“Brilliant” celebrates the icons who wore it well and helped put Cartier on the map.

I have to admit that when I heard the Denver Art Museum was going to have the exhibit Brilliant: Cartier in the 20th Century, an exhibit of Cartier jewelry, I thought “meh, do I really need to see a bunch of jewels?” I know, I know. I can practically hear women out there gasping. After getting a sneak peek at the exhibit, and hearing the behind-the-scenes folks talk about the experience of assembling it, the answer to my own question is “yes, yes, a thousand times, yes!” And so must you, dear In Good Taste Denver readers, because even if you don’t go in for all the glitz, the exhibit itself, floor to ceiling, is gorgeous; the pieces are beautiful; and it’s a unique way to learn about world history.

As an added bonus, “Brilliant” is as appealing to men and children as it is to women because of carefully chosen items and activities. So no groaning when the jewelry-lover in your life wants you to go! None of that!

I love going to the media previews of the Denver Art Museum’s exhibits, primarily because I get to listen to the passion with which the staff speak. It’s like a parent raving about how wonderful their child is. These exhibits don’t come about quickly or easily. They are years in the planning and implementing and involve an entire cast of people, from those who negotiate obtaining the items, to the decisions about wall color, to the person who creates the mountings, to the marketing people who figure out how to spread the word. It takes a village – a really passionate, knowledgeable village.

I especially adore hearing Christoph Heinrich, Frederick and Jan Mayer Director of the Denver Art Museum talk. His excitement about the exhibits is contagious and that was no different when he spoke to us about “Brilliant.” Especially after the DAM’s Yves St. Laurent exhibit in 2012, Heinrich is often asked why the museum would deviate from standard art on the wall and why try to bring in such big shows. “Why Denver?” they ask and he always responds “Why NOT Denver?!” The “Brilliant” exhibit is part of the DAM’s efforts to extend their program of looking at creativity in a variety of ways. To Heinrich, Cartier “shaped ideas of style and glamour and design creativity.” The time period covered, 1900-1975, and the level of craftsmanship became the guiding principles of the show, taking a historical, scholarly look.

The idea for the exhibit started more than four years ago after Margaret Young-Sanchez, the Frederick and Jan Mayer Curator of Pre-Columbian Art at the Denver Art Museum, saw an exhibit of some of Cartier’s pieces at another museum. She had some Cartier catalogues and showed them to staff members during a meeting to toss around ideas for future exhibits. Although a dramatic break from her usual realm of expertise and curatorial theme, Young-Sanchez asked to take on the project of creating the Cartier exhibit. She explained that she loves jewelry and the history behind it. That sense of tying the history to the art of jewelry-making and the influence of the house of Cartier, shaped the entire “Brilliant” exhibit.

A Flamingo brooch worn by the Duchess of Windsor. (c) Cartier

With more than 1500 pieces in The Cartier Collection, Young-Sanchez had the enviable task of being able to select the more than 200 items she wanted to see in the exhibit, making it a one-of-a-kind, never-to-be-seen-again exhibit, exclusive to the DAM. Can you imagine? “I’ll take those four necklaces, that tiara, that cigarette case and that enormous ring, thank you” – or that’s how I like to imagine it went.

A messy desk is the sign of true creativity, or at least that is the motto of the master jewelers at Cartier. This is a model of a jeweler’s worksite.

“Brilliant” is beautifully designed by Natalie Criniere who also designed the DAM’s Yves St. Laurent exhibit and does exhibits all over the world. Divided into themed sections, with historical tidbits to give a frame of reference, Criniere added wallpaper, floor-to-ceiling posters, transparencies that fade in and out and music that all set the stage for the art that is Cartier. With every turn of the corner, you feel more glamorous and like such a schlub for wearing jeans (honor this exhibit by dressing up a little, please). The last room, sumptuously-designed, features classic film snippets in which jewelry is practically a character. It’s divine.

“Brilliant” is beautifully-designed, with each room an elegant partner to the jewels on display.

“Brilliant: Cartier in the 20th Century” is on exhibit through March 15, 2015 so you have plenty of time. But what a great thing to take out-of-town guests to during the holidays! Tickets are timed and prices are reduced during the week to cut down on crowds. Take advantage of those deals! An audio tour for adults and one for kids, as well as general admission to the museum is included. Be sure to take in the Jewelry Studio on the first floor for hands-on fun.

There’s an entire room devoted to men and the stunning and whimsical items Cartier designed for them, including Cary Grant.
Brilliant - Wall view of studio
After being inspired in the exhibit, be sure to stop by the Jewelry Studio on the 1st floor to try your hand at jeweled artistry.