The Renovated Cartier Mansion at 653 Fifth Avenue

The Renovated Cartier Mansion at 653 Fifth Avenue

Cartier’s status may be that of a traditional renowned jewelry brand but nothing about the international house has ever been traditional—from its exchange of a double strand natural pearl necklace for a Fifth Avenue mansion, to its position at the forefront of the Art Deco movement to the changing times of the ’70s and its starring roles in the lives of celebrities, both on and off screen.

The two and a half year renovation of the Cartier Mansion on New York’s Fifth Avenue brings with it many stories to tell about this bastion of European and American culture and this iconic New York  building (designated an official landmark in1970 by the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission).

In 2001, the corner of Fifth Avenue and52nd Street was officially named “Place de Cartier”.

Let’s start with the story of the pearl necklace, which you may already know, but which is responsible for  much of Cartier New York’s history. In 1917, Mae Plant, wife of railroad tycoon Morton Plant fell head over heels for a Cartier double strand natural white pearl necklace, valued at $1 million at the time. Wanting to keep his wife happy, Plant, traded Pierre Cartier his mansion on Fifth Avenue for the jewel.

The mansion, dating back to 1904, was originally designed by Robert W. Gibson in a Neo-Renaissance aesthetic. The first transformation from home into the boutique took place in 1917 and the recent renovation by Thierry Despont comes on the heels of a celebration of its 100th anniversary in 2017. Cartier has created a necklace of natural pearls to commemorate both the anniversary and the trade of jewel for real estate.

facade-cartier-new-york-1920. Photo: Cartier Archives, New York © Cartier

facade-cartier-new-york-1920. Photo: Cartier Archives, New York © Cartier

The original 8,600-square-foot boutique space resided on two floors, which is now four stories and 44,100 square feet. It evokes a residential feel as soon as you walk through the slightly shifted doorway at 653 Fifth Avenue. Thierry Despont is responsible for the renovation in which each floor is a homage to the jewels, the celebrities who shopped there and the grandeur of the original space.

Despont not only designed each of the floors but he also restored many of the mansion’s original furnishing. He worked with craftsmen to custom make almost all of the interiors including 35 unique furniture styles for the mansion. New chandeliers in the style of the originals were created. The oak wood paneling was one of the elements preserved from the initial decor.


pantheres © Cartier

Each floor features a distinctive style, from the lacquered panel in the foyer with three gold-leaf panthers. A grand staircase leads up to the second floor where you will find the Princess Grace of Monaco room. Softly elegant and befitting of Princess Grace, it houses Cartier’s engagement rings.





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Princess Grace’s engagement ring. Photo: V. Wulveryck © Cartier

Speaking of the room—Princess Grace’s 10.48- carat engagement ring which was designed in the workshops of the original mansion will be on display with a diverse selection of her jewels for one month after the opening, courtesy of the Royal Family. The ring made history even after Prince Rainier III proposed to her. It had a starring role alongside Grace Kelly in High Society, a musical remake of the earlier Philadelphia Story. There are scenes in the film in which the ring is mentioned by Bing Crosby who plays Dexter, the ex-husband of  Grace Kelly’s socialite Tracy Samantha Lord. At one point he says “Big Rock Sam” and then to her new fiancé, he asks, “Did you mine it yourself, George?” Grace Kelly also amusingly polishes the ring on her dress. Alfred Hitchcock also figures into the plot of the engagement ring. It was during the filming of To Catch A Thief that Kelly was introduced to Prince Rainier III and it has been reported that Hitchcock introduced Grace Kelly to the house of Cartier even before she met the prince.

Princess Grace Salon

Princess Grace Salon © Cartier

There is an Elizabeth Taylor Salon for high jewelry on the second floor as well. The entire third floor is dedicated to timepieces and the fourth to accessories. The fifth floor opens out onto a terrace that overlooks Fifth Avenue.


Elizabeth Taylor Salon © Cartier

Iconic pieces were created in the New York Boutique after the original transformation of the mansion in 1917. There were also world-renowned exhibitions and displays featured in the New York landmark.

Pierre Cartier often turned the shop into a cultural destination. One of the most revered presentations was the first American exhibition of the Art Deco lacquer artist Jean Dunand in 1923. As a tribute,the 52nd Street grand foyer will feature a panel crafted by the esteemed Parisian lacquer workshop Atelier Midavaine in 1918.

Perhaps the most popular of displays took place over the period of a week in 1969. Cartier had bid and won a 69.42-carat pear-shaped diamond at auction. They were bidding against Richard Burton who had given his representative a cut off price. However after the hammer went down, Burton realized he had not gone high enough and made Cartier an offer they couldn’t or chose not to refuse. Along with the higher price tag, Cartier asked, they struck a deal with Burton that the store be allowed to exhibit the diamond for one week. Six thousand people visited the mansion every day that it was on display to see one of the most expensive diamonds in the world at that time.


Burton-Taylor diamond necklace, circa 1969. Photo: Cartier Archives, New York © Cartier


People going to see Burton-Taylor diamond display, 1960. Photo: © Yale Joel / TimePix / PPCM / Getty

That same year, in the state-of-the-art workshops above the boutique, Aldo Cipullo created his first design for Cartier after coming to the States from his native Italy and  designing for David Webb and Tiffany & Co.  It was at the Cartier Mansion where the Love bracelet in 1969 was launched, capturing the hearts and surrounding the wrists of some of the most renowned celebrities and celebrity couples. Just a few years later, Cipullo followed up with what would later be named Juste un Clou, another iconic piece, the nail bracelet. These two New York creations are still among Cartier’s most popular designs worldwide.

Several jewels owned by famous clients including film star Gloria Swanson, banker J. P. Morgan and the Duchess of Windsor comprised an exhibition, which was the largest at the mansion, 100 Years of Passion and Free Spirit in America in 2009. It celebrated Cartier’s centennial in the United States. The pieces displayed are now part of the Cartier historical collection.

And Cartier will forever be a part of our history.