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Tiffany and Company

tiffany’s design jewelry world

B. February 18, 1848

D. January 17, 1933

Birthplace: New York City; New York

Awards: Paris Exposition Universelle, 1889, 1900
         World’s Columbian Exposition, Chicago, 1893
         Pan-American Exposition, Buffalo, 1901
         Turin International Exposition, 1902
         Lousiana Purchase Exposition, Saint Louis, 1904
         Panama Pacific World Exposition, San Francisco, 1915
         New York World’s Fair, 1939

On its first day of business, in 1837, Tiffany and Young took in $4.98. By the beginning of the twentieth century, Tiffany and Company had more than 1,000 employees and branches in Paris, London, and Geneva. This dazzling ascent had everything to do with the fact that two of the greatest designers in America’s history were at the helm of Tiffany and Company: Paulding Farnham and Louis Comfort Tiffany, son of Charles, the founder.

Farnham’s pieces with enamel and gems, gold and silver, were proclaimed masterpieces by critics of the time and can be seen today at museums all over the world. Louis Tiffany’s glassmaking genius yielded not only magnificent jewelry but also accessories, ranging from clocks, paperweights, and vases to stained-glass lamps and windows.

From the Arts and Crafts style of the early 1900s through the eras of Art Nouveau, Art Deco, and Modernism, Tiffany’s creations have mirrored the tastes and changes that defined the twentieth century in America, all the while reflecting the beauty in nature and simplicity of design. Perhaps their most enduring contribution to the world of jewelry is the classic, six-prong Tiffany setting for diamond solitaire rings, introduced in the 1870s.

Tiffany’s long list of famous customers include painter Mary Cassatt, Mrs. Andrew Carnegie, Mrs. Rudyard Kipling, Mrs. Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, dukes and duchesses, sultans, actors, and burlesque queens.

It was not only the gems and art objects that attracted the attention of the world; in 1885, Tiffany was invited by the U.S. government to redesign the Great Seal which, to this day, appears on the one dollar bill.

Beside the creation of many one-of-a-kind designs, Tiffany is credited with some of the most innovative merchandising ever seen by the retail industry. For example, the direction of visual merchandising was forever changed through the company’s artistic reinvention of the window display, initiated by Walter Hoving, controlling owner of the company from 1956 to 1980, and Gene Moore, window designer extraordinaire. Moore, known for witty displays combining magnificent jewels with unlikely props and paraphernalia, joined Tiffany in 1956 and remained with the company until 1995.

A second example of Tiffany and Company’s innovative merchandising was the creation of the design director position. Since the death of Louis Comfort Tiffany in 1933, the company had been without a “tastemaker,” and Hoving, believing there should be a policy maker for design decisions, as well as for production and finance, hired Van Day Truex, who would be Tiffany’s design director from 1956 to 1979. Truex not only redesigned Tiffany’s china, crystal, and silver merchandise, but also recommended that the company hire the world’s best-known jewelry designer since the late 1930s, Jean Schlumberger. This alliance became one of Tiffany’s greatest triumphs.

Hoving’s public relations activities were legendary. Probably the greatest coup was allowing the filming of Breakfast at Tiffany’s to take place in the Fifth Avenue and 57th Street store in 1960. Audrey Hepburn helped immortalize Tiffany’s by wearing Schlumberger’s jewelry designs in her publicity photos, as well.

Wearing Schlumberger jewelry became the ultimate status symbol of the 1960s, and his fabulous pieces were photographed time and again for Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar , and Town and Country by Helmut Newton, Hiro, Richard Avedon, and Skrebneski. The 1960s ended on another high note for Tiffany and Company when the company introduced an exotic blue gem to the world, negotiating exclusive marketing rights for a recently discovered stone, tanzanite, named for the nation from which it comes, Tanzania.

During the 1970s Tiffany and Company concentrated on international expansion with the opening of its first in-store boutique in Tokyo’s Mitsukoshi Department Store. The company also added two more stars to the growing constellation of great designers—Elsa Peretti in 1974 and Angela Cummings in 1975. Peretti’s “open heart” is probably the premier icon of contemporary jewelry design, and her “diamonds by the yard” are legendary. Cummings created elegant pieces with floral and leaf motifs by mixing metals, crystal, wood, and precious stones.

Paloma Picasso was the next designer to join the Tiffany group. Her bold designs were a complete departure from the sensual shapes of the 1970s. Tiffany presented her first collection of sculpted gold jewelry with brightly colored stones in 1980, and the Tiffany-Picasso relationship continued through the remainder of the century.

Tiffany’s entrance into the luxury goods market took place under a new chairman, William R. Chaney, who began his reign in 1984. Along with John Loring, design director since 1979, the company introduced leather goods and accessories, neckties and scarves, fragrances and tableware, all part of the licensing agreements Tiffany and Company forged with famous designers.

By the year 2000, Tiffany and Company had 120 stores in forty countries. From Munich to Milan, from Singapore to Sydney, from 1837 to the present, the Tiffany name has been trusted and admired for classic design, remarkable beauty, fine craftsmanship, and, of course, the most recognizable blue box in the world.

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