The name comes with it a cachet that is hard to define after its early start selling stationery, umbrellas, Chinese bric-a-brac and pottery. ln 1837, Charles Lewis Tiffany borrowed $1000 and with his friend John P. Young opened a general store in New York City. Within 12 years, Tiffany’s inventory grew to include watches, clocks, silverware and bronzes. Its reputation soon burgeoned when Lewis added gold and diamond jewellery to his stock which became the corner-stone of the business.
Lewis was an inventive and shrewd man with a flair for the sensational, like purchasing and selling Marie Antoinette’s famous ‘Girdle of Diamonds’. He had come a long way from taking $4.38 on his first day of trading to leaving an estate worth $35 million on his death in 1902.
As an innovator, he created the famous six-pronged ‘Tiffany Setting’ for diamond solitaires that soon adorned the fingers of millions of women around the world. His son, Comfort Tiffany, took over his creative mantle and became the firm’s first Director of Design, a post he held for 16 years. He had the foresight and flair to devote an entire floor of Tiffany’s to craft original and colourful jewellery in his own studios.
America’s rich and famous became his clients, commissioning items that were far from orthodox. Like a ten-foot high carved mirror and a solid sterling silver bicycle by Lillian Russell’s most ardent admirer, the flamboyant Diamond Jim Brodie. Miss Russell was Queen of the American Music Hall in her day. And her friend, the celebrated actress Sarah Bernhardt was no slouch when it came to pampering herself. She had Tiffany make a sterling bathtub which travelled with her during her theatrical tours.
Tiffany’s clients read like a roll call of international celebrities from presidents to conjurors and expensive mistresses. Imperial jeweller to virtually every crowned head in the world including Queen Victoria, the Shah of Persia, the Czar of Russia and the Khedive of Egypt, Tiffany’s was not above the common man.
A century later, Tiffany was still at it, creating bespoke jewellery to indulge the rich and the indulgent. Today, Tiffany straddles the globe dispensing fine jewellery and traditional craftsmanship with stores in Japan, Hong Kong and Europe.