etched in the American psyche as Central park and New York City
itself, Tiffany is a chic reminder of the best of the American Dream.
a vision in state-of-his-art Givenchy, pearls and wraparound sunglasses,
steps out of a New York taxi into the early dawn light of Fifth
Avenue. Nibbling genteelly on her croissant and sipping her morning
coffee, she looks beyond her reflection deep into the magnificent
window displays of a grand store. This was Breakfast at Tiffany,
one of American cinema's most enduring moments - a tableau that
was a picture-perfect study in style and elegance.
For Holly Golightly,
Truman Capote's enduring anti-heroine, it was the only way to cure
the 'mean reds' a devastating form of sadness that could only be
dispelled by a trip to Tiffany & Co. "It calms me down
right away, the quietness and proud look of it...nothing bad could
ever happen to you there", mused the oft-pixilated gamine in
haute couture in Capote's masterful novella on the foibles of New
York society. Bewitching as she still is, in this tale of her adventures
and eccentricities, all roads and byways inevitably lead back to
Tiffany, etching it forever in the American psyche.
is not only a jeweller par excellence but as important a national
icon, perhaps as the Empire State Building. Tiffany's exists in
the American imagination as a symbol of luxury and wealth, synonymous
with impeccable taste and exuding an aura of stately grace and sophistication.
Everyone at one time or another, has wanted to browse at least,
Co. is jeweller to presidents and princes, movie stars, moguls and
millionaires yet beyond the faultless profile and famous client
base, the superlative Tiffany design and craftsmanship can be evidenced
throughout the strata of American life. From the Great Seal of the
United States, to the annual Superbowl Trophy which traditionally
has the name of the makers' favourite team engraved inside for luck;
from the Congressional Medal of Honour to the countless engagement
rings which display their solitaire diamond in a 'Tiffany Setting',
Tiffany must be the only jewellery institution in the nations' history
to have such a prominent place in the American Dream. But its presence
is not confined merely to the parameters of North America.
people from practically every country in the world", affirms
Tiffany's Design Director, John Loring, a tall imposing man possessed
of a rich baritone voice who himself embodies the charm and urbanity
of the historic company he has helped propel into the nineties.
"You will find in most of Europe's palaces, Tiffany silver
and Tiffany objets d'art, even some very modest things. Princess
Diana was given a not very expensive Tiffany pen by one of her friends.
On the other hand, there are some very wonderful isolated objects
that the very rich or the very privileged enjoy having created for
The very model
of discretion, Loring refuses to elaborate on the many privately
commissioned pieces Tiffany has created citing 'professional privilege',
not unlike a physician or a clergyman charged with inviolate confidences.
Yet, history is less discreet, revealing such extravagances as the
thirty-five foot candelabrum crafted for New York Herald publisher
James Gordon Bennt; the solid gold bathtub forwarded to Sarah Berhardt
in response to her plaintive cries that the American mid-western
towns were "so dusty", or the solid gold chamber pot complete
with jewelled 'eye' set in its vase which James Buchanan Brady had
made for Lillian Russell. All idiosyncratic pieces to be sure, but
Tiffany draws the line at good taste - the definition of which is
self-imposed, strictly-adhered to and entirely unwavering. Even
'Diamond Jim', had to purchase his signature rings elsewhere, Tiffany
at the time, deeming mens' diamond rings "tasteless and pretentious".
Not that this in any way affected Brady's patronage. A dinner he
gave for himself and twenty chorus girls saw each place setting
accompanied by a crisp, new five hundred dollar bill, and a Tiffany
In more recent
times, a request for a man's ring with a ruby swastika setting was
politely, but firmly refused. Tiffany's remains a store of still
unwavering standards, no matter how important or powerful the client
- as President Eisenhower discovered. "Having just been nursed
back to health by Mrs. Eisenhower, the President came into Tiffany
and selected something in appreciation for the First Lady",
explains Loring. 'Does the President of the United States get a
discount at Tiffany & Co.?' enquired Eisenhower. He was told:
'Well, Mr. President, Abraham Lincoln didn't!' "Tiffany, was
one of the first stores to display prices which were, and remain,
not negotiable, putting an end to potentially inappropriate scenes
of undignified haggling over priceless merchandise. As anyone who
has ever entered the regal portals would know, such a display would
simply never do.
Whilst the powerful
have been humbled, the humble have always been most welcome to peruse
the exquisite Tiffany offerings "without the least obligation
to make purchases", as the inaugural mail order catalogue of
1845 - another first - declared. International style icon, Paloma
Picasso, agrees. "In Paris, the minute that you walk into such
a place, they start adding up what you are wearing, but at Tiffany's
anybody can walk in and be treated equally". Tiffany attracts
visitors because it is more than a store, it is an institution steeped
in the history of its country, from its beginnings in a burgeoning
frontier town named New York City, to its position today as an international
landmark in the world's most international city brimming with wealth,
confidence and a style all its own.
enterprise that turns over hundreds of millions of dollars annually
began as just one more American Dream, when the son of a successful
Connecticut textile manufacturer borrowed one thousand dollars from
his father so that he and a former school mate could set up a stationary
and fancy-goods store in Manhattan. Charles Lewis Tiffany and John
P. Young set up shop in 1837 at 259 Broadway and by the end of the
week's trading, Tiffany & Young had made a net profit totalling
was himself an entrepreneurial gem. He had after all, singlehandedly
managed his father's business for a time at the tender age of fifteen.
Using his solid education and exceptional taste, he scoured the
wharves for Chinese and European curios and purchased quality American
artefacts, and the store gained a reputation for purveying exotic
wares, thus initiating a healthy trade.
Some years later, jewellery was added to the general merchandise
and although it was only costume jewellery, it was touted as the
"best quality of imitation jewellery" and was to prove
a fortuitous addition to the store's wares. This fortune was compounded
when, in 1848, Young arrived in Paris and fatefully found himself
in the middle of a revolution against King Louis Phillipe. Instead
of the usual curios, he decided to invest his money in French Imperial
jewellery which was understandably, selling at bargain prices. The
expedition took on an heroic quality when Young nearly lost the
jewels and his life to rebels who suspected him of being a Royalist.
An astute Tiffany,
leaked the story and the New York press took it to its collective
heart, ensuring some healthy publicity for the store and a title,
'King of Diamonds' which was strangely given to Tiffany rather than
Young. This was an error Tiffany did not bother correcting, aware
as he was of the benefits of a little notoriety. In any case, Tiffany,
perhaps a little more than Young had found its niche.
to develop his flair for self-promotion, his talents at attracting
publicity and profiting handsomely from it, into a higher art. Purchasing
a leftover piece of otherwise worthless transatlantic cable for
a pittance, he sold four inch bits of it complete with mud and certificate
of authenticity to the tune of over one hundred and fifty thousand
dollars. Purchasing the famous 'Gridle of Diamonds' belonging to
France's Empress Eugenie, an exquisite four strand necklace composed
of two hundred and twenty-two large, perfect diamonds; in addition
to many of Marie Antoinette's favourite gems, he ingratiated himself
with America's new millionairesses. He was elevated to a position
akin to that of a Royal Jeweller brining, as he did, the old world
nobility of the European Court to the newly monied society of New
It did no harm
to Tiffany's reputation when Mrs. John J. Astor appeared at a Vanderbilt
ball displaying $800,000 worth of their diamonds, or that Mrs. Leland
Standford could claim to own sixty pairs of their diamond earrings.
Yet perhaps, Tiffany's greatest coup came in 1878, when he purchased
the world's largest and finest canary diamond after it was discovered
in South Africa's Kimlerley Mines. After years of intense study,
he ordered over half of it cut away to leave a flawless 128 carat
gem with an extraordinary 90 facets. Christening it the 'Tiffany
Diamond' - what else? - he put it on display in his store where,
even in its most recent premises, it remains Tiffany's single greatest
At the other
extreme, he displayed the hide of one of the legendary P.T. Barnum's
circus elephants which had run amok. "The animal was slaughtered
after killing a number of its keepers", explains Loring. "Tiffany
put the skin in his window before transforming it into a range of
leather goods. The store was mobbed and the police had to be called
in to control the crowds. Of course, our windows are much more tasteful
today...l" he smiles, referring to the works of art devised
by Gene Moore since 1955, when he joined Tiffany & Co. and virtually
created the window dressing profession. Given the curious initial
brief - "Do what you want, but don't try to sell anything"
- his displays continue to be amongst the most beautiful sights
on Fifth Avenue and occasionally one can glimpse the inspired contributions
of New York's finest artists.
merchandising is a legacy of Charles' own public relations skills
which, inspired as they were, were matched by an equally perceptive
business acumen. Setting up shop in Paris in 1850 ensured him first
choice of Europe's finest gems. He introduced the superior English
sterling silver standard to America, a standard that was later written
into the law books. He devised the 'Tiffany Setting', in which diamonds
were mounted on six prongs to show off all their previously concealed
brilliance. Loring elaborates: "The Tiffany diamond solitaire
ring is the symbol of the American wedding ring which, in turn,
is the central American celebration so Tiffany has become inextricably
linked with that aspect of culture. Even our competitors sell 'Tiffany'.
Tiffany persuaded New York's finest silversmith, John C. Moore,
to join the firm - he, in fact, bought out Moore's company - and
established a reputation for quality silver that remains unsurpassed.
It was, however, the inspired work of Moore's successor, his son
Edward, that consolidated that reputation. "Edward C. Moore
was a great genius of design and had a great understanding of both
the arts and the craft movement and of what America's role could
be in that. Some of his designs are still amongst our bestsellers",
insists Loring. In fact, Moore's silver designs, when exhibited
at the Paris Exposition of 1867, were responsible for Tiffany being
the first ever foreign silvermaker to win a coveted European prize.
At the 1878 Paris Exposition, Moore's Eastern and Oriental designs
collected the Grand Prix, Tiffany added a number of Europe's royalty
to their clientele and Charles was admitted to the French Legion
These were Tiffany's
golden years. Over the next three decades the company collected
awards with increasing regularity. A handful of artisans grew to
a force of 500. Tiffany's was one of the first stores to introduce
mechanisation. A London branch was opened in addition to the existing
French store, and with the expertise of a young minerologist named
George Frederick Kunz, who appeared on the doorstep one day with
a handful of semi-precious stones, the store virtually created the
market for such gems as tourmalines, American sapphires and topazes.
Within a few years, Kunz had been appointed as the firm's Chief
Gemologist and Vice President.
By the mid-1850's
Tiffany, Young and Ellis (the firm had acquired a third partner,
J.L. Ellis and installed itself in larger premises) were all very
wealthy with Young and Ellis ready to retire. Charles bought them
out, renamed the firm Tiffany & Co., and once again relocated
the flagship store further uptown. He commissioned a large sculpted
Atlas supporting a clock and positioned it over the entrance. Another
legend, Tiffany did not deny concerned Lincoln's assassination,
when it was said that the clock stopped at the exact moment of his
death, 7.22 a.m. on April 15, 1865. Today, the hands of time continue
to turn as Atlas surveys the passing parade outside Tiffany's most
however, the hands of time did stop in 1902 and his death saw the
mantle go to his son, Louis Comfort Tiffany. A reluctant merchant,
L.C.T., as he signed his work and was referred to by the dilettantes
of the era, could bet be described as a bohemian who had spent his
early years as a painter, interior decorator and glassmaker, achieving
recognition with his beautiful hand-blown, favrile glass and his
now famous Tiffany lamps. It was Edward Moore's influence that cultivated
L.C.T.'s interest in the Orient and his development as a leading
light in Art Nouveau, an irony considering his mixed fortunes at
Tiffany where his work, though critically acclaimed went largely
unappreciated. "The Tiffany Glass Project", as Loring
terms it, "carried the name of Tiffany further around the world,
it won every known prize and is in every major museum in the world
but, financially, it was a disaster". The greater irony, is
that the work of L.C.T., his lamps and inventive jewellery in particular,
is today, highly sought after and extremely valuable. Christies
sold one of his lamps a few years ago for $US300,000!
Without its founder, it seemed the Tiffany gem had lost its sparkle.
The new century ushered in the jazz age and Tiffany began to look
a little matronly. A relieved L.C.T., saw the company's reigns go
to Charles' original hand-picked successor, Charles T. Cook who
moved the store once again, to a custom built Italian style palazzo
on fashionable Fifth Avenue, and then promptly died. Control of
the firm was then handed to John C. Moore II, a man of somewhat
conservative vision, who sadly, lacked his grandfather's creative
genius, and watched the firm slide into a reactionary lethargy in
which it wallowed for five long decades.
memorable contribution came in 1940, when he inexplicably moved
the store one final time, to its present, priceless premises at
727 Fifth Avenue. That the limestone and pink granite showcase of
Deco understatement was designed and built at a cost of almost $2.5
million during lean times when, with the exception of the war years,
red ledgers were commonplace only adds to the mystery of his initiative.
Perhaps he foresaw the brief business boom when Tiffany's silversmiths
began producing precision parts for anti-aircraft guns, just as
they had manufactured surgical instruments during WWI, or assembled
and sold armaments; made gold braid and insignia in addition to
acting as a supply depot for the Yankees during the Civil War.
inherent adaptability, their merchandise was looking very dated
beside the modern, streamlined creations of the 1950's and it seemed
certain the company would soon join its founder. Aggressive takeover
bids in 1954 promised that very fate when a man Loring calls, "the
Prince of American retailers", appeared as saviour. With flawless
credentials that encompassed the best of New York's retail industry,
the then head of Bonwit Teller, Walter Hoving, convinced reluctant
Tiffany executives to hand him the reigns. In return, he presented
them with Tiffany's second 'Golden Age'.
on a platform of superlative taste and moved swiftly, orchestrating
the company's one and only clearance sale in which he disposed of
everything which affronted his aesthetic sensibilities. Then, like
Tiffany before him, he began to surround himself with brilliant
creative minds. He appropriated the Director of New York's Parson
School of Design, Van Day Truex to inject Tiffany's china and silver
with the boldness of his designing vision. Truex moved in fashionable
circles and was sought after as a dinner guest. Indeed, much of
his work was done at these soirees as he would rework the designs
of his respective hostesses china for his own pieces. Reinterpreting
classical forms was the essence of his design philosophy as he believed
that outside of technological advances everything had been done
and it was foolish to try and reinvent the wheel.
Truex also used
his society connections, as did Hoving, in a continuing series of
celebrity table settings, in which the stores most celebrated clients,
the likes of Gloria Vanderbilt, Cary Grant and even the infamous
Andy Warhol, would arrange a table setting in the store. In this
way, Hoving showed America how to eat in style. Warhol, incidentally,
created a 'Dinner in Jail' where bread and water was served on vermeil
and in crystal. In essence, Hoving began selling, through Tiffany's,
his version of style and taste to America. Echoing this philosophy,
Loring explains: "The marketplace doesn't really know what
it wants, only what it thinks it wants. So the role of Tiffany is
to design the things it really wants".
sold this concept on a foundation of great creative talent of which
John Loring became a part in 1978. His appointment followed an eclectic
career that included setting up an Yves St. Laurent boutique in
Venice, success as an exhibiting painter in New York and editing
the prestigious Architectural Digest magazine.
his friend Loring in 1978. The two had become acquainted through
Loring's work with Architectural Digest and art criticism for other
publications and, as Truex' health was failing, he was looking for
a successor and thought that Loring could offer some suitable suggestions.A
number of very civilised lunches later and Loring himself was talking
about the position with Walter Hoving. Loring started with Tiffany
& Co. one year later, only months before Truex died, and has
since proven an outstanding choice.
a younger outlook toward the merchandise and possibilities for the
company that they previously didn't have", he says with modesty.
In truth, John Loring has been instrumental in realising those possibilities
to the tune of 350 million dollars a year. He sees his role as Design
Director this way: "You act as an orchestra leader, thinking,
what can I design to make this craftsperson perform on a higher
level?' They all play their instruments beautifully, but when we
all play together, we bring out the best in each instrument".
play very beautifully indeed, and are assembled from around the
world. "There is not a great tradition of craftsmanship in
America", says Loring. "There is no great glass here.
It is not noted for its ceramics. We do not have the great traditions
of countries such as Spain, Italy and France".
If Tiffany employs
only the very best, it treats them accordingly. Its jewellers for
instance, are housed in a spacious Fifth Avenue penthouse with spectacular
views of Central Park.
As to its designers,
Tiffany is the only jeweller to not only condone, but actively promote
their individual work under the designer's own banner. The legacy
of L.C.T. has been carried on, by firstly, the legendary Parisian
jewellery designer, Jean Schlumberger, whose distinctive pieces
graced the fashions of couturier Elsa Schiaparelli in the thirties
as well as such style setters as the Duchess of Windsor. His iconoclastic
work has enjoyed its own salon on Tiffany's mezzanine since the
mid-fifties. In the seventies, then President, Harry Platt, the
great-grandson of L.C.T., and the last of the Tiffanys to be involved
with the store, recruited Roman aristocrat Elsa Peretti, a former
fashion model who has since been designing beautiful organic forms
exclusively for Tiffany, attracting a younger following.
The latest addition
to these 'superstar designers' is John Loring's very own protegee
"I knew Paloma when she was a girl living in Paris with her
grandmother. I knew her training and the things she'd already done.
But it was her ability to project her personality that told me she
was the ideal talent and personality to be promoted as a designer".
He considers a moment, then adds: "I have always believed that
the best design is designed as a portrait of the designer. The portrait
of Paloma Picasso is about the most interesting self-portrait you're
going to get these days. Her work is colourful, aggressive, generous
in scale and has a wild sense of chic". More than a portrait
of Paloma, it is a reflection of the best of cosmopolitan American
society today and perhaps explains her phenomenal success.
Today, the firm
itself, enjoys that success, although there was a brief but ultimately
unsatisfying takeover upon Hoving's retirement by the gigantic Avon
Corporation. "The union was inappropriate", says Loring
diplomatically, giving voice to the obvious. "Tiffany is a
rather rare and gentle flower and if you touch it too much it will
wilt on you". The firm is now in private but gentle hands after
a group of investors led by William Chaney, the present Chief Executive,
prised it away from Avon.
expert eye, Tiffany's future can be summed in one word - expansion.
As John Loring says, "if you do something well, you may as
well do it for more people". In addition to the flagship Fifth
Avenue institution, Tiffany have branches across America; Western
Europe continues to see new stores, there are sixteen boutique stores
in co-ownership with Japan's Mitsukoshi department store, a second
store in Hong Kong heralds expansion into South East Asian market,
and there is even a branch in Australia.
The firm is
also expanding its merchandise and whilst they don't plan to return
to the heady days of 1837, there will be a greater variety of 'fancy
goods' with a variety of leather goods of the highest quality joining
the jewellery. Additionally, Loring has designed a range of beautiful
silk scarves and the firm has recently introduced TIFFANY, a fragrance
that has been a resounding success in the multi million dollar,
high-risk world of perfume.
of Chaney's business skills and Loring's design vision appear to
be the perfect formula to take Tiffany & Co. into the second
millennium and even further into the American -and the world's psyches.
Reflecting on the firm's enduring success, Loring states: "Tiffany
is a house of quality and refinement. It's a constellation made
up of highly talented and gifted people. These things are always
Casting an expert
eye over the stately showroom, he considers the exquisite Tiffany
diamond, its glowing brilliance smouldering by the rear of the chamber.
He considers the priceless merchandise glittering and shimmering
in its glass cases beneath subdued lights. He considers the ghosts
of the past; the whirling energies of Charles Lewis Tiffany, the
brilliance of Edward C. Moore, the marvels of Truex and Schlumberger,
the surrealist expressions of the wit and chic of Gene Moore which
are displayed in the windows beyond; the loyal patronage of Vanderbilts
and Astors, the Lincolns and the Kennedys, Diamond Jim and Diamond
Lil. He considers the creative spirits of the present, of Peretti
and Picasso, indeed of his own input to the enduring Tiffany "constellation".
And he considers Tiffany & Co. another one hundred and fifty
years from now. As in the past, one thing will not change about
Tiffany, the Holly Golightlys of the future will still breakfast
outside the Tiffany windows peering beyond the displays into a treasure
trove of definitive style.
Chic is a timeless