The Cartier Jewels and the Glamourous Woman Behind them, on Display at the National Gallery

It’s jewellery fit for a century-old “it girl”: A priceless jewelled crown with a tutti fruitti twist.

And next week the “luscious” piece of Cartier jewellery, once belonging to socialite Lady Edwina Mountbatten will go on display in Australia for the first time, in a major exhibition exploring the sparkling output of Cartier at the National Gallery of Australia (NGA).

The headband is one of more than 300 dazzling and important heritage objects to go on display in Canberra, including the Paris-based firm’s commissions for the British royal family and jewels worn by popular screen icons including Elizabeth Taylor and Grace Kelly.

A woman of independent spirit

Made by artisans in Cartier’s London studio, the Mountbatten Tutti Frutti Bandeau symbolises the excesses and the exuberance of the roaring 20s.

Unlike tiaras, bandeaus were designed to be light and less formal.

“It is incredibly supple, delicate and slender,” National Gallery guest curator Margaret Young-Sanchez said.

Lady Edwina Mountbatten with her daughter Pamela in 1929.

“It is very open and the light shines through it.”

Like other designs of the period, the headband mirrored new freedoms for women and the accompanying revolutions in lifestyle and fashion after World War I.

Dr Young-Sanchez said women, like British heiress Lady Edwina Ashley Mountbatten, “stopped wearing corsets, wore flapper gowns and cut their hair short”.

Considered one of the original “it girls”, Lady Mountbatten was also one of the richest women in Britain when she married the distinguished Naval officer Lord Louis Mountbatten in London in 1922.

The Tutti Frutti bandeau made up of emeralds, rubies, sapphires and diamonds.

She purchased the fine-jewelled headband for herself in November 1928 for 900 pounds to celebrate the birth of her second daughter Pamela, while her husband was stationed in Malta.

“She’s known in England as a very independent spirit [with] very independent taste,” Cartier’s image, style and heritage director Pierre Rainero said.

“I think the [bandeau] is the image of her and represents her like jewellery should represent any person.

“A sort of mirror of her own personality … expressed through her choices.”

Lord and Lady Mountbatten are known to have had an open marriage and they became the last Viceroy and Vicereine of India prior to independence.

She was also close to Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, India’s first prime minister after its independence.

The bandeau ultimately left the Mountbatten family after Lady Mountbatten’s death in 1960, but an export licence was denied due to its rarity and British history.

The Bollinger family eventually bought the bandeau to keep it in Britain where it is normally on long-term loan to London’s Victoria and Albert Museum.

Exotic and almost good enough to eat

The Mountbatten Tutti Frutti Bandeau and Cartier jewellery of the era was inspired by a fascination for the exotic, particularly Indian artistic traditions.

“They used what are called cabouchon stones, where they are rounded surfaces rather than faceted,” Dr Young-Sanchez said.

Dr Margaret Young-Sanchez at the Cartier exhibition.

The Art Deco design features flowers and leaves carved from rubies, emeralds and sapphires, along with diamond-studded berries, all set within platinum vine branches.

This distinctive combination and explosion of colour became known as the “tutti frutti” style and it is still being crafted by Cartier artisans to this day.

“It is inspired by candy and it is because the jewels look like gum drops, especially when the light is shining through it and they glow,” Dr Young-Sanchez said.

“It is sort of luscious-looking.”

The figurative tree of life can be worn as a head piece or split into two bracelets and the design was seen as revolutionary and daring at the time.

The bandeau is also the only surviving tutti frutti bandeau and it has never before been authorised for loan anywhere else in the world, marking a major coup for the National Gallery.

“This is the first time ever that the [bandeau] is allowed to travel outside Great Britain to a national Australian museum,” Mr Rainero said.

“So the Australian public have the privilege to discover this object in an incredible context.”

Unprecedented security protecting jewels

National Gallery director Gerard Vaughan said housing the priceless jewels required the most intensive security arrangements the gallery has ever seen.

National Gallery of Australia director Gerard Vaughan.“These objects have a special sort of allure of their own and they are small and therefore the cases need to be utterly impregnable,” Mr Vaughan said.

Even as director, Vaughan is not immune to the NGA’s unprecedented heightened security measures.

“I have to sign in! Everybody has to sign in,” he said.

“We have never had security quite like it [and] we have never before needed a level of security as we have for this exhibition.

“We cannot comment on the value of any item, [but] it is astonishing, utterly astonishing!”

The exhibition opens to the public on Friday March 30.

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