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The Cartier Trinity Ring Explained

The Cartier Trinity Ring Explained

The Cartier Trinity Ring Explained

Let’s talk about jewellery today – and when we think about jewellery, which brand is one that comes immediately to our mind? Cartier, with its many popular creations such as the Tank or the Panthère watch, the Love Bracelet or the Trinity Collection. The latter with its intertwined ring design is popular not only amongst celebrities today. What many people do not know is its close link to the arts and the myths around this collection. Let’s unravel the mysteries behind the iconic Trinity ring, its symbolism and why Jean Cocteau has often been credited with its creation.

You can also watch my video here:

History of the Cartier Brand

Brief History of the House of Cartier

Let’s keep it short and simple here, but it is necessary to understand the Maison’s background when discussing the specific designs. The house was officially founded when Louis-François Cartier (1819-1904) took over the workshop of Adolphe Picard, where he had been trained, in 1847. A major breakthrough for Cartier was when Princess Mathilde, Emperor Napoleon III’s cousin, purchased one of their products in 1856, as this gave them access not only to affluent Parisians and nobility but also international clients. Louis Cartier, one of the three grandsons of the founder, would be become one of the major shapers of the business. He joined in 1898 and moved the business to 13 rue de la Paix a year later. At the same time, Cartier also introduced their “Garland Style” combining neoclassical elements with their signature use of platinum. While platinum is quite common in fine jewellery today, this was quite innovative at the time.[1]

Cartier’s “Garland Style” combined neoclassical elements and platinum.

At the beginning of the 20th century, Cartier designs featured abstract and geometric shapes and unique colour combinations, which were inspired by the then popular Art Déco movement. Furthermore, Cartier opened a branch in London and became an official purveyor of the King. In 1910, Cartier expanded to America. Louis was also behind the first watch designed for his friend the Brazilian aviator Alberto Santos-Dumont and in 1919, he was the brains behind the famous Tank watch, which hints at the newly introduced tanks in World War I. After the death of Pierre, Louis’s brother, the family sold the business. Today, like so many brands, it is part of a conglomerate, as it is wholly-owned by the Swiss Richemont Group.[2]

An Art Déco-inspired Cartier bracelet.

The Trinity Ring

Jean Cocteau and the Artistic Influences

French artist Jean Cocteau is often linked to the creation of the Trinity Ring.

In 1924, Cartier launched the Trinity Ring and there are many myths around this piece of jewellery. Needless to say, the branding and marketing strategies of luxury companies are frequently built around myths and storytelling. This ring is very closely linked to the French artist Jean Cocteau – a poet, playwright, novelist, designer, film director and visual artist and he is most often associated with the Avant-Garde, the Surrealist and the Dadaist art movements. The more you read about fashion history, the more you will discover how influential he also was in the field – he was friends with many designers and frequently collaborated with them. (Probably because he was also a fashion illustrator but also because artists, fashion designers and intellectuals mingled in the Parisian cafés and salons at the time.[3]

Cocteau is so closely linked with myths around the ring, some say he designed the piece of jewellery or commissioned it. But why? Needless to say, it is positive for Cartier that this myth exists – an artist like Cocteau credited for one of their bestsellers. On their YouTube channel, Cartier published a video about the French actor Alain Delon asking Cocteau about the ring and the artist answered: “I gave one to Jean Marais and said: ‘One circle is for you, the second is for me and the third on is our love.’” According to Cartier, this symbol of Cocteau’s love to actor Jean Marais was the reason why also Delon wore a Trinity ring as well. Nevertheless, it was a family member – again, the previously mentioned Louis Cartier who designed this interlocking ring with bands in yellow, rose and white gold in 1924.[4]

The Duke of Windsor famously stacked two Trinity Rings on his pinky.

This ring also reflects the overall development of the arts in France: Since the start of the 20th century, Art Déco was very dominant with its clear yet delicate lines and patterns. Jewellery designers also used Art Déco as a source of inspiration and there are many elements in Cartier’s designs, such as more daring material and colour combinations. The ring, as simple as it may seem even today, was actually quite innovative. It was unusual to mix three different gold colours. Furthermore, Surrealism was on the rise. In 1924 André Breton and Yvan Goll, published their Manifeste du Surréalisme (the Surrealist Manifesto). This movement experiments with the illogical and creates dreamlike scenes. One of the most known examples is probably René Magritte’s man with a bowler hat where the artists created illogical details such as shades in the dark or impossible light. Also Surrealism influenced Louis and his Trinity design – the interwoven rings resemble surrealist paintings such as never-ending stairs.[5]

Grace Kelly with a Trinity Ring.

Cartier presented the Trinity collection at the Paris Exposition in 1925 – involving a ring and a bracelet. These two rather simple and reduced designs still stood out next to Cartier’s usual opulent, intricate and colourful jewellery. Later that year, the two pieces were photographed for American Vogue by Edward Steichen. The jewellery was received well also in the art scene and Jean Cocteau famously was one of the first to wear the ring. Furthermore, the Duke of Windsor stacked two of the Trinity rings on his pinky. Soon, it turned into a domino effect: Cary Grant, Grace Kelly, Princess Diana and the previously mentioned Nicole Kidman, Princess Kate or Cameron Diaz.[6]

Princess Catherine is also a fan of the Trinity Collection.

Interpretations of the Meaning of the Trinity Ring

As important as the myth around Cocteau are the myths and stories around the meaning of the Trinity ring. It is interesting, because when we talk about a piece of jewellery called “Trinity”, one very important meaning of the term may be overlooked – the religious one. In Christianity, the Holy Trinity refers to the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. While Cartier never officially referred to this religious meaning, it is probably not a coincidence – an ethereal meaning cannot harm.

Other interpretations of this type of ring claim that it dates back to Celtic origins or that they the design is a reference of Russian wedding rings – neither can be scientifically supported. An example for a more mainstream interpretation for the three bands is that the rose gold band represents love, the white gold one friendship and the yellow gold loyalty. Moreover, some people claim they stand for the past, the present and the future. According to the official Cartier website, the ring stands for “never-ending connections”[7] and for “love, friendship and diversity”[8]. The latter is quite interesting: The Trinity Ring could be seen as a very old genderfluid design, as it was not created for a specific gender. This may be a reason why it is still popular today with celebrities like Timothée Chalamet who is not only a Cartier ambassador but also redefining labels when it comes to jewellery.[9]

Trinity Rings in the Arts – Curiosity Cabinets in the 17th-18th Century

Trinity Rings were displayed in curiosity cabinets in Europe from the 17th until the 19th century and may have served as inspiration for the Cartier designs.

The art historian in me cannot stop here. I dug a bit deeper, as the intertwined rings reminded me of something: Trinity Rings (called Dreifaltigkeitsringe in German) were an important part of curiosity cabinets and collections in Europe between the 17th and 19th century. However, they were different from the Cartier ring as they were not jewellery – these rings were about 3-8 cms wide were used as decorative elements or to display the collector’s wealth and status. The rings required a lot of skill, craftsmanship and effort and were, hence, very expensive. Often made from metal, these intertwined rings could not show any joints, they had to be smooth. If the rings were crafted from ivory, they had to be carved or turned from one piece. The first of these rings were documented in Germany, in the area of Nuremberg. It is unclear how familiar Louis Cartier was with these rings, but we may assume that he was very much interested in art and that they may have influenced the design. If we want to stretch it a bit, we could even say that the purpose of wearing such a Cartier ring is similar to displaying a trinity ring in a curiosity cabinet – both show some kind of status.[10]

The Trinity Collection Today – 100th Anniversary

The Cartier Trinity Ring Explained Examples
Versions of the Trinity; Picture Sources: Official Website of Cartier.

At the time of publishing this article, Cartier’s Trinity Ring started at EUR 1,540 and there were different various of the ring itself. For its 100th anniversary, Cartier launched a special edition of three re-interprations: a square shaped style (called “cushion-shaped” by Cartier), a modular version and an XL-version. The Trinity line also involves bracelets, earrings, and necklaces and Cartier has worked with several materials – for example with diamonds or ceramic. The “entry-level” product of the collection is a Trinity Bracelet – a small Trinity Ring on a  cord.[11]

Needless to say, EUR 800 or EUR 1,540 for the ring itself is a lot of money. But compared to Cartier’s product range, it is relatively low. This reflects an important strategy of luxury brands – all of them offer products at lower price points, to allow “everyone” (or rather many people) to buy a piece of the brand. The most famous example in business literature or at business school is the Chanel nail polish – for roughly EUR 30, you can buy your piece of Chanel. In Cartier’s case, it is the Trinity Ring (their perfumes or small leather goods could also fall into this category).


Footnotes

[1] Cartier 2024a.

[2] ibid.

[3] The New York Times 2024.

[4] The New York Times 2024, Cartier 2024c.

[5] The New York Times 2024.

[6] ibid.

[7] Cartier 2024d.

[8] ibid.

[9] The New York Times 2024, World of Interiors 2024.

[10] Unkown Author 1800.

[11] Cartier 2024b.


Sources

Cartier, Story and Heritage, last accessed on 25 March 2024.

Cartier, Official Online Shop, Trinity Collection, last accessed on 25 March 2024.

Cartier, Official YouTube Channel, The story of Alain Delon, Jean Cocteau and the Trinity Ring | Once Upon an Icon | Cartier, last accessed on 25 March 2024.

Cartier, Official Website, Trinity, The Anniversary of an Icon, last accessed on 25 March 2024.

The New York Times, A 100-Year-Old Jewelry Design That Still Looks Cool, last accessed on 25 March 2024.

Unkown Author, Pinetti, Philadelphia und Ensslin oder Die enthüllten Zauberkräfte, Part 2, Hamburg, 1800, p. 80–81.

World of Interiors, Wholly Trinity, last accessed on 25 March 2024.

Picture Sources Title Image

Instagram & Official Website of Cartier.


Disclaimer

This article is based on the personal, views, experiences and research of Elisabeth Steiger, no fees were received by the organisations and people mentioned above. All information as of the date of publishing/updating.


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