Cartier Re-Opens Landmark Fifth Avenue Mansion Designed by Thierry Despont

The French Neoclassical Salon.
The French Neoclassical Salon.

After nearly three years of complete renovation, the Cartier Mansion on Fifth Avenue re-opened last week with much fanfare. The completely revamped mansion is the stuff legends are made of – much like all of Cartier. In fact, the mansion was initially purchased nearly 100 years ago with a pearl necklace.

Mae Morton
Mae Morton

It was in 1912 that Pierre Cartier, the grandson of founder of the brand Louis Cartier, began a search for a magnificent New York location that would rival the grand Paris Rue de la Paix flagship store. New York wasn’t easy, but eventually, right in the heart of Manhattan, he found a neo-Renaissance style mansion owned by businessman Morton F. Plant. Plant’s wife Mae had seen a natural pearl necklace (with 128 graduated natural pearls) at the Cartier salon that was located on the 4th floor of a building at 712 Fifth Avenue, where the brand was initially set up. Pierre Cartier proposed to Plant that they barter the $1 million necklace for the $925,000 property. The trade is said to be one of the most astute business moves in Cartier history.

The Mezzanine level.
The Mezzanine level.

That piece of real estate at 653 Fifth Ave (at 52nd Street) has been the brand’s flagship American store since 1917. Its interior was a richly appointed mansion with large rooms and small rooms, and Cartier hired William Welles Bosworth in 1917 to transform the Morton Plant Mansion into the House of Cartier. Over the century, the exterior and main entrance have changed a few times, and in 1970, the exterior of the building was granted landmark status by the New York Preservation Commission. Since then, little has changed – until now. Just about three years ago, Cartier made the decision to bring the interior of the mansion into the 21st century. The brand hired designer Thierry Despont as the lead architect for the two-and-a-half-year renovation.

“I wanted to give people the feeling of being in the grand house that it once was and to restore it to its full glory,” says Despont. “I don’t think there is any other store like it in the world.”

The Oak Room.
The Oak Room.

He went about focusing on lines of sight and opening the space up for a more glorious appeal. There are a multitude of rooms inspired by important people in Cartier’s history, including Jeanne Toussaint (Cartier’s most legendary artistic director), Princess Grace of Monaco (an avid fan and collector of Cartier jewels), and Pierre Cartier. The Toussaint room features fabric walls and embroidered furniture with herringbone wood floors, while the Pierre Cartier room, where classic jewels are shown, features green velvet drapes, a fireplace and wood paneling. The Princess Grace Salon features taffeta silk curtains, white walls and the crests of Monaco on the woodwork.

Other rooms with their own personality in the multi-floor mansion are named for greats such as Elizabeth Taylor, Andy Warhol, Santos Dumont, Gary Cooper and more. On the fourth floor is a luxurious Service Salon, and a seating and bar area. The fifth floor houses the brand’s workshop and the sixth floor is a private entertains space with an expansive terrace overlooking Fifth Avenue.

The Maisie Plant Salon
The Maisie Plant Salon

In total, the new boutique space is four times the size of the previous one and has been expanded from 8,600 square feet to 44,100 square feet across four floors. Everything was custom made including more than 100 different window treatments and 43 different fabrics and wall coverings. There are 30 new chandeliers inspired by the originals, and a host of more than 100 newly acquired antique pieces, including desks and furniture, comprise the overall appeal of the boutique.

The official opening of the event last week included a lavish party in the mansion, as well as an after party across the street. It was a star-studded gala – with the unveiling of a new three-row pearl necklace being unveiled in honor of the original necklace that was traded for the property.

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