DESIGNER 101

Tiffany & Co. 101: America’s First
House of Fine Jewelry

By Ann B, Jun  16, 2021

Rebag x Tiffany & Co. 101

Tiffany & Co. brought luxury jewelry to America. 

As America’s premier jewelry house — known for its signature shade of blue, the Tiffany Diamond, countless engagement rings, and Elsa Peretti — is also the creative force behind such American icons as the Great American Seal and the NFL Vince Lombardi Super Bowl Trophy. It also served as the backdrop for the book and film, Breakfast at Tiffany’s

When Charles Lewis Tiffany and John B. Young started what is today Tiffany & Co. in 1837, it didn’t specialize in jewelry, it was promoted as a “stationery and fancy goods emporium.” It operated as Tiffany, Young & Ellis at 259 Broadway in Manhattan. In 1845 Tiffany sent out the direct mail catalog in the United States, introducing its luxury goods nationwide and making them available to the whole country. Today, the catalog is released annually as the Tiffany Blue Book. Charles Lewis Tiffany makes a trip to Europe and purchases diamonds from aristocrats. He returns to the United States in 1848, with the diamonds, bringing the gemstones to the American market, allowing the nation’s wealthy to purchase jewels stateside for the first time.
Tiffany & Co. in 1889

Tiffany & Co. in 1889. Courtesy Business Insider.

At the time, Tiffany also specialized in silver, adopting the .925 sterling silver standard from the United Kingdom to use in the United States, setting a precedent for American companies. The name was changed to Tiffany & Co. in 1853 after Charles Tiffany gained control of the company, establishing it as a fine jewelry house. Tiffany & Co. made its first appearance at a presidential inauguration in 1862 after president-elected Abraham Lincoln bought a seed pearl necklace and earring set for his wife Mary Todd Lincoln for the inaugural ball. Tiffany erected a new $500,000 store at 15 Union Square West designed by John Kellum. The New York Times described the location, where Tiffany stayed until 1906, as a “Palace of Jewels.” The company reached another American milestone with the production of the Tiffany Timer, the country’s first stopwatch in 1866. Just two years after in 1868, Tiffany began producing gold jewelry, allowing Americans to purchase this new luxury item. The famed Tiffany Setting — the six-prong setting that gives the illusion of the diamond floating above the band — was unveiled by Charles Lewis Tiffany in 1886, allowing it to have a role in countless American love stories. Tiffany became the center of attention again when he purchased the French Crown Jewels in 1887, selling them to America’s elite. 

Tiffany’s flagship moved uptown in 1905, from Union Square to 37th Street and Fifth Avenue, where it remained until 1940 when it moved farther uptown to its flagship location at 727 Fifth Avenue, which is under renovation until 2022. Until then, the flagship is temporarily located at 610 Fifth Avenue. 

Tiffany’s Robin egg blue tone symbolizes the house, but it wasn’t until 2001 that Tiffany officially created this Tiffany blue — the hue that is synonymous with the house and the status that comes with it. Tiffany worked with Pantone to make “1837 Blue.”

Tiffany & Co Blue

Pantone’s 1837 Blue. Courtesy Pinterest.

The label would have a number of milestones in the world of jewelry. In 1968, it introduced tanzanite, a deep blue stone found at the base of Mount Kilimanjaro, showcasing it in its jewelry. The Return to Tiffany key ring, featuring a heart with the words “Please return to Tiffany & Co. New York” and a unique serial number, debuted in 1969. The collection is now one of Tiffany’s best-selling. A stunning green stone, discovered at the base of Tsavo National Park close to the border between Kenya and Tanzania, is introduced by the house, and Tiffany names it tsavorite. In 2009, just as the United States was recovering from a recession, Tiffany unveiled its Tiffany Keys collection, symbolizing hope and the possibility of a bright future. To commemorate its 175th anniversary in 2012, Tiffany released a new metal: Rubedo. Two Ts at the end of bracelets and rings marked the Tiffany T collection in 2014, symbolizing a new era for the house. Tiffany HardWare, a fashion-forward line inspired by the house’s archives, is released in 2017, representing New York’s power and edge. The same year also saw the debut of the Tiffany Save the Wild collection, designs in the shapes of animals like elephants and lions. All of the proceeds go to the Wildlife Conservation Network. In 2020, Covid-19 came down on the world, and the global pandemic would change the way we live. Tiffany unveiled its T1 collection, to stand for the courage, strength, and optimism in which the house believes. 

Tiffany has changed hands a number of times. In 1978 it was acquired by Disney. From 1979 to 1984, Tiffany was owned by Avon. More recently French luxury conglomerate LVMH acquired the house in January 2021 after a year of negotiations and the onset of the global pandemic. 

 

 An American Symbol

The American jewelry house is responsible for a number of iconic symbols in American culture. Now an icon in its own right, the New York Yankees adopted its famed logo from Tiffany’s. The house created the NY logo for an NYPD medal of honor. The baseball team took it as their own logo in 1909. Most Americans have owned a Tiffany design at one point in their lives; the house redesigned the Great Seal of the United States in 1885, and it appears on the one-dollar bill. Tiffany also conceptualized the cross for Medal of Honor for the US Navy. Tiffany also played a role in the NFL; it created the seven-pound Vince Lombardi Super Bowl Trophy for the first Super Bowl in 1967 as well as in creating the championship rings. The two-foot-tall, 16-pound NBA Championship Trophy was designed by Tiffany in 1978.

superbowl

The NFL Vince Lombardi Super Bowl Trophy by Tiffany. Courtesy Robb Report. 

The Tiffany Diamond

One of the world’s greatest yellow diamonds was discovered in Africa in the Kimberley Diamond Mines in 1877. It weighed in at 287.42 carats in the rough, and the following year, Charles Lewis Tiffany bought it for $18,000. The acquisition cemented Tiffany’s reputation as the “King of Diamonds.” 

The Tiffany Diamond

The Tiffany Diamond. Courtesy the Hollywood Reporter.

The rough stone was brought to Paris, where under the supervision of the company’s chief gemologist, Dr. George Frederick Kunz, it was cut into a cushion-shaped brilliant, weighing 128.54 carats. Known as the Tiffany Diamond, the stone features 82 facets, and measures at an inch wide, and ⅞ of an inch from top to bottom. The stone has been exhibited several times, including in 1893 at the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago, the World’s Fair in New York from 1939 to 1940, and more recently, the 2006 “Bejeweled by Tiffany” exhibition at Somerset House in London, and at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History in an exhibition celebrating the national gem collection. 
Lady Gaga in the Tiffany Diamond on the red carpet at the 2019 Oscar Awards.
Lady Gaga in the Tiffany Diamond on the red carpet at the 2019 Oscar Awards. Courtesy The Hollywood Reporter.
The magnificent diamond has only been set four times. Half of them were executed by Tiffany’s jeweler Jean Schlumberger. One was for the iconic promotional photos for Breakfast at Tiffany’s, in which Audrey Hepburn wore it with a diamond necklace and tiara. Nominated for A Star Is Born, Lady Gaga wore the Tiffany Diamond at the 2019 Academy Awards, paired with yellow and white diamonds and set against platinum and 18 carat gold. Schlumberger also had it mounted for his Bird on a Rock setting for his retrospective at the Musée des Arts Decoratifs in Paris in 1995. The legendary Tiffany Diamond is on display at the house’s 5th Avenue flagship, where it attracts hundreds of visitors a day. As for the stone’s worth? One estimate is at $30 million, while Tiffany executives consider it priceless.

The Tiffany & Co. Creative Class

Upon Charles Lewis Tiffany’s death in 1902, his son, Louis Comfort Tiffany, was named the house’s first design director. He would become an important figure in the American Art Deco movement, with his colorful aesthetic defining the house during that period. The house also became the first American retailer to have a gemologist, Dr. George Frederick Kunz, on staff. In 1903 the gemstone Kunzite was named after him and sold at the house after its discovery. Jean Schlumberger, the legendary jewelry designer, joined Tiffany in 1956. He became known for his playful, fantastical, and whimsical designs that captured the imagination of many. From the mid-’50s to early ‘60s, Andy Warhol designed holiday cards for the jeweler. In 1974 Tiffany hired Elsa Peretti, who arguably was the house’s chicest designer. Peretti gave the house its edge by bringing back silver to the house and creating fashionable jewelry meant to be worn every day. John Loring became Tiffany’s design director in 1979. He still remains at the house as design director emeritus. In 1980 Paloma Picasso captured the fast strokes of the graffiti that was prevalent on New York’s streets, using it in the designs for her first collection with Tiffany & Co. Reed Krakoff, who had no jewelry design experience and helmed Coach, was hired as artistic director in 2017 because of his “deep understanding of iconic American design.” He would leave the house in 2021.

Tiffany and Hollywood

Breakfast at Tiffany’s, the 1961 romantic comedy starring Audrey Hepburn as Holly Golightly and George Peppard as a struggling writer, gave Tiffany a starring role in a Hollywood film. Inspired by Truman Capote’s 1958 novella of the same name, the film would go on to win an Academy Award for best song, and considered “culturally, historically or aesthetically” significant by the US Library of Congress. Countless celebrities have worn Tiffany on the red carpet and in everyday life. In 2021, Andra Day wore over $2 million worth of Tiffany & Co. to the Oscars. Over the years, royalty like Kate, the Duchess of Cambridge, as well as celebrities like Michelle Williams, Priyanka Chopra, Lupita Nyong’o, Kate Hudson, Scarlett Johannsen, Kim Kardashian, Carey Mulligan, Ansel Elgort, Billy Porter, Anya Taylor-Joy, Taylor Swift, Arianna Grande, and more have worn Tiffany & Co.   

Audrey Hepburn in the Breakfast at Tiffany’s poster

Audrey Hepburn in the Breakfast at Tiffany’s poster. Courtesy Amazon.

Materials

Tiffany produces items in virtually every precious metal and stone, with a few unique materials that are exclusive to the label, like the Rubedo metal that was introduced in 2012 to celebrate the house’s 175th anniversary. Stones discovered by the house include the green tsavorite, which was mined between Tanzania and Kenya, and tanzanite, a blue-purple stone found at the base of Mount Kilimanjaro. 

Tiffany also abides by the Tiffany Diamond Certificate, which, according to the house, “certifies the authenticity, integrity and grades of your Tiffany diamond, and is backed by our Full Lifetime Warranty.”

 

Sizing

Elsa Peretti Wave Single-Row Ring 18K Yellow Gold and Diamond

Elsa Peretti Wave Single-Row Ring 18K Yellow Gold and Diamond

Size: 6
Width: 1.2 mm

South Sea Strand Necklace Cultured Pearls with Platinum and Diamonds

South Sea Strand Necklace Cultured Pearls with Platinum and Diamonds

Length: 18.00 ”
Width: 0.5 mm

Schlumberger Lynn Bracelet in Platinum
with Diamonds

Schlumberger Lynn Bracelet in Platinum with Diamonds

Circumference: 7.5 ”
Width: 0.4 mm

Paloma Picasso Loving Heart Pendant Necklace 18K Yellow Gold with Diamond

Paloma Picasso Loving Heart Pendant Necklace 18K Yellow Gold with Diamond

Length: 18.00″
Pendant Length: 15.50 mm
Pendant Width: 15.50 mm

 Ladybug Pendant Pendant & Charms Platinum with Enamel and Diamonds

Ladybug Pendant Pendant & Charms Platinum with Enamel and Diamonds

18 Diamonds 0.2ct.
Height/Length: 0.65 ”
Width: 0.65 “

Atlas Cocktail
Round Quartz
Watch

Atlas Cocktail Round Quartz Watch

Case Size/Width: 26mm
Watch Height: 8mm
Band Width: 14mm
Wrist circumference: 6.0″

Clover Key Pendant Necklace

Clover Key Pendant Necklace

Length: 18.00 ”
Length: 18 “

 Legacy Band Ring in Platinum with Diamonds

Legacy Band Ring in Platinum with Diamonds

26 Round Brilliant Cut Diamonds ~1.5ct.
Width: 3.4 mm

 Wire Bracelet in 18K Rose Gold with Diamonds and Mother Of Pearl

Wire Bracelet in 18K Rose Gold with Diamonds and Mother Of Pearl

Circumference: 6.25 “

Product Range and Special Editions

South Sea Strand Necklace Cultured Pearls with Platinum and Diamonds

South Sea Strand Necklace Cultured Pearls with Platinum and Diamonds

Schlumberger Lynn Bracelet in Platinum
with Diamonds

Schlumberger Lynn Bracelet in Platinum with Diamonds

The Victoria
Collection

The Victoria Collection

Four hand-cut diamond petals on a four-petal flower mark this collection of rings, bracelets, necklaces, and more, featuring round, pear-shaped, and marquise diamonds. 

Paloma Picasso

Paloma Picasso

The daughter of one of history’s most famous artists, Picasso found inspiration in the graffiti that covered New York’s gritty streets in the ‘70s. So much so, that she incorporated its quick strokes into her inaugural jewelry collection for the house in 1979.

Elsa Peretti 

Elsa Peretti

Elsa Peretti added a dose of glamorous edge to Tiffany when she joined the house in the mid-’70s. A muse and close friend of Halston, she was a regular at Studio54. Inspired by art, design, and the world around her, Peretti’s fluid collection would become one of the house’s best-selling ones.  

The Tiffany T Collection

The Tiffany T Collection

Debuted in 2014, The Tiffany T Collection ushered in a new look for the house, representing the creativity, happiness, love, and strength that Tiffany & Co. signifies. 

The Atlas X Collection

The Atlas X Collection

The Atlas X Collection takes Tiffany’s Roman numeral motif, adding it to contemporary necklaces, rings, bracelets, and more.

The Keys Collection

The Keys Collection

After the world emerged from a global recession in 2008, Tiffany unveiled its Keys collection, featuring pendants that symbolize optimism, hope, and the possibility of a bright future. 

HardWear

HardWear

The interplay between tension and proportion are significant markers of the hip HardWear collection that was introduced in 2017 to represent New York’s power and edge.

1837 Wide Cuff Bracelet Sterling Silver

1837 Wide Cuff Bracelet Sterling Silver

This bracelet takes signature Tiffany markings that are typically on the inside of a ring, engraving them on the outside of a cuff bracelet.