The year 2022 will mark 185 years since 25-year-old Charles Lewis Tiffany and his school friend John B Young embarked on a business venture that would change the face of American retail forever. Since opening their fashionable emporium in New York, Tiffany has evolved into one of the world’s most famous brands, in no small part thanks to the iconic film Breakfast at Tiffany’s staring Audrey Hepburn, but also due to the company’s unique mix of accessibility, allure and adventurousness. Lovers of Tiffany vintage jewelry, read on!
Established in 1837, Tiffany & Co. quickly established itself as the go-to place for New York’s fashionable clientele who wanted to get away from the stuffiness of the Victorian era and were in the market for modern, clean designs. Responding to a growing desire for luxury goods, Tiffany sold everything from purses and soap to fine stationery and silverware. What’s more, in 1845 the company published the first direct-mail catalog in the US. Now known as the Blue Book, it’s still released annually, and always includes Tiffany heart jewelry alongside some of the world’s rarest jewels.
To this day, all Tiffany wares are packed in boxes the color of a robin’s egg; some of the most recognizable packaging in the world today. It was Charles Lewis Tiffany who decided that the coveted boxes could only be acquired with a Tiffany purchase – and the patented Tiffany Blue® color, now emblematic of the brand, was chosen especially by Charles.
After Charles passed away in 1902, his son, Louis Comfort Tiffany, became the company’s first official design director. The Art Nouveau movement was gaining in popularity, and Louis’s nature-inspired designs, crafted from materials such as glass, gemstones and enamels, led to his pieces becoming highly sought-after. Louis Comfort Tiffany (best-known for creating the famous Tiffany Lamp, emblematic of the Art Nouveau period) opened the Tiffany Artistic Jewelry department so that his designs could be manufactured on site.
The company also funded the work of gemologists, who travelled the world to source previously unknown colored gemstones. In 1902, Tiffany introduced kunzite, named after the celebrated gemologist, George Kunz. Kunz had found the purplish-pink gem in California. The Tiffany program also discovered morganite in Madagascar in 1910, naming it after the banking tycoon John Pierpont Morgan, who was one of the company’s most loyal customers. These were followed by tanzanite in 1967 and tsavorite garnet in 1974.
Tiffany jewelry of note
The Tiffany Yellow Diamond
In 1878, Tiffany acquired a rough yellow diamond from South Africa. Cut into a 128.54-carat polished gem, with 82 facets (90 after re-cutting by the gemologist George Kunz), the Tiffany Diamond was exhibited at the Chicago World’s Fair in 1893. It was set in a necklace that was famously worn by Audrey Hepburn in the publicity photographs for Breakfast at Tiffany’s in 1961 (although she didn’t wear a single piece of Tiffany jewelry during the film itself). It been worn very few times, counting among its elite models Lady Gaga and Beyonce.
Les Diamants de la couronne
Charles Tiffany made headlines in 1887 when, following the fall of the second French empire, he bought almost a third of the French Crown Jewels at an auction held by the French Ministry of Finance. Tiffany sold the jewels in specially made leather boxes embossed with “Diamants de la Couronne” in gold on the top and “Tiffany & Co New York and Paris” on the inner lid.
These included two lots from the Currant Leaf diamond parure made by the French crown jeweler, Bapst, for Empress Eugenie around the time of the Paris Exposition Universelle in 1855. See above.
In 1886, Tiffany introduced its signature Tiffany Setting, with the concept of a diamond ring soon becoming synonymous with love and proposals of marriage. The coveted six-prong setting maximizes the diamond’s radiance by elegantly lifting it off the band. Franklin Roosevelt purchased a Tiffany engagement ring for Eleanor Roosevelt in 1904.
One of the most popular Tiffany pieces of the last 30 years has been the Heart Tag Necklace – introduced in 1980 and beloved – nostalgially – by much of Generation Y as it has become inextricably linked with late ’90s-early noughties. The necklace was first released in 1980, inspired by an iconic keyring introduced in 1969. With models featuring no gemstones, the Heart Tag Necklace made for an accessible, yet still aspirational, line, bringing more Tiffany fans into the fold.
This year, Tiffany has reinvented this classic, collaborating with the skate brand, Supreme in an attempt to capture the next generation of fans. Pieces in the new collection read “Return to Supreme”, and include pearls, silver keychains, and Heart Tag earrings.
Important Designers of Tiffany Vintage Jewelry
Paulding Farnham (with Tiffany from 1885 – 1908)
A hero of the Tiffany vintage jewelry and the subject of a book by John Loring entitled “Tiffany’s Lost Genius”, Farnham is best known for his bejewelled interpretations of botany, in particular orchids. He was responsible for Tiffany’s contribution to the Exposition Universelle, in Paris from May 6 to October 31, 1889.
Jean Schlumberger (with Tiffany from 1956 – 1987)
In 1956, French designer, Schlumberger, joined Tiffany as lead designer. He was entrusted with setting the Tiffany Diamond, which he mounted in the now-iconic Ribbon Rosette necklace.
Schlumberger became renowned for fanciful creations inspired by nature and his travels to Bali, India and Thailand. Apart from his work with gemstones, he was known for his layered enamel and many of his pieces remain in production, such as the stackable bracelets worn by Jackie Kennedy.
Elsa Peretti (with Tiffany from 1974 – present)
For more than 40 years, the iconic Open Heart necklace by Elsa Peretti, who joined in 1974, has graced many a neck, and has appeared in various sizes in both gold and silver renderings. Her sculptural designs made sterling silver popular and she introduced diamond designs that could be worn every day, tapping into the bohemian fashions of her day.
Paloma Picasso (with Tiffany from 1979 – present)
In 1980 Paloma Picasso, daughter of Pablo Picasso and Francoise Gilot, launched her first Tiffany collection. She drew inspiration from New York City’s street art and graffiti with her first line “Paloma’s Graffiti“. Her pieces were bold and gritty and she tapped into the stocks of gemstones held by Tiffany to create colorful statement pieces that reflected the excesses of the decade, as well as her own artistic flair.
John Loring (with Tiffany from 1980-2009)
During his tenure from 1980 to 2009 design director John Loring left a distinctive mark on Tiffany’s jewelry. An accomplished designer, artist and author, he’s behind the classic Atlas wristwatch, and led the company to create elegant pieces that remain classics on the Tiffany vintage jewelry market to this day.
After nearly two centuries of outfitting Americans with its dazzling creations, Tiffany & Co. was purchased by LVMH in 2019 for $16.2 billion, securing the future for lovers of new and vintage Tiffany jewelry.