sixties, was quite besotted by his much younger second wife and would make it his mission to ensure that whatever Maisie wanted she should have (much to the dismay of his grown-up children, who had their suspicions that their new stepmother was a gold-digger). Pierre also knew that Plant was considering selling his Renaissance-style mansion at the corner of Fifth Avenue and 52 Street because he felt the area was losing its residential feel. As both the five-story townhouse and the pearl necklace were valued in the region of a million dollars, Pierre wondered if Mr. Plant might be open to a deal: ‘Give me your townhouse, and I’ll let you have the necklace.’ Fortunately for Maisie, her husband accepted the proposal. A pearl necklace was exchanged for a set of keys.”

And Cartier moved into the mansion.” 

The new flagship store in New York opened its doors on 1917 and remains in the same prestigious 5th Avenue address up to the present.

I cannot think of a more consequential move involving a ‘place‘ strategy that has had such a far-reaching impact on the equity of a brand. This was a genius move by Pierre that has solidified the position of this brand in the city of New York until this day.

Francesca continued, “He (Pierre) married lovely Aunt Elma, an extremely wealthy but down-to-earth American from the Rumsey family. She opened doors to New York’s elite circles and before long the Astors, Vanderbilts and Rockefellers were friends as well as clients.”

Therefore, the strategy to establish in New York not only enhanced the brand’s increasing global status, but it also provided close proximity to the very elite market segment that the brand sought to attract. Of course, the family ties that were established through marriage into the Rumsey family provided that added advantage for the brand.

“I don’t wear a Tank to tell the time. In fact, I never wind it. I wear a Tank watch because it’s the watch to wear.”

Andy Warhol

“By working in tandem, they revolutionised the jewellery industry and were able to dominate Paris, New York & London, the world’s luxury capitals of that time. They had such a potent mix of individual talents: Louis for creative inspiration, Pierre for business acumen and Jacques for gemstone expertise. That was what catapulted the firm into another league. And that’s why, even today, the products they produced in the first few decades of the 20th century with such exquisite craftsmanship, achieve record prices time and time again at auction,” said Francesca.

Cartier teaches us that if a brand relentlessly employs the right ‘place‘ strategy, not only does it provide strategic access to its target market, but it also enhances its brand positioning and personality for the long-haul, thereby adding both brand equity and commercial value for the company.

In 2020, despite the global pandemic, Cartier registered US$6.2billion in revenues and the brand was valued at over US$15billion in the same year, a record-high for the brand and was 53% higher than its brand value just two years prior.

It is certainly a far cry from the 20,000 francs that founder Louis-François Cartier paid to Maitre Picard back in 1847.

As we have seen in Cartier, it truly pays to be in the right place at the right time.

You can leave your reason for answering ‘No’ here.

6 thoughts on “Cartier: An Iconic Luxury Brand at the Right Place at the Right Time

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