Breakthroughs at Tiffany’s

Iconic store celebrates 175 years of innovative beauty

Call it “teatime at Tiffany” – an afternoon at the company’s flagship in Manhattan.

And what an afternoon – gleaming silver and gold, diamonds that dazzle, creamy tableware sparklers fit for a late-summer idyll, a preview of autumn’s luxe leather goods and above all, a rare glimpse into both The Tiffany Salon, where the wishes of the rich and the famous are born; and The Tiffany Workshop, where they’re fulfilled.

This year marks the 175th anniversary of Tiffany & Co., which has been an innovator in jewelry and silver since Charles Lewis Tiffany opened his first emporium at 259 Broadway in 1837. This is the company that put the “engage” in the diamond engagement ring, introducing the six platinum-prong setting in 1886 that established the standard. It’s the company that built the first retail store with central air conditioning, opening the distinctive seven-story limestone, granite, marble and wood building on Fifth Avenue and 57th Street in 1940. And it’s the company that has designed a trove of trophies and sports memorabilia, from the Vince Lombardi to the interlocking “NY” that became the Yankees’ logo.

So it’s no surprise that Tiffany is celebrating its birthday in a grand but tasteful way.

The 128.54-carat yellow Tiffany Diamond will be displayed in a new diamond and platinum setting on the store’s main floor – an 8,400-square-foot space with a 24-foot-high coffered ceiling and without columns, to give it an open, airy feel. (See related story.)

Tiffany has created a collection of platinum-set diamonds and pearls for Baz Luhrmann’s “The Great Gatsby,” bowing next summer, while also supplying china, sterling silver flatware and other accessories for Jay Gatsby’s Long Island manse. (The company is no stranger to film, having played its elegant self in “Breakfast at Tiffany’s,” “Sweet Home Alabama” and “Bride Wars.”)

Among its new collections are those featuring shimmery gemstones that Tiffany introduced – blue tanzanite, green tsavorite, lilac-pink kunzite, named for Tiffany gemologist Frederick Kunz, and pale pink morganite, after devoted customer-collector J.P. Morgan. (See related story.)

Tiffany has also created Rubedo metal, a light yet strong alloy that has an irresistible allure akin to rose gold or burnished copper, as seen in the bold wide cuffs and rings and delicate interlocking circle pendants contained in the crisp1837 collection.

It’s all in the details

But what really makes Tiffany such a class operation extends beyond the sheen of Rubedo metal or morganite to the glimmering patina of its professionalism – the caring attitude toward customers, the attention to detail.

This is evident the moment you set foot in the door on another challenging New York summer day – grateful for Tiffany’s mid-20th century innovations in central air – and are greeted courteously by one of the security guards. Meanwhile, another discreetly attends to fingerprints on one of the many glass cases so that the next customer will have an equally unobstructed view of Jean Schlumberger’s fanciful nature-inspired pieces, Elsa Peretti’s sculptural abstractions, Paloma Picasso’s striking statements and architect Frank Gehry’s offerings – all exclusive to Tiffany.

Romance is in the air amid all the engagement rings on the second floor. It’s as bustling as the main floor and the third, which is all about sterling silver design, including the Charm Bar, where you can select items to embellish your charm bracelet. Yet if you had to pick a favorite floor, it might be the fourth, with its comforting mix of sterling silver hollowware, flatware, creamy china, sparkling crystal, totes in Tiffany’s signature robin’s egg blue, the intoxicating Tiffany scent and an adorable nook for the baby who is truly born with a silver spoon in his or her mouth.

The summer bags and other accessories that occupied one fourth-floor boutique have given way to metallic pencil cases (for the very stylish fourth-grader), cross-body bags and pochettes in Florentine blue and plum and Tiffany’s signature bracelet bag (think a gigantic pinch purse for evening) in a zigzag calf’s hair fabric. They’re all part of the Tiffany Leather Collection, created by designers Richard Lambertson and John Truex, which debuted in 2010.

WAG was given a sneak peak at these in the press showroom on the mezzanine, which is also home of the Patek Philippe Salon of timepieces. We were also privileged to have a rare glimpse into the seventh-floor Tiffany Workshop, which creates diamond and gemstone jewels. Tiffany, which has a strong commitment to ethical retail – no coral, a living creature; no “blood diamonds” from Africa; no rubies from troubled Myanmar – makes 60 percent of its merchandise in the United States. The company also has workshops in Mount Vernon, Pelham and Lexington, Ky., that produce fine and engagement jewelry; two in Rhode Island that handle metalwork; a sterling silver workshop in New Jersey that produces hollowware and trophies; and a wood shop in New Jersey that manufactures trophy bases.

Wearable art

The workshop in the flagship store is truly an atelier.

Certainly, Marta Kamieniecki sees it this way. She’s the attractive director of The Tiffany Workshop, presiding over 14 craftsmen – nine jewelers, three stone-setters and two polishers.

“Our craftspeople are producing wearable works of art,” she says.

Kamieniecki points to one of their most stunning creations in progress – a reinterpretation of Jean Schlumberger’s Jasmine Necklace for a patron. The intricate, imaginative work, which will cost roughly $2 million, is an asymmetrical arrangement of tourmalines, spinels, garnets and sapphires, linked by diamonds, from which drip diamond flowers. As Kamieniecki unveils the arrangement of polished stones and plucks a diamond-studded petal, the workmen continue silently intent on their tasks, undisturbed by the conversation around them. Their workspaces brim but neatly, with tiny, silvery tools, ergonomic armrests and the kind of magnifying visors eye doctors wear.

“We are completely traditional, old school,” Kamieniecki says.

The reimagination of the Jasmine Necklace was born on the mezzanine level in The Tiffany Salon. That’s where prestigious customers go – the Jackies, the Liz Taylors, the Natalie Portmans and the Anne Hathaways – to discuss custom designs or to review store items for purchase.

You’re buzzed into a pale-blue and silver suite that is Rococo meets Art Deco, Marie Antoinette meets Ginger Rogers. Metal grilles give way to metal vitrines displaying diamond and sapphire necklaces and 11-carat square-cut and round diamond engagement rings. A fitting room allows you to choose the light in which to view your bling. (Candlelight is nice.) A small conference room filled with Tiffany books offers inspiration. Best of all may be the bar room, perhaps to help you absorb the sticker shock.

Not that the affluent suffer from that. F. Scott Fitzgerald, the author of “The Great Gatsby,” was right when he said the rich are different from you and me.

The beauty of Tiffany is that the store makes you feel rich – even when you’re not.

Tiffany & Co. is at 727 Fifth Ave. in Manhattan. For more, call (212) 755-8000 or visit tiffany.com.

The other Tiffany

There are those who hear the name Tiffany & Co. and wonder, “What about the windows and lamps?”

Wrong Tiffany.

Charles Lewis Tiffany (1812-1902) founded the jewelry and silver emporium. And though his son Louis Comfort Tiffany (1848-1933) would become its first design director, he carved a separate career and identity as a painter with glass.

Louis Comfort Tiffany spent some of the happiest days of his youth right in WAG country, on an estate that sloped down to the Hudson River in an area of Irvington that is known as Tiffany Park. There he would sketch nature and sail with his friend and mentor, Samuel B. Colman, a Dobbs Ferry resident and member of the Hudson River School of landscape painting.

Charles Lewis Tiffany – who would purchase adjacent property for his married children – wanted to keep his son Louis in particularly safe from the tumult of Civil War New York. He was also determined to keep him from a career as an artist. But if something’s meant for you, nothing can stop it:  Among those Louis Comfort Tiffany studied with at the Eagleswood Military Academy in Perth Amboy, N.J. was George Inness, known for his particularly lucent, intimate Hudson River School paintings.

Louis Comfort Tiffany never achieved fame as a traditional painter. But he did become a painter with his patented Favrile glass (from the Old French for “handmade”), creating deep colors and rich textures with the material in its molten stage. There are a number of sites in our area containing authentic Tiffany pieces. They include The Mark Twain House & Museum in Hartford, the Sleepy Hollow Country Club and The Briarcliff Congregational Church in Briarcliff Manor.

Louis Comfort Tiffany also designed every aspect of Laurelton Hall, his country retreat in Oyster Bay, Long Island, which burned down in 1957 and was the subject of a beautiful, extensive exhibit at The Metropolitan Museum of Art in 2006. The limestone loggia, among the architectural elements and furnishings saved from the blaze, is part of The Met’s extensive Tiffany holdings, along with windows, lamps, vases, ceramics, mosaics, jewelry, drawings and paintings.

For more, visit metmuseum.org.

 

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