In the early twentieth century, a perfect pearl was considered the most valuable object in the world. The discovery of one in the Persian Gulf was a major event. It would even throw the global financial market into a state of high alert by depressing the value of everything else. It didn’t take long for Alfred and his sons to become wise to the power of the small iridescent gemstones. The wealthiest women in the world bought Cartier’s pearls, but of all the well-known pearl transactions, one stood out as being particularly significant for the firm. It involved a spoiled young bride, Maisie Plant, and her doting elderly husband, Morton Plant, a railroad and steamship magnate who was also the commodore of the very prestigious New York Yacht Club.
In 1916, Pierre Cartier put what he believed to be the most expensive necklace in the world in his New York showroom. With two strings of 55 and 73 perfect pearls, it was worth more than a million dollars (around $24 million in today’s money) and became an overnight sensation. Many admirers traveled to see it in the flesh, but the 31-year-old Maisie Plant was more captivated than most.
She was extolling the beauty of Cartier’s pearl necklace but claimed not to be able to afford it. Pierre knew that Morton Plant, in his sixties, was quite besotted by his much younger second wife and would make it his mission to ensure that whatever Maisie wanted she should have (much to the dismay of his grown-up children, who had their suspicions that their new stepmother was a gold-digger).
Pierre also knew that Plant was considering selling his Renaissance- style mansion at the corner of Fifth Avenue and 52 Street because he felt the area was losing its residential feel. As both the five-story townhouse and the pearl necklace were valued in the region of a million dollars, Pierre wondered if Mr. Plant might be open to a deal: “Give me your townhouse,and I’ll let you have the necklace.” Fortunately for Maisie, her husband accepted the proposal. A pearl necklace was exchanged for a set of keys. And Cartier moved into the mansion.
Read more about how Cartier’s iconic New York store was paid for in pearls on the BusinessInsider.com website HERE