Tiffany & Co. (Est. 1837 - ) The expression, “What’s in a name?” has become a cliché, but for Tiffany, it is anything but. Lionized in song (“Diamonds Are Girl’s Best Friend”), books and movies (“Breakfast at Tiffany’s” and “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes”), the company and its jewelry are lauded as the peak of excellence, quality, and value. In fact, when making comparisons, products often call themselves the “Tiffany” of this or that industry.
No wonder LVMH thought it would be a jewel in its crown. When the French conglomerate reached a deal to buy the company innate November 2019 for $16.2 billion, in the largest deal ever in luxury, it didn’t just buy an American jeweler. It bought a part of the culture.
The first Tiffany store opened in 1837 with Charles Lewis Tiffany (1812 – 1902) and his partner John B. Young in charge. At first, the company sold miscellaneous and inexpensive goods but soon expanded to sell jewelry, diamonds, and watches. Unlike other stores of the time, Tiffany clearly marked the prices on its goods to prevent haggling. In addition, going against the social norm at the time, Tiffany only accepted cash and did not accept payment on credit.
Charles Lewis Tiffany, ultimately referred to by the press as, “The King of Diamonds” was born in Killingly, Connecticut. His father, Comfort Tiffany was a cotton goods manufacturer. Charles studied at Plainfield’s Academy, also in Connecticut. When he was fifteen, he began working for a general store near his family’s mill while he attended school. He ran the store for ten years then joined his father’s company, C. Tiffany & Son.
In 1841 Charles Tiffany married Harriet Young, his partner’s sister. They had six children; one of whom, Louis Comfort Tiffany, became a noted designer in his own right when he created Tiffany Favrile iridescent glassware. Louis became an early exponent of jewelry and objects created in the Art Nouveau style that had been introduced beginning in 1892.
Charles Tiffany used his advertising genius to promote his company. In 1841, J. L. Ellis became a partner. The company was then known as, Tiffany, Young, and Ellis and located in lower Manhattan. During this time, Tiffany and Young travelled throughout Europe, buying and acquiring large collections of jewelry.
In 1845, the first Tiffany's mail order catalog known as the "Blue Book," was published in the United States. The catalog continues to be published today although it is no longer free.
In 1850, Tiffany introduced the English Sterling Silver standard that was later also made official for American Sterling silverware. In 1853, Charles Tiffany acquired the entire firm and called it, Tiffany & Co. In 1858 Tiffany’s sold sections of the first transatlantic cable as souvenirs that became one of the most publicized promotions of that year.
During the Civil War, Tiffany’s manufactured patriotic items, such as flags, medals, and swords. One sword was a jewel-encrusted presentation sword for General Grant and another was made for General Sherman.
After the war, Tiffany opened a London store and moved the main store’s headquarters to New York’s Fifth Avenue. In 1905 the store moved again to a sixteenth century Venetian style building on Fifth Avenue at 37th Street. This location became a National Landmark in 1978. During its time at this location, the company started producing clocks and watches.
In 1861 Tiffany was selected to design a presentation pitcher for the inauguration of President Lincoln who later bought his wife, Mary Todd Lincoln, a seed pearl jewelry suite made by the company. In 1867, Tiffany’s was the first American firm to win the gold medal for jewelry, and the grand prize for silverware at the Paris Exposition.
The company opened a factory in Newark, New Jersey that produced Tiffany’s silverware, stationery, and leather goods. In 1868 Tiffany’s merged with Edward C. Moore & Co., a company of silversmiths. From 1851, Moore had worked for Tiffany’s as a designer and is credited with introducing Japanese styles to Tiffany designs of that period.
In 1877, the insignia that would become the famous New York Yankees "NY" logo was struck for a police medal of honor made by the Tiffany Company. The Yankees adopted the logo in 1909. In 1878, Tiffany again won the gold medal for jewelry and a grand prize for silverware at another Paris Exposition. This continued to add to Tiffany’s brand name prestige.
In 1878, Charles Tiffany acquired the legendary, canary yellow diamond (the largest known diamond of this color) and heralded it as the “Tiffany Diamond.” It weighed 128.51 carats and was cut from a rough diamond weighing 287.42 carats and is believed to have been found in the Kimberley Mine of South Africa.
The diamond was worn by Audrey Hepburn and is seen in publicity photos for the movie, “Breakfast at Tiffany’s.” It’s been displayed at several exhibitions and is on continuous display at Tiffany’s current location in New York.
In 1886, Tiffany introduced the “Tiffany Setting,” for diamond solitaire finger rings. This would become the classic engagement ring style. The setting raised the stone from the setting to produce a maximum amount of light to set off the diamond’s brilliance.
In 1887, Tiffany bought the French Crown Jewels and brought more publicity to the company further solidifying the Tiffany brand to quality diamonds. The company was licensed to revise the Great Seal of the United States in 1885.
In 1902, Charles Lewis Tiffany, died of pneumonia at the age of ninety. At his death, Tiffany had already created a company that, for over fifty years, had become America’s foremost jeweler and a uniquely American symbol of elegance and style. Tiffany proved that American artisans were among the best in the world.
It was upon his father’s passing that Louis Comfort Tiffany (1848 – 1926) became vice president and artistic director of Tiffany & Co. Upon ascending to his new title, Louis established a special department in the company called, Tiffany Art Jewelry. He then embarked on a jewelry design career that enhanced the reputation he’d acquired for his designs in Favrile iridescent glassware.
Louis Comfort Tiffany was a world leader of the Art Nouveau movement. He is revered for his fanciful jewelry as well as stained glass lamps and windows that brighten museums, banks, hospitals, hotel lobbies and more.
From the late 19th century onward, the Tiffany Company produced pieces with Japanese motifs, diamond necklaces in the Edwardian garland style, and flower brooches that were almost-life-size. This included a bearded iris pin, whose flower dripped with blue Montana sapphires and red rhodolites and whose stem was studded with green garnets that measured 9 1/2 inches.
During the Art Nouveau era, Louis continued this naturalistic style with intricate brooches that resembled buzzing dragonflies and flowering Queen Anne’s lace. In addition to diamonds and other precious stones, Tiffany used enameling techniques and semi-precious stones in his pieces.
In 1919, the company revised the Medal of Honor on behalf of the U.S. Department of the Navy. This "Tiffany Cross" version of the Medal was only awarded for combat and the previous design was used for non-combat awards until 1942 when the Navy eliminated the Tiffany Cross and the two-medal system.
Even after Louis’ death in 1926, the company continued to set benchmarks for the jewelry industry. Tiffany platinum became the official standard for all platinum in America. In 1940, Tiffany moved its New York headquarters to its own building (designed by Cross & Cross), on Fifth Avenue and 57th Street, where it can be found today.
In 1955, Walter Hoving received control of Tiffany by the Tiffany and Moore families. After Hoving’s retirement in1968, Henry B. Platt (the great-great-grandson of Charles Tiffany) became chairman of the Board and was responsible for the discovery, naming and introduction of tanzanite, a unique blue gemstone.
In 1969, Tiffany designed and introduced a new engagement ring, the “Lucida.
Tiffany & Company (NYSE: TIF) now almost always referred to as Tiffany or Tiffany's has become a multinational luxury jewelry and specialty retailer selling jewelry, sterling silver, china, crystal, stationery, fragrances, watches, personal accessories, as well as some leather goods. Tiffany is renowned for its luxury goods and is particularly known for its diamond jewelry.
In 2000, The Tiffany & Company Foundation was established to provide grants to nonprofit organizations doing work in the environment and the arts.
In 2004, Tiffany & Company created "Iridesse", a chain of stores dedicated to pearl-only jewelry. The company operated 16 stores in Florida, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, California, Illinois, Massachusetts, and Virginia. However, that chain operated at a loss and the company announced in early 2009 that, despite its belief in the concept, it would discontinue Iridesse due to the recessionary economic climate.
As of January 2014, the company operated 121 stores in the Americas, 72 in Asia-Pacific, 54 in Japan, 37 in Europe and 5 in "emerging markets".
The company's manufacturing facilities produce approximately 60% of the merchandise they sell. The balance, including rose-gold and almost all non-jewelry items, are purchased overseas from third parties.
Tiffany's oversees a significant American manufacturing base with jewelry and silver goods produced in Mount Vernon, New York; Cumberland, Rhode Island; and Lexington, Kentucky, while silver hollow-ware is produced in New Jersey. The company's other subsidiaries, located in facilities outside the U.S., process, cut, and polish the diamonds.
George Frederick Kunz, a Tiffany gemologist, was instrumental in the international adoption of the metric carat as a weight standard for gems.
Tiffany designs have been worn by famous families like the Astors and Vanderbilts, athletes, Hollywood stars, and European royalty. Like other diamond retailers, Tiffany's enforces a strict policy against repurchasing diamonds sold from its stores.
In 1978, a female customer in New York was denied after she attempted to sell back a diamond ring she had bought from Tiffany for 100K two years earlier. Writing for The Atlantic magazine in 1982, Edward Jay Epstein explained the rationale for Tiffany’s policy:
”Retail jewelers, especially … prestigious Fifth Avenue stores, prefer not to buy back diamonds from customers, because the offer they would make would most likely be considered ridiculously low ... Most jewelers would prefer not to make a customer an offer that might be deemed insulting and also might undercut the widely held notion that diamonds go up in value. Moreover, since retailers generally receive their diamonds for engagement rings from wholesalers on consignment, and need not pay for them until they are sold, they would not readily risk their own cash to buy diamonds from customers. Rather than offer customers a fraction of what they paid for diamonds, retail jewelers almost invariably recommend firms that specialize in buying diamonds "retail."
Tiffany makes the Vince Lombardi Trophy awarded annually to the National Football League’s (NFL) Super Bowl winner. Tiffany also made the 2010 and 2012 World Series rings for the San Francisco Giants. The MLS championship trophy won by the Los Angeles Galaxy in 2011 was also made by Tiffany.
Among the Tiffany Company’s current roster of premiere designers are Elsa Peretti whose collections include Bean, Diamonds by the Yard, Open Heart, Sevillana, and Teardrop; the Paloma Picasso collections that include Loving Heart and Sugar Stacks; and Jean Schlumberger’s (1907 – 1987) widely admired nature-inspired creations. On 21 March 2021, The New York Times reported that Ms. Peretti passed away, March 18, 2021.
In January 2015, Elle Magazine wrote, “…that a little girl dreams of opening a Tiffany blue box from her beau when he finally pops the question. But what about the boys who dream of being proposed to by their beaus? For the first time, Tiffany & Co. [features] a gay couple in its latest engagement campaign.”
"Nowadays, the road to marriage is no longer linear, and true love can happen more than once with love stories coming in a variety of forms," said Linda Buckley, Tiffany & Co. VP of North American PR, in a statement to ELLE.com.
"The Tiffany engagement ring is the first sentence of the story that a couple will write together as they create a life that is deeply intimate and exceptional, which is the message we hope to convey through [the gay] campaign."
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