A history of Tiffany & Co

The heritage of Tiffany & Co. is one that comes steeped in romance, both on and off the screen

Audrey Hepburn is synonymous with Tiffany & Co. When Holly Golightly stares in the window with her black bug-eyed sunglasses, pearls around her neck and dressed in a black shift dress, her hair coiled upon her head. It’s in the famous Manhattan store that she gets a Cracker Jack ring – a gift from neighbour and beau Paul – engraved.

The history of Tiffany & Co. is one steeped in romance. What began in 1837, grew into a global design house: the first store opened in New York and the first day’s sales totalled at USD $4.98. Today, it is renowned for among other things, its key necklaces, the T collection, the blue box and, more recently, its sale: at the end of last year LVMH agreed a $15.8bn takeover of Tiffany.

During the 1850s, Tiffany was the first American company to institute the .925 sterling silver standard, which would later be adopted by the US. During the same decade, Charles Tiffany Lewis – the man who founded the now legendary house – unveiled a nine-foot Atlas clock above the Tiffany store, which to this day stands at the entrance of the Fifth Avenue flagship store. It is also the oldest public clock in New York.

There are many, many highlights in the house’s history – in 1862, for example, President Abraham Lincoln bought a Tiffany seed pearl necklace and earrings for his wife and she wore them to the inaugural ball. Prior to that, in 1845, the brand published a direct mail catalogue, known as the Blue Book, which is still released annually and features the world’s rarest jewels. And when, in 1848, Charles Lewis Tiffany bought gemstones from European aristocrats and brought them back to the US, he enabled the nation’s elite to purchase major jewels at home for the first time. The brand became known for introducing luxury. Case in point, a fancy yellow diamond bought by Tiffany in 1878 – 287.42 carats to be exact, which was cut to 128.54 – became known as the Tiffany Diamond. And has become another reason to visit the flagship store.

Other hallmarks of Tiffany include the Tiffany® Setting, in 1886, which has gone a considerable way in creating the engagement ring as we know it today. Flawlessly engineered, the six-prong setting is virtually hidden and allows a brilliant diamond to float above the band. It is noted for its beauty.

It was in 1902 that Tiffany appointed its first official Design Director – Louis Comfort Tiffany, who was Charles Lewis Tiffany’s son. He would be an influential name in the upcoming Art Nouveau movement, noted for his colourful and naturalistic style. And in 1903, when the gem kunzite was discovered, it was named in honour of Tiffany’s chief gemmologist, Dr. George Frederick Kunz.

Tiffany Knot bracelet

Come 1940 and Tiffany would work its magic once more – opening a flagship at the corner of 57th and Fifth Avenue. The area would become a destination shopping spot – and no doubt later enhanced by Hepburn’s visit. That would take place in 1961. The film was the first to have ever been filmed in the Tiffany flagship store (Sleepless in Seattle and Sweet Home Alabama would later follow suit).

In 1956, the designer Jean Schlumberger joined the house. Sea creatures and plants were noted motifs and he was known for his whimsical designs that were precious with their use of gemstones.
Meanwhile, Tiffany would also go on to produce the 1967 NFL® Vince Lombardi Super Bowl Trophy for the first Super Bowl®.

Elsa Peretti, chum of the fashion designer Roy Halston, joined the house in 1974. Her aesthetic was deemed revolutionary for its sculptural and modern design. Sterling silver was a favourite under her eye, given new appeal, and her Diamonds by the Yard® collection introduced diamond jewellery that could be worn every day.

History Tiffany

John Loring was next up as design director, appointed in 1979, and would be there crafting his legacy for the next 40 years. Meanwhile, in 1980 Paloma Picasso debuted her first Tiffany collection. It was inspired by New York’s graffiti-ed buildings during the 1970s and would become incredibly popular.

Into the 2000s, Tiffany worked with Pantone® in 2001 to create “1837 Blue” in honour of the iconic Tiffany Blue® shade. And for 2012, to honour the company’s 175th anniversary, Tiffany introduced Rubedo® metal. Further launches included the 2014 Tiffany T collection debut, a very successful attempt at creating an icon for a new era, it featured the T as part of the jewellery design. Luxury homeware and accessories items were introduced in 2017 as was The Blue Box Cafe®, which opened at the Fifth Avenue flagship store, quite literally – as the brand itself said – enabling everyone to enjoy breakfast at Tiffany.

A note on Dr. George Frederick Kunz, it was he who sold an exceptional tourmaline to founder Charles Lewis Tiffany at a time when coloured gemstones were rare in American jewellery. Kunz would thereafter join Tiffany, his role to find the very best gemstones for the Tiffany client.

And with regards to that Tiffany blue – or green depending on your personal perspective – it’s thought that its origins lie in the popularity of turquoise during the 19th century. The blue box would even become as popular as many of the Tiffany jewellery designs – so much so that people would reportedly come in and try and buy them. But Charles Lewis Tiffany said no – to any price! In something of a charming tale, he supposedly once told The New York Sun in 1906 that he would happily give one to you for free – just so long as you selected a design to put in it first. Haha! The blue was trademarked in 1998.

Particular designers of note who have led the design legacy of Tiffany include both the aforesaid Elsa Peretti and Jean Schlumberger. Of the former, the first day her debut collection went on sale, it sold out. Schlumberger, a gifted artist, would often travel to destinations including Bali, India and Thailand to inspire his works. He received many honours and awards including the Coty American Fashion Critics’ Award (he was the first jewellery designer to do so) and the Musée des Arts Décoratifs in Paris honoured him with a retrospective entitled “Un Diamant dans la Ville” in 1995.

Paloma Picasso, meanwhile, daughter of the artist Pablo, was thought of as a fairly progressive choice for the house at the time of her appointment in the 1980s. She began working with the house when invited to design a table setting in 1979. Within a year she had begun to create jewellery for Tiffany and under own name, Paloma’s Grafitti. Street art made for her references, which she reconfigured into covetable designs that have become iconic in their own way.

Tiffany Knot design

The fashion designer Reed Krakoff has also been at the creative helm of the iconic jewellery house. In January 2017 it was announced he would be its chief artistic officer, which was a newly created position. He had previously worked with the house on a relaunch of its gifts and home and accessories collections. Then design director Francesa Amfitheatrof left the company after three and a half years in the role.

The house became the centre of a controversial takeover by LVMH in 2019 (partly because Tiffany is an American legacy brand), in that once agreed it soon became a bitter dispute (when LVMH looked to be backing out) and took until January 2021 to sort out. The house was eventually bought by the luxury conglomerate in a $15.8 billion deal.

Bernard Arnault, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of LVMH, said: “We are committed to supporting Tiffany, a brand that is synonymous with love and whose Blue Box is revered around the world, with the same dedication and passion that we have applied to each of our prestigious Maisons over the years. We are optimistic about Tiffany’s ability to accelerate its growth, innovate and remain at the forefront of our discerning customers’ most cherished life achievements and memories.”

In March 2021 Ruba Abu-Nimah was hired as creative director. She was formerly global creative director at Revlon and before that global creative director for Shiseido in Japan and was the first female creative director of Elle.