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  • Writer's pictureValerieBound

What did Cartier do to protest the Nazi occupation?

Updated: Feb 23, 2022

This month, I’m continuing to focus on beautiful bird pins that tell a story. Like my last post about the bird pins made by the Japanese during their internment, these bird pins are also from the World War II era. They also have real sentimental value. But our location has changed. Instead of America, we find ourselves in occupied France. With Cartier.

Perhaps you think of watches when I say Cartier, but Cartier was all about jewelry. Founded in 1847, they were and are one of the premier jewelry houses of France.

Cartier was all about luxury. They were sought out by royal families across Europe to create custom pieces. Cartier and his sons courted high-profile, wealthy clients. Perhaps you’ve heard of the Vanderbilts, the Prince of Wales, Grace Kelly, Elizabeth Taylor, or Barbara Streisand? All were clients of Cartier.

The war comes….

War is never a good time for luxury. All that rationing…. You can imagine what a damper the Nazis put on the jewelry business. Despite this, the Paris Cartier store stayed open during the entire war. They continued creating new jewelry, which they displayed in their windows. Anyone walking by their store would be able to see their creations.

The German army came to occupy Paris in June of 1940. The Nazis, I’m sure, loved it. Great art, food, entertainment, beautiful women in a beautiful city…. The French, not so much. They hated the Germans, and found subtle ways to express their true feelings.

Luckily, during this time, Cartier had a strong, independent woman running their Paris storefront. Her name was Jeanne Toussaint. She was way cool, cool enough that I have a whole other blog post just about her!

The Caged Bird

In 1942, Jeanne designed something special, along with a colleague (Pierre Lemarchand). She created a brooch showing a bird imprisoned in a golden cage, symbolizing the feelings of frustrated Parisians. She intended to display her patriotism and protest the occupation. The bird brooches were proudly displayed in Cartier’s windows, for everyone to see.

<img class=" wp-image-1611 lazyload" src="" alt="Cartier's Caged Bird Pin" width="500" height="500" srcset=" 500w, 150w, 300w, 370w" sizes="(max-width: 500px) 100vw, 500px" /> Cartier’s Caged Bird Pin, 1942

Unfortunately, the Nazis couldn’t help but notice. And they weren’t too happy. Jeanne was questioned by the Gestapo at length. Reports say she spent three days in jail. Depending on what you read, she talked her way out of the situation by saying birds were a popular motif for Cartier (true enough). Or her friend “Coco” Chanel called in a favor and got her released. Perhaps it was a bit of both. We’ll never know.

The Free Bird

Paris was liberated in 1944. After four years of German occupation, Paris was ecstatic! So was Cartier. Jeanne recreated the brooch. But this time, there are some key differences:

  1. The little bird has the same colors as the French flag – red (coral), white (diamonds), and blue (lapis lazuli).

  2. The bird is no longer caged. He looks ready to fly away.

  3. The bird has an open beak, as if he is singing.

The redesigned brooch shows a new bird – clearly joyful, and clearly French. The Cartier storefront soon had these brooches in their window display for all to see. And buy. In fact, one of these brooches sold at auction for just over $24,000 in 2006. It had belonged to Princess Margaret of England.

<img lazyload class="img lazyload" src="" alt="“L’Oiseau Libéré” ~ 1944 Created by Toussaint and Pierre Lemarchand, the design of the singing bird in an open cage, a symbolic concept of France’s newly restored freedom from the German occupation on August 25th, 1944, and the end of the war. (Coral, diamonds, lapis-lazuli, platinum &amp; yellow gold)" width="501" height="501"> “L’Oiseau Libéré” by Jeanne Toussaint and Pierre Lemarchand (coral, diamonds, lapis lazuli, platinum & yellow gold)

A bird for modern times

In 2013, Cartier designers came up with a new version of this beautiful, symbolic piece. The modern pendant has the free bird motif and comes in two varieties. One is white diamonds and white gold. The other is a rose gold pendant with red rubellite, diamonds, and a peridot. Of course, I like the colorful version better, but that’s just me.

<img class=" wp-image-1608 lazyload" src="" alt="Advertisement for Catier's Free Bird pins" width="501" height="300" srcset=" 968w, 300w, 768w, 370w" sizes="(max-width: 501px) 100vw, 501px" /> Advertisement for Catier’s Free Bird necklaces

In 2014, more designs were released, this time available with different combinations of metal and gems. The one pictured below will only set you back $9,600!!!

<img class=" wp-image-1645 lazyload" src="" alt="2014 design by Cartier, with lapis lazuli wings" width="512" height="384" srcset=" 692w, 300w, 370w" sizes="(max-width: 512px) 100vw, 512px" /> 2014 design by Cartier, with amethyst body, lapis lazuli wings, and a garnet eye

I won’t be paying thousands for that necklace, but I will applaud Cartier’s creativity under Nazi occupation. What about you? What did you think of this story?


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