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A history of Tiffany in three pieces of jewellery

Written by Beulah | 11th September 2019

Tiffany & Co. is turning 182 years old and we’re feeling nostalgic. Whether you’re sporting a yellow diamond engagement ring, a classic open heart necklace, or something special from the Tiffany-T collection; you can be sure that there’s a fascinating history behind your favourite piece of jewellery.

The beginning and a yellow diamond ring

Charles Tiffany established Tiffany & Co. in 1837 as a luxury goods and stationary seller, although many of the practises that made Tiffany stand out in its early years are far removed from what we associate with “luxury” today: shoppers at the Tiffany flagship store had to pay in cash (whereas the standard at the time was to buy jewellery on credit), prices were given upfront (to avoid bargaining) and the company had a catalogue (“The Blue Book”). Tiffany & Co. arguably didn’t attain the status of a luxury brand until 1878, when Charles Tiffany purchased the Tiffany Yellow Diamond.

One of the biggest diamonds ever discovered; the purchase of the Tiffany Yellow Diamond cemented Charles Tiffany’s reputation as a gemstone connoisseur. The diamond was so brilliant that Tiffany gemologist George Frederick Kunz studied it for over a year before he started cutting, and the end result was a 128.54-carat cushion cut. All this and, to heap glamour on glamour, the diamond has only ever been worn by three women: Mrs E. Sheldon Whitehouse, Audrey Hepburn and Lady Gaga.

Today, no matter which Tiffany store you wander into–from Paris to Paradise Island–you can expect to see an array of yellow diamond rings. These unusual stones helped set Tiffany & Co. on the path to success and have become one of the brand’s enduring legacies.

Coming-of-age and an open heart necklace

By the 1970s Tiffany & Co. was already one of the U.S.A.’s premium luxury brands; it arguably wasn’t until Elsa Peretti came on board and designed the open heart necklace that Tiffany really became a part of the country’s zeitgeist. Peretti’s designs, especially the open heart necklace, are often described in slightly florid terms such as fluid, voluptuous and seductive. While there is no doubt that they are all of these things, they were also innovative and extremely commercial. 

Tiffany’s open heart necklace – a fluid silver outline of a heart, crowned by a small diamond and suspended from a slender silver chain – has now become a familiar sight at grand occasions and during day-to-day life. After Peretti designed the first open heart necklace it almost immediately became a staple of 16th, 18th and 21st birthday parties, as well as a popular graduation gift.

Jewellery has always been a go-to gift for important moments. Tiffany, however, has gone one step further by reworking classical jewellery motifs for each new generation. Peretti set the standard with her open heart necklace, but it would take something even more innovative to secure Tiffany & Co. place as a 21st-century jewellery powerhouse.

21st-century marketing and a Tiffany T bracelet

The Tiffany T collection pulls on a long tradition of theatrical gestures from Tiffany & Co. Charles Tiffany courted publicity from the company’s early days; via the purchase of the Tiffany Yellow Diamond and a high-profile purchase of the French crown jewels. Mid-20th-century saw the brand collaborating with Andy Warhol and designing china for the First Lady (Lady Bird Johnson). And, of course, the famous Tiffany blue boxes quickly became recognisable and desirable on their own account.

Tiffany & Co. launched a series of lawsuits in the late-90s; aimed at protecting their distinctive designs and colour palette. Tiffany also trademarked Tiffany Blue, and the company accused eBay of selling counterfeit Tiffany products (the case was dismissed, twice). The action sparked some deeper discussion about the nature of copyright in a digital age, and it made wearing real Tiffany a point of pride for fans of the brand. Plus all that extra online chatter didn’t exactly hurt Tiffany sales.

Moving into the 21st century: Francesca Amfitheatrof’s Tiffany T jewellery is the quintessential, Instagrammable collection. Released in 2014, the collection comes in filter-friendly colours like rose pink, white gold, and Tiffany-turquoise. It’s been hailed as “fashion engineering”, a new kind of jewellery for a new kind of audience.

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