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An Unmissable Journey For Family Business Owners & Scholars

The Cartiers is the revealing tale of a jewelry dynasty'four generations, from revolutionary France to the 1970s. At its heart are the three Cartier brothers whose motto was 'Never copy, only create' and who made their family firm internationally famous in the early days of the twentieth century, thanks to their unique and complementary talents: Louis, the visionary designer who created the first men's wristwatch to help an aviator friend tell the time without taking his hands off the controls of his flying machine; Pierre, the master dealmaker who bought the New York headquarters on Fifth Avenue for a double-stranded natural pearl necklace; and Jacques, the globe-trotting gemstone expert whose travels to India gave Cartier access to the world's best rubies, emeralds, and sapphires, inspiring the celebrated Tutti Frutti jewelry.

Francesca Cartier Brickell, whose great-grandfather was the youngest of the brothers, has traveled the world researching her family's history, tracking down those connected with her ancestors and discovering long-lost pieces of the puzzle along the way. Now she reveals never-before-told dramas, romances, intrigues, betrayals, and more.

The Cartiers also offers a behind-the-scenes look at the firm's most iconic jewelry'the notoriously cursed Hope Diamond, the Romanov emeralds, the classic panther pieces'and the long line of stars from the worlds of fashion, film, and royalty who wore them, from Indian maharajas and Russian grand duchesses to Wallis Simpson, Coco Chanel, and Elizabeth Taylor.

Published in the two-hundredth anniversary year of the birth of the dynasty's founder, Louis-François Cartier, this book is a magnificent, definitive, epic social history shown through the deeply personal lens of one legendary family.

Francesca Cartier Brickell's magnum opus, "The Cartiers," creates an enthralling narrative that captivated me from the very beginning. As I delved into the book, I felt part of the Cartier family, standing shoulder to shoulder with the family members and the illustrious figures that shaped their history. The author masterfully blends historical facts with personal accounts, transporting the readers to the grand salons and dazzling soirées of the Belle Époque, where the Cartiers' creations adorned the crème de la crème of society.

This book is an enchanting exploration of family, business, artistry, and the timeless allure of the Cartier legacy, the brilliance of a dynasty that, while no longer owned by the family, continues to thrive as a testament to their enduring legacy. This must-read book offers invaluable insights and profound lessons for family business owners and scholars, making it an essential addition to any family business library.

The book delves into the heart of family dynamics, the unique opportunities, and challenges that being a family business pose. The nuances of sibling camaraderie, complex relationships between cousins, shared vision and family governance, and the circumstances leading to selling the family members' stake in the business, have been poignantly narrated.

I can safely say that I have read thousands (at least a thousand plus some more) of books in my lifetime. Many of them are good. Few are extraordinary. And a handful are books that transported me to being a witness to the journey, the story. Buddenbrooks by Thomas Mann was one such book. The Cartiers is the other. While it is not right to compare both, they are both magnificent in their own right. One significant difference is that Buddenbrooks is fiction, while the Cartiers is reality! And the reality is stranger rather more interesting than fiction in this case.

In this fan-girl account and book review, I dwell upon my journey with the Cartiers in the following paragraphs. In the process, I highlight a few aspects where Cartiers provide living proof of the theories in family businesses.

Traveling Back In Time

One of the book's most compelling aspects is the portrayal of iconic personalities who adorned Cartier's jewels. From Princess Grace of Monaco to the incomparable Elizabeth Taylor, their stories intertwine with the history of the pieces they wore, elevating them to objects of profound significance, and transporting the readers to the world of passion, resilience, opulence, and elegance.

Brickell's meticulous research and intimate family anecdotes allowed me to travel back in time to participate in the Cartier journey. I was there when the fire broke out in the Cartier store leading monsieur Louis-François Cartier to be risk averse. I felt his pain when his only son Alfred traveled to the US, and he pined to be reunited with him. I witnessed Alfred convincing his eldest son, Louis, to marry a Worth as it would benefit Cartier's name and business. I celebrated with Alfred when Jean-Jacques Cartier, his first grandson, was born (albeit with a tinge of guilt. But I had traveled back in time to 1919, you see! I can't really blame myself for being a part of the patriarchal society back then).

I rooted for Jacques to return to the business. I cried out aloud. "Oh, come on, Jacques. Cartiers needs you. Come back soon." I felt at one with Elma and Nelly, like the third band of the Trinity ring.

I witnessed the Eiffel Tower being unveiled and felt the anxiety of Pierre and Nelly aboard a ship from New York to London when they heard of the Titanic sinking. I travelled to the durbars of the Gaekwads and the Nizam of Hyderabad with Jacques.

When Jacques passed away, I sobbed uncontrollably. I felt the pain of Nelly and Jean-Jacques. I paid my obeisance to the genius of Louis. I felt the loneliness of Pierre, who lost both his brothers within a year.

Adapting On The Go

The Cartiers' journey mirrors the ever-changing landscape of world society, as their creations adorned monarchs, celebrities, and the crème de la crème of society. Good jewelry touches every who's who, from the Czarinas to the Kings, the Nizams, the businessmen, Elizabeth Taylor, the Beatles, Elton John, and more recently, Deepika Padukone.

As demonstrated in their successful multi-national transatlantic operations, the Cartiers' ability to embrace change and adapt to evolving markets aligns with the "Dynamic Capabilities" theory, allowing them to thrive through turbulent times. As the Romanovs fell and the bodice gave way for practical clothes for women, as the war raged and even the wealthy preferred a more austere way of life, as the Maharajas in India paved the way for democracy and the rare pearls gave way to cultured pearls, the Cartiers kept adapting through their designs, prices, and products.

Expression Of Feelings And Archiving

Francesca Cartier Brickell found a trunk of letters in her grandfather's cellar. These letters formed an important source of information for her book. The letters provided her with the raw emotions expressed by the writer. When Louis-Francois wrote to his son Alfred, "I don't need to tell you that I long for your return. You and I are inseparable…," we can feel him pine for his son. I could imagine Pierre fuming when he wrote to his nephew, Claude, "…the consequences, serious for you and regrettable for us."

While the means of communication have increased, they have become instant, will future generations have such words of expression to recreate the journeys of the 21st century, which will be history in the future? Will we have saved WhatsApp messages and phone calls? Do the torchbearers of business families today express themselves so openly through emails? The reality is not lost on any of us.

We are in touch more but express less. We talk more but communicate less. We write more words, but they mean less. We have more storage, but we have no records of emotions.

The book is a testament to the importance of writing, expressing, and archiving. This art is dwindling and will cost legacy building dearly in centuries to come.

Familiness And Resources

At its core, "The Cartiers" is a profound exploration of the power of family unity and vision in shaping a lasting legacy. The Cartiers' unwavering belief in brotherhood and collaboration embodies the concept of "familiness," where the family's collective strengths drive their entrepreneurial endeavors to remarkable heights.

The book delves into the heart of the Cartier family, exposing their triumphs and tribulations, successes, and challenges. Brickell brings forth the complexity of family dynamics, painting a vivid picture of their relationships and the impact of their shared passion for jewelry. The interplay of personalities between the Cartier brothers – Louis, Pierre, and Jacques – was a driving force behind their success, where creative vision, sales acumen, and financial acuity converged harmoniously. It propelled them through challenging times, navigating global conflicts, economic downturns, or changing consumer preferences.

On one occasion, Pierre recognises their strength, "We brothers are very close, that is our strength" (pg 131). Jean-Jacques added, "Pierre was a brilliant businessman. He didn't have Louis' creative vision, but then again, Louis didn't have Pierre's ability for selling or his understanding of finance... But Pierre understood the markets and he understood people's motivations. Cartier needed the mix of different talents, you see, that was one of the reasons that it did so well" (pg 243).

It's not that the brothers did not have differences or fights. They did. "The trade knew how tight the Cartier brothers were. That was important. It was one of their strengths-when dealing with one, you were actually dealing with all three. They had a lot more bargaining power that way", said Jean- Jacques (pg 330). This crucial lesson in unity is a beacon for any business family seeking to thrive across generations.

The Cartiers also demonstrate the resources acquired through marriage in a family business. All three sons of Alfred Cartier, and Alfred himself, married into families that benefited the Cartier business. The strategic alliances forged through marriage enhanced their reputation and helped them build strong family social capital. The Cartiers' embrace of such unions underscores the importance of carefully curated partnerships and their role in building lasting success.

Family Governance And Togetherness

In 1906, "Not wanting any arguments between his sons, Alfred had a dispute resolution clause built into the firm's constitutional documents. If there was a disagreement between Louis and Pierre, the matter should be resolved by either Alfred or, interestingly, Louis' father-in-law, Jean-Philippe Worth." There was even a family council in place. Most business families don't have a stated dispute resolution mechanism or a constitution, even today! They must have one! The Cartiers' shareholding also changed and kept up with the growing multi-national transatlantic operations.

However, the presence of family governance mechanisms did not prevent the Cartiers from eventually selling off their stake in the firm. I think one reason the family sold out their stake was the dwindling bond within the fourth-generation members, their bond with the business, and the passion to keep it in the family.

The fourth generation of the Cartiers grew up apart due to the third generation primarily living in three different far-off cities. They did not have the same bond as the third generation, which had grown up together. Brickell laments, "But whereas three close brothers with complementary talents could survive the storms life threw at them, from a huge global conflict to a great depression, the cousins, lacking the same bond and shared upbringing, found the challenges of the postwar world overwhelming" (pg 539).

I also felt the pressure on Claude, Marion and Claudel, and Jean- Jacque to live up to their predecessors. Each one of them handled it differently. The tussle between Pierre and Claudel was unfortunate. But who was wrong, and who was right? I felt anger towards Claudel, but could I blame him for being different from the rest of the flock? I could feel the weight on his shoulders and the rebellion, perhaps because of it.

In the end, family bonding, pride in the family name, and shared values keep the family and the business together. Brickell wonders, "Perhaps, as a unified family, the Cartiers might have adapted to the changes sweeping through the luxury world, but apart and alone, they could not" (pg 536). Perhaps. It is difficult to say in hindsight. But I would like to believe it too.

From the time Louis shifted to the US, accounts of his lifestyle there did not leave me with a good feeling. After that, the sale of New York and Paris branches did not surprise me. The writing was on the wall, in a sense. His last will and testament read, "Division in families creates ruin and misery. I command my heirs to maintain harmony among themselves and with their cousins " (pg 381). Unfortunately, Louis' caution could not prevent the sale of the New York Maison by his son, the first nail in the coffin.


The book weaves through tumultuous events such as the World Wars, the sinking of the Titanic, and the great depression, where unforeseen circumstances and personal emotions intertwined with the fate of the business. Their united front and complementary talents fuelled their resilience through trying times.

I shared the family's despair as the war raged, with Jean Jacques on military service, Louis and Jacques not keeping well, important clients fleeing from London, Paris, and as America joined the war. I watched in horror as Milton Heath was bombed.

This period seemed so much like the Covid times. Family members worrying about each other, and businesses shut down completely. I would probably not have understood or related to what the Cartiers were going through if I had not lived through the Covid era.

The Cartiers survived these periods and came out stronger each time due to their vision, passion, innovative strategies, and togetherness.


From a humble beginning in Paris to the global prominence of the brand, the Cartiers built an empire, one gemstone at a time. The Cartiers' unwavering dedication to craftsmanship and their innate ability to cater to the desires of royalty and celebrities alike are portrayed with such vividness that it's almost palpable. Their creations become more than just jewelry; they transform into symbols of love, power, and human emotion.

Louis's "Never copy, only create" mantra ran through the entire organization, irrespective of the location and the brother handling the business. The Cartiers' devotion to their craft and innovative spirit is encapsulated in their iconic creations, such as the Trinity ring and the Tank watch, which symbolize enduring love and timeless elegance.

While change is the only constant, and the Cartiers kept adapting to the changing customer preferences, the Cartier style remained a constant.

Other Stakeholders

Brickell's attention to detail illuminates the family's commitment to their craft, evident in their unwavering focus on quality and customer relationships. I traveled alongside the Cartiers and witnessed their interactions with esteemed clients. These accounts underscore the importance of nurturing relationships with customers and the role of exceptional service in elevating a family business to new heights.

The book also delves into the profound impact of dedicated employees, showcasing how their passion and loyalty contributed to Cartier's reputation for unparalleled craftsmanship. The Cartiers' commitment to nurturing a talented and loyal workforce exemplifies the "Family Human Capital" concept, where family members' and employees' shared values and dedication contribute to the company's sustainable growth.

All three brothers relied heavily on their loyal employees, entrusting them with substantial responsibilities and giving them a free hand to run the business. The Cartier brothers empowered their team and nurtured a culture of excellence. Allowing them to excel in their roles and contribute to the company's growth was instrumental in building long-term success for the family firm. I deeply appreciated the role of employees like Toussaint, Jacqueau, Muffat, Glaezner, Hasey, Bellenger, Devaux, and many more in keeping the Cartier flag flying high in war and peace, in times of family unity and otherwise.

At one time during my journey with Pierre Cartier, I asked him incredulously if Jules Glaezner actually arranged for the stars of a hotly anticipated play to wear Cartier jewels on stage during their performance, then invited "several carefully selected clients, to attend the performance in a special box with him"? Glaenzer had actually selected the jewels for the actors with these clients' tastes in mind. After the show, he went backstage with his guests to meet the actors and collect the necklaces, bandeaux, and bracelets. He then announced that carrying such a huge amount of valuable jewelry would be too risky. Instead, he proposed that each of his female guests select an item to wear for the remainder of the evening and that he would collect it from each of them the following morning. He then took his guests out to a nightclub, where, as intended, their jewels were much admired. The next day, a Cartier delivery boy called at the guests' homes for the jewelry only to find that each woman had decided to buy what she had been wearing the previous evening (pg 253-254).

It was usual for multiple generations of the same family to work at Cartier. Many Cartier employees in all three branches worked for them for decades.

Indian Connection

Being an Indian, I cannot but devote a sub-section to the role the Indian Maharajas played in the Cartier's rise. Though, it's not without the realisation that it was the period when the struggle for independence from British rule was underway, and the grandeur of the Indian royalties seems misplaced. But then, really, who am I to judge?

The book's portrayal of the Indian Maharajas and their penchant for extravagant jewels adds a mesmerizing facet to the Cartiers' journey. I traversed the opulent durbars of the Gaekwads, the Nizam of Hyderabad, the Maharaja of Patiala, and the Maharaja of Nawanagar, alongside Jacques. Jacques's escapades to India seem like a dream. Imagine him bringing his Rolls Royce to India! I am thinking of his Rolls Royce on roads where there were no roads!

India was once called the "golden bird," and the intertwining of the Cartier's legacy with the wealth and grandeur of Indian royalties was, therefore, no surprise. Yet, the extent left me gaping in awe. When Muffat was summoned by the Maharaja of Patiala, Maharaja Bhupinder Singh, and he opened one gem after another from a trunk full of gems, Paul Muffat tried to hide his awe. I did not. I stood there with my mouth open!


I read the book with a childlike awe and wonder. I did not want the book to end. Francesca Cartier Brickell's extraordinary narrative has etched an indelible mark on my soul, allowing me to traverse time with the Cartiers, witnessing their triumphs and sharing their heartaches. When I stood alongside Brickell at the crypt, my eyes were wet. I felt the connection with the Cartier ancestors more deeply than she would have realised that any reader would.

For family business scholars, "The Cartiers" is a treasure trove of examples that compliments the theories. The book offers a rich tapestry of the Cartiers' experiences, exploring topics such as familiness, succession planning, intergenerational collaboration, the role of communication in maintaining family harmony, family constitution, and the intersection of family and business values. These lessons provide a unique opportunity for scholars to delve into the complexities of family enterprises and draw inspiration from a remarkable family business and the family that created and nurtured it.

For the family business owners, "The Cartiers" is a timeless journey that will speak directly to them, offering a profound understanding of the enduring power of unity, passion, and vision. They will find themselves nodding in recognition in many places as if looking into a mirror reflecting their experiences. It provides invaluable lessons, and a poignant reminder of the lasting impact a family's commitment can have on generations to come.

In conclusion, "The Cartiers" by Francesca Cartier Brickell is an exquisite literary gem that navigates the depths of family business dynamics with grace and insight. I have read numerous books on business families. But none is as exquisite, fascinating, and emotional as the journey of the renowned Cartier family through the ages!

About the Author - Dr. Nupur Pavan Bang is Academic Director at the Thomas Schmidheiny Centre for Family Enterprise, Indian School of Business, India. Views are personal.

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