Cartier pens: Fit for a king

Dan Mobbs

Say the Cartier name anywhere in the world and it instantly conjures an image of luxury and quality. It’s synonymous with diamonds, sophistication and the highest possible standards in jewelry. But this legacy of quality also extends to pens of unbeatable craftsmanship. Read on for a brief history of Cartier pens

As a pinnacle in luxury and elegance Cartier’s name is assured, but if proof were ever needed of the company’s grandeur, then the time King Edward VII ordered 27 tiaras for his coronation in 1902 and issued a royal warrant to Cartier in 1904 testifies to its heritage.

In fact, this heritage extends all the way back to 1847 when Louis-François Cartier took over the workshop of his master and a classic brand of the future was born. By 1904 the flat wristwatch was born. Cartier made one for the pioneer Brazilian aviator, Alberto Santos-Dumont, who had complained of the unreliability and impracticality of pocket watches while flying (the now legendary Cartier Santos watch). And, by 1907 Cartier had branches in London, New York and St. Petersburg. An icon was in bloom.

Cartier Santos watch in 18k yellow gold.

Cartier Santos watch in 18k yellow gold. Sold for $120,000 via Morton Subastas (November 2015).

Penning history

Not content with mastering the sophistication and glamor of timepieces and jewelry, the Cartier name also began to associate itself with other everyday objets d’art, including Cartier pens. In fact, hand-drawn sketches dating back to 1860 illustrate designs for a jasper nib and a golden pen. They didn’t begin to make a name for themselves, though, until they began to produce writing instruments on a large scale in 1910.

Exotic and highly sought-after materials, such as onyx, moonstone and opal featured in a highly coveted series of watches in 1924 that were reportedly highly prized by The Maharajah of Patiala, one of Cartier’s wealthiest customers.

The distinctive style of that Art Deco period and through the roaring twenties still has an enduring appeal today and many of Cartier’s pens bear the distinctive hallmarks of the Art Deco period. 

Mid-century suave

But, it was the mid-20th century that saw Cartier write its name into history with a series of collectible writing instruments that remain in high demand today. In the 1960s, pens made of designed by the jeweller Pierre Lefebvre hit the right note among Cartier enthusiasts, while the accompanying gold plated lighter and pen set reflect the fashion of the time, and wouldn’t look out of place nestled in the top pocket of Mad Men’s Don Draper.

Les Must de Cartier, gold-plated pen & lighter.

Les Must de Cartier, gold-plated pen & lighter. Sold for $488 via Bonhams (February 2010).

Perhaps understandably, the now vintage bamboo and gold pens have elevated themselves to the position of rarified collector’s items and are a little harder to come by, particularly a set of five miniature pens.

Later, in 1973, Cartier developed “Les Must de Cartier” (Cartier’s must-have items). It was a new concept that represented an exciting change in the luxury goods industry. It also heralded the arrival of a range of writing instruments that became one of Cartier’s most recognised product lines to this day and also one of the most popular, with a signature name that is instantly recognisable as part of the brand.  

Cartier Pens: Collector’s items

One of the most memorable examples of Cartier pens has to be the Crocodiles de Cartier Limited Edition Fountain Pen. Limited to only 888 pieces, this pen formed part of Cartier’s animal (shaped) menagerie. The first pen in the series was crafted in honor of Cartier’s “pet” animal, the panther, meanwhile one of Cartier’s most beguiling creations, the Crocodile is spearheaded by a fine 18K gold nib engraved with a crocodile’s fearsome face. Even for newcomers to Cartier, it’s clear to see the artistry required to produce these pens, as master artisans chiselled the design with precious cabochons at both ends. 

Then & Now: The future of an icon

While the mainstream market for Cartier pens is in their more competitively priced ball point pens, Cartier continues to lead the way at the intersection of high jewelry and the craftsmanship of writing tools. With new limited editions coming in at over $150,000, Cartier is continuing to create the collectible pens of the future. 


Looking for more? Browse Cartier fountain pens and Cartier ball point pens for sale at auction now on Invaluable.

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Cartier Tank Watch: A Collector’s Guide to 100 Years of Craftsmanship

A Guide to Cartier Jewelry Icons