Rapaport Magazine
The final cut

Person of interest

If you could meet one historical figure, who would it be? Why? And what would you ask them? Three industry insiders share their answers.

By Leah Meirovich

Images from left: Francesca Cartier Brickell; Melanie Eddy; Benoît Repellin 

Francesca Cartier Brickell
Author, The Cartiers

It would be Louis-François Cartier, the entrepreneur behind the founding of Cartier, and my great-great-great-grandfather. Born into a busy working-class Parisian household in 1819 (his mother was a washer-woman), his start in life was about as far from diamonds as one can get. Sent out to learn a trade and earn a living at a young age, he became a jeweler’s apprentice and worked hard — long hours for little pay — but by the age of 27, he had bought out his master’s workshop, renaming it “Cartier.” I’ve long been fascinated by Louis-François: I know from passed-down family stories how fiercely curious and determined he was, but I’d like to ask him how he stayed driven in those precarious early years of running a start-up. How did he keep the business alive against the odds, through revolution, fire and war? What convinced him to take a huge risk and buy out a far better-known Parisian jeweler, Gillion? And what was it like selling a silver teapot to French Empress Eugenie? I’d also love to learn more about the origins of the family values he lived by and passed down to his son and his grandsons, and ultimately to me and my children.

Melanie Eddy
Founder, Melanie Eddy Jewellery

Architect and designer Zaha Hadid’s resolve, her uncompromising vision and her perseverance are so inspiring. I am fascinated by her mind and what she conceived of with her architecture. It was many years before any of her designs for buildings were realized, but she continued to use drawing, painting and abstraction as tools to develop her signature style and to build her reputation and garner acclaim. She had rejection after rejection, was told her designs were unbuildable, but she persevered. Her creativity continued through her work as an educator and designer of furniture, interiors and sets, but she didn’t give up on her architecture dreams. She didn’t compromise on her vision; although it took decades to realize her architectural ambitions, she stayed the course. There are so many questions one could ask her, but I think I would just like to understand how she safeguarded and protected that vision and her creativity despite the many obstacles she faced.

Benoît Repellin
Head of jewelry for Europe and the Middle East, Phillips

If I had a chance to meet one person from the past, it would have to be linked to some jewelry history, too. A character who has always fascinated me is the 19th-century courtesan known [as] “la Païva.” She lived between 1819 and 1884 and [went] from a modest origin to marrying one of the wealthiest men in Europe at the time. I remember visiting her sumptuous and extravagant hôtel particulier on Paris’s Avenue des Champs Elysées with my father and being astonished by the splendor of the décor. Being one of Paris’s grandes horizontales, she met Count Guido Henckel von Donnersmarck in 1852, whom she eventually married in 1871 after a 20-year affair.

Alongside the most ostentatious mansion in Paris, completed in 1866 during the Second Empire, the Prussian count presented his mistress with fabulous jewels. It is said that she kept her jewels in her bedside table and looked at them every night before going to bed. On the occasion of their wedding, Guido gave his bride a triple-strand diamond necklace formerly owned by Empress Eugenie. Two famous fancy-intense-yellow diamonds that she owned, [which had] the impressive weights of 82.48 and 102.54 carats, were sold at auction in 2007 [under the name] “The Donnersmarck Diamonds.”

Article from the Rapaport Magazine - April 2022. To subscribe click here.

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