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Cartier Sparkles at the Legion of Honor

As cliché as it sounds, Marilyn Monroe really had it right when she sang “Diamonds Are A Girl’s Best Friend” in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes.  I never fancied myself the extravagant type … until I walked through "Cartier and America" at the Legion of Honor. Awestruck and enamored by hall upon hall of sparkling jewels, I found myself dreaming of getting my hands on some of these exquisite pieces, if only to try them on for a few very special seconds. Beyond aspirational, this show features pieces that only a few elite will ever have the privilege of knowing.

An exhibition of great historical significance, "Cartier and America" documents the history of the brand’s meticulous craftsmanship and relationship to its most important clients since the first US store opened in Manhattan in 1909. You’ll see example upon example of engineering and ingenuity at its finest—from brooches, tiaras and necklaces made of diamonds, emeralds, rubies and sapphires to such luxury accessories as cigarette cases and mystery clocks (whose platinum-and-diamond hands appear suspended in rock crystal with no visible clock mechanism) that represent to Cartier what Easter eggs are to Fabergé. Gain insight into the painstakingly detailed process of jewelry making in video footage from Cartier workrooms.

A display of high society and celebrity, this show features pieces from some of the most glamorous icons of our times, along with many women who had their roots in our very own city, tying Cartier not only to the US but also to San Francisco. Look for the Duchess of Windsor’s edgy calibré-cut black onyx and diamond panther bracelet and colorful flamingo clip brooch, socialite Barbara Hutton’s jade ring (she made her first acquaintance with the precious stone in Gump’s as a young girl), the fashion-forward pieces owned by the women of the Vanderbilt family, socialite Marjorie Merriweather Post and heiress to the Singer sewing machine fortune Daisy Fellowes. Film clips highlight Gracy Kelly’s magnificent 10-carat emerald-cut diamond engagement ring in High Society, Gloria Swanson’s rocky crystal and diamond bangles in Sunset Boulevard and an Elizabeth Taylor home video in which she receives ruby and diamond necklace and earrings from her husband on a trip in the South of France. Other standout pieces include (but are certainly not limited to) a substantial diamond-and-platinum necklace holding a 143-carat emerald and a 47-carat white diamond coined “The Star of South Africa,” which was acquired by Cartier in 1917.  

Whether you’re a jewelry connoisseur or neophyte, this is a show you don’t want to miss. And as you’re walking through the halls, just remember, a girl can always dream.

"Cartier and America" at the Legion of Honor, December 19, 2009 - April 18, 2010. Lincoln Park, 34th Ave. and Clement St., 415-750-3600.