In 1847 Parisian jeweler Louis-Francois Cartier took over a work-shop on the Rue Montorgueil and sold antique bronzes, jewelry and watches. He hit the jackpot--and attracted the attention of the century's new tycoons. His three grandsons later joined the business, opening more shops in Paris, London and New York City. (One brother famously traded a string of rare pearls and $100 for a mansion on Manhattan's Fifth Avenue.) No order was too extravagant: Cartier created 27 tiaras for people attending the coronation of King Edward VII in 1902. King Farouk of Egypt had solid-gold toothpicks specially made, the family of King Edward VII ordered jeweled can openers, and W.K. Vanderbilt requested 18-karat-gold yo-yos. Mrs. Cornelius Vanderbilt filled a cake with Cartier jewels as a birthday gift for the Prince of Wales. And a challenge from a gemstone-laden maharaja inspired the elaborate mixes known as Tutti Frutti.
The firm also rocked sales records with the Hope diamond and the Star of the East. Although divas like the Duchess of Windsor and Renee Zellweger have coveted such Cartier classics as the Panther pin and the Trinity ring, few can top the 69.42-carat diamond that Richard Burton bought for his bride Elizabeth Taylor. --By James Scully