There is no doubt that Cartier owns jewelry’s great cats. From Barbara Hutton’s matching, emerald-eyed tiger earrings and brooch set (which famously lasted longer than any of her husbands); to the Duchess of Windsor’s diamond and onyx panther bracelet; and more recently, Chloë Sevigny’s prized Panthère ring – the company’s feline motifs are among its greatest hits.
‘The Panther’ was actually the nickname of Cartier’s legendary designer Jeanne Toussaint, who triumphantly created the company’s first ever piece of panther jewelry in 1914. But these fantastical creatures, as if frozen in time with their raw but ethereal aesthetic, were popular symbols long before they curled around wrists and sat fiercely on fingers.
The figure of the black panther, for example, has continued to feature prominently in medieval legends – since ancient times it has been regarded as the dragon’s deadliest enemy, symbolizing the struggle between forces of light and darkness.
And much like the strength of the panther, the grace and power of the cougar has long been carried in mythology throughout the indigenous cultures of the Americas. The Inca city of Cusco, in southeastern Peru, is said to have been built in the shape of cougar for its nobility and aggressive guardianship. And among the Cherokee, the cougar is seen as a sacred symbol of patience and courage. But to the Apache and Walapai of Arizona, and the Algonquin and Ojibwe of Canada and Virginia, the cougar – which lived in the underworld – was wicked. Its wail was seen as harbinger of death.
In pre-Columbian Central and South America, the jaguar was also worshiped as a symbol of power and strength. Among the early Chavín cultures (situated in today’s Peru), its temple was designed after the sacred and roaring jaguar. The later Moche culture of northern Peru used the jaguar as a symbol of power in many of their ceramics – seen in mythology as the creature which gave them power over fire.
Whether it’s through piercing emerald eyes, diamond leopard spots or onyx-carved whiskers, there is something magical about ancient jewelry that purrs with a powerful and protective presence. While a gold Panthère ring beckons us to consider our dark side, an embellished cougar pendant perched on your collarbone is an easy reminder of the feline as a fierce and aggressive guardian, waiting to pounce.