In March 1983, French jeweler Cartier flew a cadre of press, celebrities, and British royals to a ritzy Tunisian resort to fete its first luxury eyewear collection…during typhoon season. There were gale-force winds and pouring rain, a snafu with hotel reservations, and food issues (Cartier VIPs didn’t get their gala dinner until midnight!). And then Elton John—whose 1980 single “Sartorial Eloquence” included the 54-second B-side paean “Cartier”—spontaneously took to the piano and turned the shindig around. He wore 22k gold-framed Cartier specs with a diamond-encrusted bridge that, at $14,000, were then the world’s priciest pair of glasses.
“Elton was always trying to impress and shock, so his glasses had to be flamboyant,” says biographer Keith Hayward (Tin Pan Alley: The Rise of Elton John, the forthcoming Elton John: From Tin Pan Alley to the Yellow Brick Road). John’s obsession started as a teen, when he donned horn-rims in tribute to Buddy Holly.
But John had a special affinity for Cartier. The rainy day–appropriate lyrics to the aforementioned B-side? “If your life is dull and dreary…Make your day…Spend a grand or two at Cartier.”