How Cartier Pioneered Platinum in Jewelry

A story about how tastes shifted from yellow gold to platinum at the turn of the century.

Looking through Erstwhile’s amazing collection, you might notice that Victorian era rings (1837-1901) are typically set in yellow gold, while jewels that date further into the Twentieth Century are often set in platinum.  This is no accident!  From the earliest days in India – where some of the original diamond mines were located – yellow gold was the metal of choice for traditional fine jewelry.

However, Western jewelers in the late 1800s and early 1900s started playing with silver, as the ideal complement to white diamonds.  Silver was considered the perfect setting for diamonds because it teased out a stone’s bluish undertones and diminished any traces of yellow.  A bit of trivia: A blue-white stone looks whiter to the naked eye than a yellow-white one.  In fact, that’s why, to this day, diamonds are often presented to customers against a backdrop of regal blue velvet.

But silver had shortcomings.  While it was easy to manipulate, making the jeweler’s job easier, it was also fragile and prone to bending out of shape.  And as anyone who owns silver jewelry knows, it tarnishes, which means that diamond pieces set in silver required vigilant upkeep.

Cartier Art Deco Eternity Band Circa 1925

Enter Cartier.  Established in Paris in 1847, the prestigious French house quickly earned a reputation as the jeweler of kings.  Around the turn of the century, Alfred Cartier and his three sons had begun experimenting with platinum, a durable white metal with an extremely high melting point.  This attribute makes it difficult to work with, and it took a jeweler like Cartier to master it.  Once they did, they had found a metal with all of the aesthetic benefits of silver, and with an enormous advantage: once platinum cools, it is nearly indestructible.  Its hardness matches another precious substance: the diamond.

Even as tastes have changed, platinum remains the most popular setting for engagement rings.

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