by Tiffany’s today, stroll inside and catch a look at the enormous
yellow diamond displayed on the main floor. It’s called the Tiffany
Diamond, and you may recognize it from 'Breakfast at
Tiffany’s,' as Audrey Hepburn wore it in publicity photographs for the
1961 film. Reset into a necklace with white diamonds in 2012 and as
nearly perfect as they come, this stunning hunk of ancient carbon was
first acquired by Tiffany from the Kimberley diamond mines in South
Africa in 1878. The stone was cut from 287.42 carets to 128.54 carets
with 82 facets, according to the company—almost a 45 percent reduction
in weight—but it’s a good bet the bits that fell off were put to good
use in pieces of jewelry for sale. (In case you’re tempted to buy it
for your valentine, forget it—this jewel is not for sale.)
ago as that stone’s arrival is, the company has been around for
longer—since 1837, in fact. A wealth of information about the
early years of Tiffany & Co. was unearthed and divulged by Michael
John Burlingham, a great-grandson of Louis Comfort Tiffany in his book about his grandmother, 'The Last Tiffany, a Biography of Dorothy Tiffany Burlingham.'
"Burlingham’s great-great-grandfather, Charles Lewis Tiffany,
was born in 1812 in Connecticut, and from a young age worked for his
father, a manufacturer of cotton goods. Young Charles traveled to New
York on business from time to time, liked the city and, with John
Young, soon to be his brother-in-law, and a $1,000 stake from Charles’s
father, rented a four-story building at 259 Broadway at the southwest
corner of Warren Street. That was 1837; Charles was 25, but he was
already known for his bookkeeping skills and an entrepreneurial spirit.
The Tiffany shop was next door to the A.T. Stewart & Co. department
store and across from City Hall, answering the prescription for
'location, location, location.'
the beginning, Tiffany & Young, as it was known, catered to the
carriage trade, specializing in stationery and goods from the Far East.
Burlingham tells us that Charles, clever boy that he was, would go down
to the docks when ships from Asia came in with their supply of goods,
and dealt there with ships’ captains, who sold privately a better stock
than they shipped, matching the kinds of luxury goods Tiffany mainly
dealt with. In the 1840s, the store included costume jewelry, which was
often disparaged as 'paste'....
in the 1840s, the enterprise was joined by a third partner, Charles’s
cousin J.L. Ellis, who brought an infusion of cash with him. The name
was changed to Tiffany, Young & Ellis, and John Young began to make
yearly buying trips to Europe. An 1845 catalog shows perfumes, sealing
wax, art engravings, cutlery, tea and coffee services and jewelry. It
also stipulated that items were sold for fixed prices—before then
bargaining had been the rule—and cash only, no credit. By 1847, the
shop had moved to 271 Broadway opposite the Irving House Hotel, a good
spot from which to lure wealthy out-of-town shoppers.
"One of them was the world-famous diva Jenny Lind,
who was appearing in New York for a series of performances and staying
at the Irving House hotel, across from the store. She dropped in one
day and ordered a tankard for the captain of the ship that had brought
her to New York, and Charles reciprocated by giving her a drinking
vessel that Burlingham describes as 'a mermaid rising from a foaming
sea formed the handle; Triton’s tail, the finial of the lid; and a
rainbow…arced across the tankard itself.' She loved it and ordered a
number of copies. It was the first in a series of silver trophies
Tiffany & Co. has manufactured ever since....
Comfort Tiffany (Comfort was his grandfather’s first name) was born in
1848, the first son to survive. Much was hoped and expected of him.
When he turned out to be the dreamy, artistic type without a commercial
sensibility, however, he was sent to military school, where he suffered
but nonetheless improved his ways, Burlingham writes, and improved them
enough that years later his father felt he could contribute to the
family endeavor as a designer.
the winter of that same year, John Young and another man sailed for
France on a buying trip. By chance, their arrival coincided with the
fall of Louis Philippe, and members of the aristocracy panicked,
selling off everything they could, including jewelry, for whatever
price they could get. Unable to communicate with Charles, John Young
went ahead and bought jewels hand over fist—emeralds, diamonds, rubies,
pearls—most of it in loose stones, including some from the French
Crown. Among the haul was a stomacher owned
by Marie Antoinette, a large, decorated triangular piece worn as the
center of a bodice. Often the most important piece of a garment, this
one was covered with jewels.
was all it took. Tiffany began designing its own jewelry with those
stones and discontinued costume jewelry. Three years later, John Young
inherited money from his father and retired, Charles bought out Ellis
and the enterprise became Tiffany & Co.
tells us that in 1865, when Louis graduated from his detested military
school, he spent his time drawing and painting, and Charles gave up
hope that his eldest son would follow in his footsteps. Instead, Louis
enrolled in the National Academy of Design, studied for a year in Paris
and excelled to the point where the Philadelphia Centennial Exposition
of 1876 selected eleven of his works to show.
was also experimenting with glass, a medium he was to become associated
with from then on. As Burlingham says, Louis’s 'incessant
experimentation and reckless expenditure of capital stretched the
technical vocabulary of glass to new limits, achieving the fluent,
mature style for which his windows are famous.' In 1875, more than
4,000 new churches were under construction in the U.S., and some of
them commissioned the L.C. Tiffany & Co. for windows. Moreover,
from the 1870s through World War I, stained glass appeared not only in
churches but in residential windows and transoms, skylights, steamships
though, Louis concentrated on painting nature. His work became so
admired that he was asked to design rooms and whole interiors for
townhouses and theaters in New York, as well as rooms at the White
House for President Chester Arthur. His work in glass and interiors led to a liaison with Lockwood de Forest, a designer importing carved teak from India, and Candace Wheeler,
a textile designer, into the Associated Artists. They collaborated with
architect Stanford White on the Veterans Room at the 67th Street Armory
in Manhattan (a restoration of it was completed in March 2016 and can
be seen today).
according to a press release from the company, Tiffany & Co. had
become 'America’s premier silversmith and purveyor of jewels and
timepieces.' In 1870, they acquired and demolished an old
abolitionist church at 15th Street on the west side of Union Square to
replace it with a five-story, 90-foot tall, cast iron building, an
early example of that kind of architecture in the city. (It still
stands, stripped of its exterior detail and reclad in black glass for
residential use a few years ago. If you look closely, through the glass
you can still see the arched openings in the original facade.)
store remained on Union Square until 1905, when work was completed on a
building designed by Stanford White in the Italian Renaissance style at
37th Street and 5th Avenue. It is also extant and was designated a New
York City landmark in 1988.
the late 1880s, a competitive spirit developed between Charles and
Louis Tiffany. In 1889, both the company and Louis showed at the
Exposition Universelle in Paris, and four years later they both again
showed at the World’s Columbian Exhibition in Chicago, visited by 27
million people. Tiffany & Co. picked up 56 medals, Louis 54. It was
then that Louis resolved to pursue experiments in blown glass, working
on free-blown flower-form vases and development of the iridescence
associated with Favrile glass. In the 1900 Paris Exposition, Louis was
honored for this work and acknowledged as the new leader worldwide of
this decorative style.
years later, Charles Lewis Tiffany died. Louis became the company’s
first art director but continued with his other businesses. His Tiffany
Glass Company never turned a profit, but it lasted a few years beyond
his death in 1933.
& Co., on the other hand, continued to flourish, employing other
great designers, such as Jean Schlumberger, Elsa Peretti and Paloma
Picasso, and producing china for the White House and connoisseurs of
fine living everywhere. In 1940, they moved into their current
flagship on Fifth Avenue between 56th and 57th Streets, today
sharing the east side of the avenue with Trump Tower...."