The technique of inlaying lacquer products with mother-of-pearl originated in China. There are known lacquer objects that date back to the Ming Dynasty (1368–1644). The technique has become widespread in almost all countries of Southeast Asia. In each region, this technique was called differently: in Japan – aogai, in China – lotien. And in Europe, where lacquer products from East Asia arrived during the Crusades, the French name spread – laque burgauté.
Initially, this was the name given to imported items made of black lacquer, inlaid with mother-of-pearl from the iridescent blue-green shell of abalone, which is also called abalone. Later, the name laque burgauté was applied to all lacquer products with colored tinted mother-of-pearl. Shell inlay is often complemented by engraving. This exquisite finish was used to decorate small objects and to finish furniture.
Lacquer items inlaid with mother-of-pearl, which were exported to Europe, became models for European craftsmen who tried to reproduce the oriental style in their works. The technique developed and improved and was even used to decorate products made from unglazed porcelain.
The return of interest in the burgauté technique in the 20th century is associated with the Art Deco period. Jewelry of that time often used lacquer panels with tinted mother-of-pearl, imported from China and Japan.
Cartier products with lacquer panels are a reflection of Louis Cartier’s passion for the art of the East. He systematically collected imported Asian lacquer panels from leading Parisian antique dealers. They were then mounted in cosmetic bags, powder compacts, cigarette cases and other luxury items, which were popular with wealthy clients and gave rise to a whole series of imitations.