The story of Tiffany & Co. began in 1837 with $1,000, stationery and an address in New York City. What followed was a journey that would change the way the world appreciated jewellery and women fell in love, discovers Sharon Carvalho
When 25 year old Charles Tiffany borrowed $1,000 from his father to start a stationery and fancy good store with his friend John B. Young in 1837, little did he know that his vision would create history. The two young men embarked on a mission to fill their store on 259 Broadway with rare and exotic finds form all over the world. And even though the opening day sales on the 14th of September totalled $4.98, it did not discourage them as New Yorkers began to flock for their bronze curios from ancient India, Chinese porcelains and other rarities. In a move to counter competition, Charles began purchasing the good directly from the ships that docked in New York and Boston.
Charles soon realised that while following the mantra ‘good design is good business’ worked, publicity had a positive affect on business too. When Louis Philippe’s regime fell in the 1840’s, a number of French aristocrats were eager to escape the political situation and would trade their diamonds for cash. Putting the company’s profits on the line, he purchased a number of these diamonds making them the first display of the coveted gemstones in the United States. Dubbing Charles the ‘King of Diamonds’ had him take his place among the greatest jewellers of America.
Charles’s next big publicity stunt was one that had the police called in to control the crowd! In 1858, when the Atlantic telegraph cable was being laid, he bought about 32 kilometres of cable from the originator of the project, Cyrus W. Field. He took the cable, cut it into four inch lengths and finished it with brass. He also used some of the cable to make paperweights, canes, umbrella handles and charms. With everyone clamouring for a piece of history, what followed was a stampede.
That decade was also the year that Tiffany & Young established themselves as incomparable silversmiths. With working with the incomparable silversmith John C. Moore, they set the standards in the country with 92.5% silver and 7.5% base metals which was on par with English sterling. The two then merged operations with Moore bringing his son on board to help with work. The younger Moore, Edward, would carry on to become the force behind the silverware part of business for 40 years.
It was in 1867, at the Paris World’s Fair, that Charles Tiffany established himself and his company as master merchants, especially with Young having retired in 1853. Challenging the Europeans and wining the grand prize for silver work, it was the highest honour any American design house had received.
1876 brought about another change to the company and insight into Charles Tiffany’s innovative mind. It was with the introduction of coloured gemstones in fine jewellery. Charles then went on to purchase a beautiful tourmaline, a semi-precious stone of vivid colour from gemologist, Dr. George Frederick Kunz. Soon after, he joined the company to work with Charles and source the finest gemstones in America.
It was in 1886 that Tiffany & Co. established themselves as the pioneer in engagement and wedding rings. They introduced an innovative setting that moved the diamond away from the band with six platinum prongs, which then allowed more light to refract through the stone to maximise its natural clarity. They called it the Tiffany Setting.
The 19th century was one of luxury and opulence. The most prominent and influential American families, from the Vanderbilt’s to the Whitney’s came to Tiffany & Co. for their invitations, silver patterns, jewellery and more. And by 1902, when his son, Louis Comfort Tiffany took over as Design Director, following Charles’s death, he had left an estate of $35 million but he was remembered for was that he created an institution that stood for quality, style and exquisite jewellery.