Cartier unveils its high jewellery workshop, the largest in the world

Cartier unveils its high jewellery workshop, the largest in the world

Translated by

Cassidy STEPHENS

Published



Dec 20, 2023

With nearly 200 highly skilled craftsmen united under one roof in Paris, Cartier has the world’s largest fine jewellery workshop. Since September 2016, the flagship house of the Richemont luxury group has brought together its various production sites in a single location, a discreet building in Paris’ 9th arrondissement, located in the heart of the capital’s historic jewellery district, which FashionNetwork.com was able to visit. Report.

Cartier

To enter this building, you have to show your credentials. On the upper floors, you need a badge to go from one room to another, while access to each floor is granted to each visitor individually. The long windy corridors are fitted with red carpets. With glass walls, the workshops look like individual offices. These are deliberately small rooms, to perpetuate the spirit of the Parisian micro-workshops, each with a maximum of a dozen craftspeople, but often fewer, including two apprentices, as the trade is mainly passed on through training.

The site, which employs more than 500 people, also houses the workshops dedicated to fine jewellery, which produce small series (around ten pieces per model), and those dedicated to new jewellery, which require far fewer hours of work on each piece, as well as gemologists, logistics and engineering. The fine jewellery workshops occupy three floors, plus the workshop above the historic Cartier boutique on Rue de la Paix, with 25 jewellers.

The craftsmen receive a drawing from the creative team. From this single image, with the stones in hand, they design and develop the entire piece, imagining in advance the construction stages and sequences to organise and programme the creation of the jewel, usually over a long period of time. All of these unique pieces require between 1,000 and 2,000 hours of work, equivalent to two years’ labour, and can even take up to 5,000 hours. The fine jewellery craftsman produces barely fifty pieces of jewellery in his forty-year career. To complete a collection of 200 to 300 pieces, it takes at least two years and meticulous organisation down to the smallest detail, with each creation involving seventeen different trades.

Working alongside the jeweller are, among others, gem setters, responsible for setting the stones, polishers, who make the material shine, chisellers, lapidaries, who cut the stones, glypticians, who sculpt them – a trade that is disappearing like that of the pearl threader… “There is no training for this trade, for example. There are very, very few on the market,” notes Alexa Abitbol, director of the Haute Joaillerie workshops, emphasising the importance of training. “We are committed to passing on our knowledge. There is a pressing need for these specialised craftsmen, not only for Cartier but also for the profession. As a major player, we have a responsibility to help the schools in their development,” agrees Thibaut Lilas, director of human resources for manufacturing.

A workshop – © Fabrice Fouillet – Cartier

Leaning over a high wooden workbench, where tiny tools (pliers, chisels, scalpels, files, drills, points, milling cutters, sandpaper, etc.) are meticulously arranged, each jeweller, dressed in a white smock, is busy with a very specific task. The creation of an exceptional piece begins with an initial casting using a kind of modelling clay to get an idea of the volume. Then, after many discussions with the designers, the wax model is made, which is then sent to the foundry to make the plaster mould into which the metal is poured to create the jewellery, using the ancestral lost-wax casting technique.

Complex pieces

The base of the necklaces, which is practically invisible to the naked eye, is particularly complex to make. Especially as customers are now asking for necklaces that can be worn in different ways, with the possibility of adding or moving stones. Philippe, master craftsman jeweller, delicately picks up a Tutti Frutti necklace on the table with a handkerchief, with its cascade of diamonds, rubies, emeralds and sapphires engraved in the shape of leaves, and turns it over to show the reverse side with its intertwined elements and links.

“Everything has to be hidden, so that only the stones can be seen. Some pieces take a lot of time to make. When we cut the bridges and wires, for example, sometimes after a day we’ve only done six!” comments the man with 35 years in the trade. “The hardest part is coming up with the idea and the systems to make the jewellery. They’re never the same. You get stressed sometimes, but in the end, it just flows,” he says.

The responsibility of the artisan jeweller is all the greater in that Cartier makes it a point of honour to favour handmade products. “Less than 15% of the work carried out in our workshops is done digitally. We want to master all our skills in-house,” says Abitbol. For example, the stones are scanned and reproduced in 3D so as not to damage them. “Even if technology saves time, our craftsmen, all highly specialised, carry out most of the tasks by hand. This is a distinctive element of Cartier, which is very appealing, especially in the current climate. The fact that we practise a lot of these traditional skills helps us to train young people, but also to have real continuity in style,” she continues.

A Tutti Frutti necklace in the process of being made – Cartier

Against this backdrop, the company is stepping up initiatives to strengthen training in these highly skilled trades, especially as apprenticeships are long – it takes around fifteen years to become a good jeweller – and the jewellery market is growing fast. Cartier created its own jewellery institute in 2002, housed in a private mansion adjacent to the building housing its workshops. Two years ago in Paris, the brand also co-constructed a one-year digital bachelor’s degree course with the Haute École de Joaillerie, with around twenty apprentices, while last October it launched the first polishing course (two-year apprenticeship) with the École Boulle. To raise awareness of the jewellery professions among young people, it is also taking part in the De(eux)mains du luxe event organised by the Comité Colbert.

“Every year, we take on more than 100 young people for workshop training in the jewellery and watchmaking professions, with a view to recruiting them. We want to double this number in Switzerland and France. For us, this is a long-term investment. We recruit almost 50% of our trainees. The best way to get into Cartier is through an apprenticeship,” concludes Thibaut Lilas, while confiding that Cartier “has tripled its jewellery workforce in ten years”.

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