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Cartier: The Exhibition

National Gallery of Australia, Canberra

Ends July 22

The Queen has loaned pieces from her personal collection to the show, including the Halo Tiara.

Cartier has always stood at the vanguard of design and manufacture, as the National Gallery of Australia's captivating exhibition of its jewels demonstrates. Detailed ledgers have been kept since the company's inception in 1847, yet confirmation is seldom required: just one glance instantly reveals a clear Cartier aesthetic.

What really captivates in Canberra are the myriad characters connected to the pieces. Dame Nellie Melba, for instance, commissioned custom-made jewels using gems given to her by fans and followers. One such opal was set as a brooch with diamond-studded wings, "perhaps to symbolise the love of Australia lifting her heart when she was far from home", suggests the exhibition's curator, Margaret Young-Sanchez.

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Cartier also loaned jewellery for Melba to perform in, the dresser always under strict instructions to wear each piece backstage so they would be warm against the diva's skin when she put them on.

And the relationship with the British royals is striking. From the moment King Edward VII bought his first jewel in 1901, he declared Cartier joaillier des rois, et roi des joailliers ("the jeweller of kings, and king of the jewellers").

The Queen has loaned pieces from her personal collection to the show, including the Halo Tiara (above), made in 1936 for the then Duke of York's wife, three weeks before he became George VI. The Queen received the tiara for her 18th birthday, and lent it to Kate Middleton for her 2011 wedding to Prince William.

With 18 tiaras and bandeaux on loan to Canberra, one might wonder what's left in the royal collection to grace Meghan Markle's head next month.

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