New York’s Tiffany & Co. was founded in 1837. The company began modestly as a stationary store. Then, in 1848, a trip to Paris by one of the firm’s founders netted a huge cache of diamonds, which were being unloaded at fire-sale prices by nobles fleeing France’s second revolution. From then on, diamonds remained a key jewel in the Tiffany crown.
Tiffany did not cater just to high rollers. In 1858, the company produced and sold pendants made out of surplus cable from the first transatlantic phone lines—customers could pick up one of these souvenirs for a mere 50 cents. But in the main, Tiffany became increasingly associated with fine jewelry for high-profile clients, such as the seed-pearl pieces the company designed for Mary Todd Lincoln to be worn at her husband’s 1861 inauguration.
By 1886, Tiffany had introduced rings with the famous Tiffany Setting. Simplicity itself, it consisted of a single diamond anchored to a plain band by six exposed prongs. As the 19th century waned, Tiffany was producing pieces with Japanese motifs, diamond necklaces in the Edwardian garland style, and Paulding Farnham-designed flower brooches that were almost-life-size—a bearded iris pin, whose flower dripped with blue Montana sapphires and red rhodolites and whose stem was studded with green garnets, measured 9 1/2 inches.
During the Art Nouveau era, Louis Comfort Tiffany, who had taken over his father’s company, continued in this naturalistic vein with intricate brooches resembling buzzing dragonflies and flowering Queen Anne’s lace. In addition to diamonds and other precious stones, Tiffany used enameling techniques and semi-precious stones in his pieces.
After Tiffany’s death in 1933, the company went without a design director until 1955, when Van Day Trueux was hired. A year later, Tiffany chairman Walter Hoving invited Elsa Schiaperelli designer Jean Schlumberger to join the firm. Schlumberger loved animal motifs, especially exotic birds, which became marvelous brooches. He also designed Tiffany’s classic bangles, which were such favorites of Jacqueline Kennedy that people started calling them "Jackie bracelets." And it was during Schlumberger’s tenure that Breakfast at Tiffany’s, with Audrey Hepburn as the window-shopping waif of indeterminate means, made the store itself a star.
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Clubs & Associations
- American Society of Jewelry Historians
- Association for the Study of Jewelry and Related Arts
- Society of Jewellery Historians