The French poet and filmmaker Jean Cocteau always wore two Cartier Trinity rings stacked on his left pinkie. Even after his death in 1963, Cocteau’s name was so closely linked with the ring, made of three interlocking bands in yellow, white and rose gold, that he was often credited with designing or commissioning the piece.
But it was Louis Cartier, a grandson of the house’s founder, who conceived the ring in 1924.
“It’s part of the myth and stories around Trinity,” said Marie-Laure Cérède, Cartier’s director of watchmaking and jewelry design.
The Art Deco movement that had begun in France in the mid-1910s had inspired innovative designs made with eclectic mixes of materials. And the same year as its design, André Breton wrote the Surrealist manifesto, sparking even more experimentation. Yet Trinity still stood out as a daring design.
“It was avant-garde at the time,” Ms. Cérède said, “and it was unusual to mix three colors of gold in one design.”
For its centenary, Ms. Cérède was charged with creating new Trinity pieces while maintaining its trademark of interlocking links in three shades of gold. The idea of redesigning it, she said, “seemed like an impossible feat.”
Trinity debuted at the 1925 Paris Exposition, when Cartier displayed the ring and bracelet alongside other more colorful, opulent jewelry. That year they were photographed by Edward Steichen for American Vogue and worn by the American interior designer and tastemaker Elsie de Wolfe.
The design quickly gained a cult following with everyone from the Surrealist visionary Cocteau to the Duke of Windsor, who also wore two rings stacked on his pinkie. And in the decades that followed, it became a signature choice of everyone from Cary Grant and Grace Kelly to Nicole Kidman, Kylie Jenner and Catherine, Princess of Wales.
Trinity seems especially relevant today as more people want genderless, streamlined jewelry that can be worn with everyday clothes, but also has a touch of sophistication in its symbolism. And pieces are relatively accessible for status gold jewels: the Trinity charm on a silk cord bracelet is $750, while rings start at $1,420.
What gives a design like Trinity lasting power? “It has to be beautiful; not trendy, and it has to have meaning,” Ms. Cérède said.
Trinity seems to meet that description in several ways. In Christian doctrine, the name itself is used to refer to the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit as three manifestations of one God.
Some say the band of rose gold is for love, white for friendship and yellow for loyalty, while others consider the three golds to be emblems of diversity and universality.
For Jackson Simmonds, a stylist at the New York City salon Julien Farel, his Trinity ring represents the past, present and future. After he lost nearly everything in an apartment fire in late 2022, a friend accompanied him to Cartier’s Manhattan store and bought the ring for him to wear as a symbol of rising, like a phoenix, from the ashes.
Now, he continued, the ring is “a reminder that the show must go on; let’s keep it moving; you’re OK.”
Mr. Simmonds said he wears it every day: “I find myself rolling it up and down my finger as sort of self-soothing practice when I am stressed out.” (Fans, and sometimes even Cartier, refer to it informally as the rolling ring.)
An Evolving Signature
Trinity, however, isn’t a static design; it’s been made in special editions over the years. Iterations have included white gold and black ceramic bands, a trio pavéd with diamonds, the outsize XL bracelet and a mix of white and yellow gold bands with a black lacquer once spotted like the brand’s mascot panther.
In 2022, Ms. Cérède began experimenting with designs for the anniversary pieces, work that included making 50 3-D printed resin prototypes. Finally, she said, “a cushion shape emerged with the right proportions and volume so it could maintain the design’s rolling movement.” It was used for rings, bracelets and pendants, introduced this month; in March, a modular ring that can be worn as a solid band or as three interlocking rings is to debut.
The rolling ring is like an elegant fidget toy, Ms. Cérède said. “When you start to play with your jewels, they are no longer just decorative, they become a part of you.” (She has worn the classic Trinity ring for years, and now stacks it with the new cushion style.)
Many people have their own Trinity stories and some involve generations. “I love when I see someone else wearing one,” Mr. Simmonds said, “how they’re wearing it, and what’s the story behind it.” He said a friend wears his deceased mother’s ring as a pendant and sometimes on a red string bracelet.
Pauline Brown, an adjunct assistant professor at Columbia Business School and a former chairman of LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton’s North America division, was given a Trinity pendant four years ago by her boyfriend. “I’m amazed that this is 100 years old,” she said of the design. “I would have assumed, given the modern aesthetic and the hipness of it, that it was a much more recent collection.”
More recently, her boyfriend has presented her with Trinity earrings as well as a ring that she now wears every day. “It’s rare to find a piece with the mixing of metals, which gives it more dimension and visual richness,” she said. “And I love the way it feels.”
Ms. Brown compared the Trinity with other influential luxury designs, such as Elsa Peretti’s signature organic-shape pieces at Tiffany & Company, which, she said, “are as relevant today as when it they came out half a century ago, maybe more so.”
And she referred to Coco Chanel’s ready-to-wear style as another example of lasting impact. “Chanel broke the mold by giving women’s clothes a masculine edge,” Ms. Brown said. “She empowered women with materials that were historically intended for men, and she made it chic and sexy.”
The unisex Trinity design is equally emboldening, Ms. Brown said. “Decades from now, I think men and women will still be wearing Trinity designs.”