The Enduring Appeal of the Cartier Panther

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María Félix, 1967
María Félix, 1967Photography courtesy of Periὀdico Excélsior

We consider the history of Cartier's iconic feline, La Panthère

In 1914, Cartier created the first panther spot motif on a wristwatch, in abstract black and white. 100 years, many jewels and a perfume later, the panther is Cartier’s signature feline emblem: “A truly wild is a timeless icon that is both predatory and elegant.” Louis Cartier was originally inspired by Women With Panther by George Barbier, a watercolour he later used for advertising purposes, while one of the original Cartier designers, Peter Lemarchand, spent much of the late 1920s sketching at the zoo in Vincennes.

“The panther is a truly wild animal...a timeless icon that is both predatory and elegant" — Cartier

The leopard made its first sparkling entry into high society in 1948, on the lapel of the Duchess of Windsor – a golden cat with black enamel spots crouching on an emerald cabochon. It was an overnight success, with the likes of heiress Barbara Hutton, Nina Dyer, Jeanne Toussaint and Daisy Fellowes quickly following her lead – although Fellowes later controversially claimed that The Duchess of Windsor has stolen her style, not the other way around. Toussaint was Cartier's lover, and he later nicknamed her La Panthère, in reference to her fierce nature and the impressive fur collection that filled her Parisian apartment.

Cartier advertisements started to include panthers pressed up against shop windows and prowling the streets. The 60s lured a new clientelle of musicans, models and actresses, including Elizabeth Taylor, Juliette Gréco and María Félix, who commissioned a bangle with two panther heads. It was during an era where leopard print grew popular amongst the generation of youthquakers – epresented best in the famous clip from the British Pathé archive showing secretary Angela McWilliams walking her leopard down Carnaby Street, before the laws on fur and wild animals were tightened. To celebrate a century of glossy cats and glossier stones, we take a look through the Cartier archives.

The La Panthère extract fragrance is available now, exclusively at Harrods.

Text by Mhairi Graham