​The dazzling brilliance of Cartier

The brilliance of Cartier jewelry 04:38

The song says "Diamonds are a girl's best friend." And to become best friend, many women of means go straight to the jeweler that's the star of a current museum show. Jane Pauley is our guide:

The Denver Art Museum calls its Cartier exhibition "Brilliant." Amidst the diamonds and emeralds and sapphires, Marc Henderson had his own brilliant idea ...

"When we first found out about the exhibit, I was thinking, 'This is perfect,'" he told Pauley.

Perfect because Henderson was looking for THE spot to pop the question to his girlfriend, Annie Seperich.

According to Seperich, he got very serious: "Just got very solemn. And, 'I have to ask you a question.' 'Okay, that's fine!'"

So Henderson got down on one knee: "I said, 'Annie, I wanna spend the rest of 2015 with the woman I wanna spend the rest of my life with.' And then she said, 'Yes, yes, yes!'"

The happy couple made it official in front of a panther bracelet and brooch once owned by Wallis Simpson, the Duchess of Windsor, whose own love story scandalized and captivated the world when King Edward VIII abdicated the throne to marry her.

Simpson, according to curator Margaret Young-Sanchez, aspired to be the most fashionable woman in the world. Her particular signature?

"She really liked strong colors and very sculptural, bold jewelry," said Young-Sanchez. "It wasn't subtle, but it also was not overpowering or tasteless in any way."

Examining some of the Duchess of Windsor's jewelry at the Denver Art Museum, with curator Margaret Young-Sanchez and correspondent Jane Pauley. CBS News

The Duchess achieved her goal with one-of-a-kind pieces like a flamingo brooch, and a necklace of amethyst, turquoise and gold designed in collaboration with Cartier.

Pauley asked, "What is the fascination that brings people pouring into your art museum to see these jewels?"

"The jewelry is extravagant and gorgeous and incredibly meticulously made," said Young-Sanchez. "So you're dazzled by both the beauty and then the intricacy."

Cartier has been dazzling customers since 1847, catering to European aristocrats and royalty, like King Ferdinand of Romania. He asked the Parisian jeweler to fashion a pendant out of a 478-carat sapphire for his wife, Queen Marie.

"He gave this to his wife not just because he loved her and he wanted to give her some jewelry, but because she had actually lost all of her jewelry during the Russian Revolution," said Young-Sanchez.

A platinum, diamond and ruby necklace worn by Elizabeth Taylor from Cartier Paris, 1951, altered in 1953. Marian Gérard, Cartier Collection © Cartier

In 1917, the third generation -- Pierre, Louis and Jacques -- made Cartier more than a royal household name.

"They were the ones who had the ambition and the vision to say, '"We don't want to be one of many jewelry houses in Paris; we want to be the preeminent jewelry house in the world,'" said Young-Sanchez.

And the name became nearly as famous in the 20th century as the glamorous women who wore Cartier: like Princess Grace of Monaco; and Hollywood royalty like Elizabeth Taylor.