Backstory: Cartier’s Love Affair With The Humble Coffee Bean Bears Fruit

The French jewellery maison revives its iconic 1930s design
Cartier revives its iconic 1930s design to present Grain de Café, a range with an unexpected source of inspiration: the humble coffee bean

Cartier’s Grain de Café is one sprightly 85-year-old. Launched under the stewardship of the maison’s former creative director Jeanne Toussaint, it remains just as timeless and elegant today as it was when it made its debut in 1938. Brilliant and vivacious, the motif transforms the unassuming coffee bean into the building block for jewellery that has endured decades of trends to emerge a modern classic of Cartier’s. From the zenith of its popularity in the 1950s and 1960s, when Grace Kelly became one of the Grain de Café’s most renowned admirers and collectors, its currency ebbed as collections such as Love, Juste Un Clou and Trinity grew in profile, but now it makes a dazzling return to the maison’s vitrines. 

Design for a ‘Coffee Bean’ necklace. Cartier Paris, 1954. Executed in yellow gold and diamonds. Graphite and gouache on tracing paper. Photo: Courtesy of Cartier

An embodiment of Cartier’s mission to seek beauty especially where it is least expected, the new Grain de Café collection transforms the ordinary into precious pieces. Comprising rings, necklaces, earrings, a brooch and a bracelet (so far), the collection features rows and clusters of coffee bean-shaped elements, all independently mobile, suspended from intertwined “palm tree” chains in white gold or yellow gold. Each motif’s smooth, voluminous surface is interrupted by intricate striations that emanate from the central rib, and accented with a diamond. The collection even includes gem-set variations: a ring and necklace in rose gold and set with obsidian. 

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For the Grain de Café collection, it’s not just a matter of looks, says Pierre Rainero, Cartier’s image, style and heritage director. “The pieces are sensual, and because of their mobility, they’re very tactile and playful,” he explains. “Not only do the jewellery pieces come into contact with the body in an intimate way, but they also move with you and they hold the attention of a person who likes to touch and play with them.”

“It’s part of the desire everyone has for a piece of jewellery.” 

To Rainero, the process of experiencing jewellery involves more than mere sight. By evoking various facets of its source material, the Grain de Café collection creates a profound and complex bond between jewellery and wearer. “The coffee bean [is] a reference to something you [consume], so it appeals to many different senses,” he continues. 

Elle Fanning wears pieces from the Grain de Café collection. Photo: Courtesy of Cartier

Another hallmark of the maison that permeates the collection is its cherished tradition of blurring the frontier between abstraction with figuration—a signature of Jeanne Toussaint’s—with the end result being a range that is at once powerful and soft, and skilfully walks the line between personal and formal, casual and sophisticated. “The versatility of the Grain de Café is one of its aesthetical strengths,” Rainero says. “It appears to us like something that’s very now. And the fact that you can [vary the designs] with stones, diamonds or only gold, or have them made thin or very abundant in their composition—many possibilities are there, and that’s what we like at Cartier: to open doors to a beautiful future.”

Cartier revives its iconic 1930s design to present Grain de Café, a range with an unexpected source of inspiration: the humble coffee bean

Though Rainero doesn’t reveal exact details of how Cartier intends to expand the collection in the years to come, he agrees that the Grain de Café jewellery, in being quite different from one piece to another in terms of proportions and scale, “can lead to different motivations” even if they belong to the same family. “It’s so rich in possibilities,” he says. “The idea of abundance and movement is there…as well as [the prospect for] different colours.”

“And I think that’s the future of this line, to be able to propose many different possibilities. I compare the Grain de Café to an aesthetical vocabulary—that’s what it is—and it’s inscribed in our vision.”


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