Cartier in Denver, more than just shiny baubles

Brilliant at Denver Art Museum., ColoradoWhen I heard that the Denver Art Museum was curating a Cartier exhibition, the tune from Pink Panther began playing in my head and it continued to play when we visited.

We arrived at the Denver Art Museum on a busy, snowy Saturday morning. Unbeknownst to us, the museum is free on the first Saturday of every month so the place was filled with families. Please note that special exhibits such as Brilliant are still subject to a fee even on First Saturdays.

I’m not a super girly girl and I’m not one to swoon over sparkly things, but even I had to admit that the jewels on display at Brilliant: Cartier in the 20th Century were pretty spectacular. However, it wasn’t only the gems that appealed to me, but the story that they told.

Title: Tiara worn by Mrs. Townsend. Cartier Paris, special order, 1905.
Tiara worn by Mrs. Townsend. Cartier Paris, special order, 1905. (Courtesy Photo)

In the beginning of the 20th Century, the rich draped themselves in diamonds, but World War I cooled much of the Western World’s obsession with shiny bobbles. Once the war was over, however, the culture began to shift back to showy behavior – think short flapper skirts, red lipstick and bejeweled cigarette holders.

The Second World War pushed the pause button on this overt exploitation of wealth, but after that war was over, an entirely new, Hollywood-influenced obsession with gemstones took place. Cartier was there through it all, influencing and responding to popular culture. Brilliant eloquently tells this 100 year story.

Title: Flamingo brooch worn by the Duchess of Windsor. Cartier Paris, special order, 1940.
Flamingo brooch worn by the Duchess of Windsor. Cartier Paris, special order, 1940. (Courtesy Photo)

As we toured the exhibition, I enjoyed the exhibits that featured both jewels and photos of the jewels being worn by their glamorous human owners as this brought these inanimate objects to life. I also enjoy the audio tour. These handheld audio tour devises add educational value to all the special exhibits that come to the Denver Art Museum.

There are adult versions of the audio tour and family versions and I saw quite a few children touring Brilliant who were completely absorbed by their audio listening devise.

From a stunning collection of jewels that belonged to the Duchess of Windsor to “The Workshop” where visitors learn that it takes thousands of hours and multiple Cartier craftsmen to create one necklace, Brilliant is a captivating exhibition. There’s even a large room dedicated to Cartier’s men’s line.

Title: Santos wristwatch. Cartier Paris, 1915.
Santos wristwatch. Cartier Paris, 1915. (Courtesy Photo)

The only thing missing from this exhibition were price tags. For instance, I was dying to know how much the 478 carat sapphire pendant on display was worth. Not that I’m in the market, but I am curious.

Palette's restaurant at the Denver Art Museum

Brilliant: Cartier in the 20th Century is on exhibition at the Denver Art Museum through March 15.  Go to  to buy tickets (advanced purchase is recommended as tours fill up, especially on weekends).

Several downtown hotels are running package deals in association with Cartier including both The Crawford and The Brown Palace, two HeidiTown favorites. Also, I highly recommend lunch or dinner at Palette’s Restaurant inside the Denver Art Museum. Fantastic food.


  1. Hi Heidi, now I want to go, too! Do they allow you to take pictures? Probably not…


  2. I really want to go see this, but the hubs hates art. Must find a friend


    1. Toxict15, your husband may actually find it interesting. There’s an entire section on how the jewelry is made – if he’s an engineering type, this could be fascinating for him.


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