The Tiffany brand began in New York in 1837, when Charles Lewis Tiffany and his friend, John Young, set up a store selling not gemstones, but high-quality stationery, Chinese porcelain, French accessories and some silver jewellery – the sort of luxury goods that affluent New York society was beginning to crave.
In 1841 European jewellery with faux diamonds was added to this range.
With a real sense for merchandising, in 1845 Tiffany launched a mail order catalogue, widening the market for its goods well beyond New York.
The company then made a seamless transition from retailing paste jewels to the real thing. France in the late 1840s saw the collapse of King
Louis Philippe’s reign, financial turmoil and the impoverishment of many European aristocrats – an opportunity for Tiffany to acquire and offer for sale real diamond jewellery. From then on Tiffany sold only jewellery with real gemstones. Charles Lewis Tiffany was a good publicist, never hesitating to announce new acquisitions in the New York press and earning himself the nickname, ‘the king of diamonds’. He took overall control of the company in 1853, when the name was shortened to Tiffany and Co.
Innovation and quality were central to the business. By the 1850s the company was producing its own sterling silver items. The Tiffany-Moore technique was introduced to mass produce silver jewellery pieces that are then hand finished. It is still in use today. Tiffany was the first company to use the 925/1000 formula of silver purity, subsequently adopted by the United States Congress as the standard for sterling silver.
Creativity and craftsmanship also characterised the company. Tiffany designers turned away from the over-elaborate Victorian style and took their inspiration instead from the fluid forms of nature.
International acclaim was achieved through exhibiting at trades fairs. Charles Lewis Tiffany took the gold prize at the 1878 Paris Exposition Universelle.
Another 1878 landmark was the acquisition by Tiffany’s of the biggest yellow diamond ever found. Discovered in South Africa, and weighing 287.42 carats (57.484 g) in the rough, the stone was cut to 128.54 carats (25.708 g). This beautiful piece has often been exhibited at the Fifth Avenue store.
In 1883 Tiffany became the designated jeweller for Queen Victoria, and this led to the company becoming official jeweller for the heads of state of Russia, Austria, Spain, Italy, Egypt and Persia.
Tiffany and Company fully understood the potential of the sturdy metal, platinum in jewellery design. 1886 saw the launch of the Tiffany solitaire engagement ring with a casing with a six-prong claw, allowing light from beneath to set off the solitaire like a thousand fires. This, combined with the company’s rigorous selection of superior-quality diamonds, makes the Tiffany solitaire engagement ring legendary.
Tiffany and Company was the largest buyer at the sale of the French Crown Jewels in 1887, where they acquired a diamond necklace formerly belonging to the Empress Eugénie.
TIFFANY’S CLASSIC PIECES
The Tiffany Diamond
The Tiffany fancy yellow diamond is in itself a remarkable piece. It was cut as a cushion shaped Stellar Cut Brilliant with 90 facets. In this way it retained a weight over the important threshold of 100 carats and was given ‘the effect of a smothered, smouldering fire [rather] than one of flashing radiance.’ So said the eminent gemmologist who designed the cutting of the stone.
The Schlumberger Necklace
The 1950s was the era of the artist-jeweller. In 1956 Tiffany appointed the renowned Jean Schlumberger as a designer. He set the Tiffany Yellow
Diamond into a necklace of asymmetric interlacing diamond encrusted ribbons. In 1961 this was worn by Audrey Hepburn in the publicity photo-shoot for the film of Truman Capote’s novella, ‘Breakfast at Tiffany’s’.
The Schlumberger Bird on a Rock BroochIt was said of Jean Schlumberger that his Tiffany designs ‘were remarkable for their whimsical interpretations of natural forms. He was especially inspired by sea creatures and other animals’. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the Bird on a Rock Brooch, which also incorporated the Tiffany Yellow Diamond.