How Cartier Mastered the Art of Using Rock Crystal in Its High Jewellery Designs
The trend began a few years ago. Rock crystal, which was considered too common a stone to be used in jewellery design, started to feature alongside some seriously rare and expensive precious gems in high jewellery collections by the world’s most well-known luxury brands.
But what exactly is rock crystal? It is a type of quartz, a mineral that exists in a myriad of colours and forms—of which the most commonly known and popularly used in jewellery are rose quartz (pink), smoky quartz (grey), citrine (orange) and amethyst (purple). Rock crystal, however, is completely clear, colourless and flawless, giving it a unique ice-like allure.
Many of us may be used to seeing rock crystal on silver accessories that are relatively wallet-friendly, but don’t let that stop you from seeing the full potential of the transparent stone. When set in jewellery creations, along with diamonds, sapphires, rubies, emeralds, and opaque stones such as onyx, it brings to these pieces a modern, edgy appeal—an aesthetic rarely seen in high jewellery designs. Because of rock crystal’s transparency, many jewellers favour using it as a base for showing off rare, precious stones, embedding them within this clear stone. Elsewhere, it can even be the main feature of a jewellery design, accented by sparkling diamonds to give its vitreous, icy quality a suitably scintillating “frosting”.
Rock crystal, however, isn’t exactly a novel material used in jewellery‑making. While it is not frequently featured in contemporary high jewellery—even though it has been gaining popularity recently—it was already used in precious objects since more than a century ago. Cartier founder Louis Cartier was one of the visionary jewellers who recognised the creative possibilities it offered. In fact, he first used it on some of his famous mystery clocks from 1912 onwards, taking advantage of rock crystal’s transparency to create optical illusions in these mechanical and decorative marvels.
Back then, the mineral was shunned by other jewellers because they didn’t possess the skills to carve it. But Cartier knew how to make use of a polishing technique from the Renaissance period to give rock crystal a soft shine, and pair it with diamonds to create intriguing light effects.
By the 1930s, Cartier had gone much further in experimenting with rock crystal. Among the jewellery creations produced during this period were two statement bracelets featuring the stone in geometrical designs that were outlined and interspersed with diamonds. They were worn by American actress Gloria Swanson to the 24th Academy Awards in 1951.
In more recent years, Cartier has revisited rock crystal within its high jewellery collections—Resonances de Cartier in 2017 as well as the limited‑edition Les Galaxies de Cartier and Magnitude collections from last year. Using it in various stunning ways in necklaces, bracelets and rings, the French jeweller has brought the stone into modern times with contemporary forms—encasing diamonds in rock crystal orbs and setting huge emeralds into motifs made of the clear quartz.
These appeal to those with a taste for the bold and also demonstrate how visually interesting rock crystal can be, whether it plays a lead or supporting role—a quality that is also evident in the vintage bracelets worn by Swanson to the Oscars back then.