Emma de Kiefte sits down with Assistant Curator of Exhibitions, and Head Curator of Cartier: The Exhibition, Simeran Maxwell, ahead of its launch on the 30th of March at the National Gallery of Australia (NGA).

The French jewellery company, Cartier, was founded in 1847 by Louis-François Cartier. Throughout the next eight decades, Cartier transformed itself into the world’s most prestigious brand in jewellery and luxury accessories. It has been worn by royal families, aristocrats, stars of the stage and many other prominent individuals.

Cartier is very different to previous exhibitions held at the NGA, how did it come about?

We’re always wanting to do something different. We don’t want to drown people in middle-century France, after a while they’ll stop coming to Waterlilies by Claude Monet.

Especially as this coming season we’re doing two, back-to-back, paid, exhibitions, Hyper Real and Cartier. We wanted to do two things that wouldn’t split attention but both garner their individual audience.

Halo tiara 1936
platinum, diamonds
3 x 18 cm
lent by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II
Royal Collection Trust/All Rights Reserved

In that case, why now?

We actually took our inspiration from an exhibition in Denver; we just decided that [the NGA] was fully capable of pulling off something similar.

We’re used to convincing people and showing people how incredibly professional we are. We’re working with Cartier, and they regularly lend key pieces from their collection to international exhibitions.

However, they’ve never actually lent things to Australia before. We’re a long way away from the rest of the world, this is something that Australian Galleries always struggle with.

So, it’ll be a first for us, and Australia.

What are the challenges an exhibition like this presents?

A regular major exhibition might include around 150 pieces. For this show we’re dealing with over 300. They’re tiny and easy to move, but there’s still 300 of them.

While all together the pieces will not add up to the price of one of the paintings we sometimes display, there is more caution needed. This comes down to size, as jewellery is simply easier to pocket [and] it can be deconstructed and sold in different pieces. Whereas, for example, Waterlilies, would be much harder to move, let alone sell on.

Did you have any trouble approaching private collectors for this exhibition?

They’re hard to find. People don’t like to advertise what they have in their collections. Be it jewellery or other works of art. In the past people use to advertise it a lot more, but you’ll find people are a lot more conservative with what they own now.

Despite the difficulties I hear you have some very special families lending pieces?

Cartier is a French brand so we have pieces coming from France, the Cartier collection which lives in Geneva, the Monaco Royal family, America, and the British Royal family.

What makes the pieces from the British Royal family so special?

Because we’re still apart of the Commonwealth, we have access to the Queen’s personal collection. I don’t think [Cartier] have ever been able to access what’s in there. We’re really fortunate as these pieces have only ever really been seen on her and her family. 

Simeran Maxwell points out a Tutti Frutti, Cartier necklace, once worn by socialite, Daisy Fellowes.

What is the resounding message you are hoping to send through this exhibition?

We’re trying to show that these works are not just pieces of jewellery but that a huge amount of craftmanship and design goes in to their making and production. We want to reflect how jewellery isn’t static or stagnant but changes over time. Even as its passed on from one family member to the next.

Cartier was and still is the pinnacle of great jewellery and we hope to do it justice.


You can find more information on Cartier: The Exhibition or purchase tickets here.