Jewellery

Inside Tiffany & Co.’s revamped Fifth Avenue store

After lengthy renovations, the Tiffany & Co. Landmark store at 57th and Fifth Avenue has reopened. An American institution owned by luxury conglomerate LVMH, Vivienne Becker shows us inside the newly transformed New York flagship

25 April 2023

By Vivienne Becker

The figure of Atlas, the world on his shoulders, still towers over the famous modernist granite and limestone façade on the corner of Manhattan’s Fifth Avenue and Fifty-Seventh Street, welcoming customers, the curious, dreamers and devotees into the world of Tiffany & Co.

Yet from next week anyone who pushes through the steel and glass revolving doors, under Atlas’s watchful eye, will find themselves inside a very different world: since 2020, the Fifth Avenue flagship store, a New York landmark, has been under complete renovation, re-imagined and rejuvenated by Peter Marino, in collaboration with architects OMA, Office for Metropolitan Architecture. Marino was responsible for the dazzling interior and preservation of
the façade, while OMA designed a three-storey glass construction to extend the building.

Tiffany Fifth Avenue
The façade of Tiffany & Co.’s newly-renovated Fifth Avenue store in New York

As the full glamour and glory of its astonishing contemporary makeover is revealed, at a glitzy, celebrity-fuelled event, it’s crystal clear that this is so much more than redecoration. It is a signal that, now, under the ownership and direction of LVMH, the 186-year old Tiffany & Company is reborn, ready to take on a new age of adornment, poised to entice and engage the millennial market and primed to turn the page onto a new chapter of this storied emporium of American luxury.

So much more than a store, a brand, or even a much-visited tourist destination, Tiffany is a national institution, a cultural icon, its sweeping saga interwoven with New York social history. It is part of the making of modern America. Even more, it occupies a hallowed and poignant place in literature and cinema, as Holly Golightly’s haven of happiness and security in Breakfast at Tiffany’s. So not only has the very French LVMH had to take on and tinker with complex concepts of American luxury, both aspirational and accessible, but they also have to tamper, sensitively, with the powerful emotional resonance of a global legend.

Tiffany & Co. Fifth Avenue store
Tiffany & Co’s historic flagship store on Fifth Avenue reopens on 28 April

From the start, LVMH shook up Tiffany’s romantic classicism with the lavish Beyoncé and Jay-Z About Love campaign, as well as with unexpected high-profile, youth-fuelled street- style collaborations, an NFT and Nike sneakers. Yet now, judging by the legacy-driven jewellery launch collections and by the Landmark interior with its dramatic curvaceous sweeping staircase, inspired by Elsa Peretti’s sensual organic lines, the most dynamic way forward seems to be through Tiffany’s illustrious past, throughout which, by the way, the quest for pulsating modernity, innovation and ingenuity, has always been a mission and motivator.

Chief gemmologist, Victoria Reynolds, who began her career as a summer temp in the Fifth Avenue flagship store, and remembers visiting the store as a child, describes the complete transformation as “a bridge, both physical and spiritual, between the legacy of the past and the legacy of the future.” She believes the Landmark building “represents the soul of Tiffany,” and adds, “At its heart it is a place where dreams come true, a place of beauty, with a welcoming presence.”

The 10,000-square-metre flagship store spans an impressive 10 floors

She sees how the renovation crystallizes the clarity and certainty of the LVMH vision for the future of the house. “There have been critical chapters in the long history of the company, but none as exciting or important as this. Our passion has never been more focused.” Legacy, she says, is the foundation of that vision, inspired and lifted up by the past, without holding onto it. It is she says a springboard into the future.

As a gemologist, there is not a single day, she states, when she’s not inspired by or thinking about aspects of legacy: their founder Charles Lewis Tiffany, his purchase of the French Crown jewels, the glorious golden Tiffany diamond or George Kunz, Tiffany’s famous first chief gemologist who joined the company aged 18 and changed the course of its history, exploring and discovering new gemstone varieties, forming museum gem collections and stimulating design creativity.

Tiffany & Co. 1961 platinum brooch, set with diamonds and cubic zirconia

Kunz’s immense legacy to both the company and jewellery history includes Tiffany’s championing and marketing of newly-discovered African gems, notably tanzanite and tsavorite in the 1960s. In the same spirit, most recently, LVMH dipped into its deep pockets to secure one of the last collections of rare and precious Argyle pink diamonds, heritage stones of the future, 35 superlative specimens in varying shades of pink from the now extinct Argyle mine in Western Australia. The Argyle pink diamonds, along with the so-called Legacy Gems that remain central to Tiffany jewellery collections, are now given their own dedicated space within the reinvigorated Landmark, to tell their stories.

Just as, says Reynolds, the Tiffany legacy gems,
and newer species, including cuprian tourmalines (in shades of Tiffany blue) are incorporated in the new Blue Book high jewellery collection (to be unveiled shortly after the grand re-opening). The collection pays homage to the genius of Jean Schlumberger but takes it to a new level, through the vision of Nathalie Verdeille, ex-Cartier creative director, now Tiffany & Co. vice president and artistic director for jewellery. Reynolds calls Schlumberger their “North Star” and explains that today they are able to bring to life designs dreamt up and sketched by the French artist-jeweller that were simply not technically possible to fabricate at the time.

The striking structural staircase set in the heart of the store

Cementing the role of legacy gemstones, the Tiffany diamond, the great yellow diamond discovered in South Africa in 1877, an enduring emblem of the company’s pioneering spirit, is now given a new setting, transformable into brooch or pendant. It is only the fifth setting in the diamond’s history, two of which were designed by Schlumberger, and the completed jewel takes pride of place on display in the famously theatrical Fifth Avenue windows, for the first time since 1956. While a special jewellery collection for the relaunch is set with white diamonds in cuts inspired by the distinctive, generous cushion-shape of the Tiffany diamond.

Another new collection is conjured around Schlumberger’s signature Bird on the Rock brooch, first created in 1965. Now the quirky, chirpy cockatoo takes flight, flirting with the rocks, on a series of four suites of jewels, deconstructing the design, and each centred on a particular gemstone, white diamond, aquamarine, morganite and yellow diamond. The white diamond suite launches this month with the re-opening, with the others following on during the year.

Bapst Frères 1864 gold and sterling silver brooch set with diamonds and emerald, retailed by Tiffany & Co.

The Tiffany archives in New Jersey provide a deep well of creative inspiration, for Reynolds, who regularly scours the journals of George Kunz, the various design teams, the window display artists and even for Peter Marino who studied the original Cross & Cross plans for the Fifth Avenue store when the company moved there in 1940. He searched for other historical references with which to infuse the new flagship interiors, particularly details from the work of Louis Comfort Tiffany; original Tiffany lamps are carefully positioned throughout the store, and private salons are decorated with Louis Comfort’s favourite flowers, including the peony
and magnolia.

The archives comprise a vast storehouse of treasures, jewels, objects, silver, documents, records, ledgers, letters, sketchbooks, even Louis Comfort Tiffany’s wallpaper collection, all presided over by Christopher Young, vice president for global creative visual merchandising and the Tiffany archive, and the curator of last year’s Vision and Virtuosity exhibition in London’s Saatchi Gallery. The glittering prizes of the archives are of course the antique and vintage jewels and objects acquired by the company over the years, from the work of Paulding Farnham in the late 19th and early 20th century, through Louis Comfort’s rich, Byzantine- flavoured turn-of-the-century art jewels, to masterpieces by Jean Schlumberger, Donald Claflin’s fun, figurative 1960s fantasies, and the timelessly modern, sensually emotive creations of Elsa Peretti, with so much more in between.

Jewellery displays in the Tiffany & Co. Landmark store

If the purchase by LVMH of Bulgari jewels at the sale of Elizabeth Taylor’s jewels in 2011, soon after they bought Bulgari, is anything to go by, it seems more than likely that LVMH will step up this process of heritage acquisition, to strengthen the brand story, to build and reveal the rich layers of Tiffany history, with all of its stylistic twists and turns, its creators and characters. All of which, explains Reynolds, informs and inspires every design team in the company, stimulating every aspect of product development and visual merchandising.

It is, as the magnificent, modern Landmark building demonstrates, a living legacy, unleashing creative energy, a springboard for Tiffany today and tomorrow. The place, on that famous Manhattan corner, a people’s palace, a world of wonder and wishes, celebration and commemoration, in which dreams come true.

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