by Clare Phillips
Review by Marbeth Schon
If you are already a Tiffany jewelry aficionado, this is a must-have book. If not, you will nonetheless be astounded by the gorgeous photographs of jewelry contained in Bejewelled by Tiffany, 1837-1987 and will certainly be impressed by the story of Tiffany & Co.'s extraordinary one hundred and fifty years of success.
Receiving a gift from Tiffany's is delightful for almost any red-blooded American woman (or gentleman)--a piece of jewelry becomes somewhat of a status symbol when tucked into one of those famous light blue boxes! Even if we deny that status matters, most of us (of at least a certain age) enjoyed watching Audrey Hepburn as Holly Golightly in the film, "Breakfast at Tiffany's" (ca. 1961). Tiffany's (like Audrey Hepburn) is associated with glamour and Americans have been forever fascinated with the glamorous.
"Bejewelled by Tiffany, 1837-1987" is almost exclusively about jewelry, not glass or metalware. It is the catalog for an exhibit of the same name that is currently at the Gilbert Collection in London until January of 2007 and is the largest exhibition of Tiffany jewelry to date. The bulk of the pieces come from the Tiffany Archives and the rest are from private collections. Much of the jewelry has never before been seen by the general public.
I hadn't realized (until reading this book) that Tiffany & Co. was established as early as 1837. It was founded as a small "fancy goods" store on Broadway in New York City by Charles Lewis Tiffany and John Burnett Young. In 1853, Charles Lewis Tiffany took full control of the company.
Tiffany was deeply devoted to excellence in design, craftsmanship and the materials used. His exclusive stock appealed to wealthy Americans and though the company ensured that its most prestigious clients received their best work, they were also certain that their other customers got the best they could offer. Although Tiffany's used the finest materials and gemstones, they were, from the start, committed to design over intrinsic value.
Charles Lewis Tiffany was a brilliant merchandiser--an "entrepreneurial genius." As early as 1845, Tiffany introduced mail order sales so that any American within reach of the catalog could order from Tiffany's. This catalog of Useful and Fancy Articles boasted that " the store had 'become one of the attractions of the city and went on to respectfully invite the visits of strangers, under the assurance that they may examine the collection without incurring the least obligation to make a purchase."
Tiffany also "spread the word" by participating in the great international exhibitions of his day and though the thought of Tiffany & Co. jewelry of that time conjures up images of diamonds and precious stones, Tiffany & Company's gold medal award at the Paris Exhibition of 1878 was awarded for work that contained not a single gemstone, a gold bracelet based on an example from ancient Greece.
In 1850, Tiffany opened its first office in Paris and by 1878 had a prestigious location at 36 bis Avenue de L'Opera just one block from the opera house.
Jewelry from Tiffany & Co. became a symbol of wealth for its wearers, "a badge of success endowed by the premier jeweler in the country."3
Even President-elect Abraham Lincoln shopped at Tiffany's. In 1862, for his Inaugural Ball, he purchased a suite of jewelry for his wife Mary Todd Lincoln, a pearl and gold necklace with matching brooch, bracelet and earrings. The First Lady was thrilled with the gift. In the book is a portrait of Mrs. Lincoln proudly wearing her Tiffany jewelry.
By November of 1870, Tiffany & Co. was described as the place where" nine-tenths of the grooms buy their bridal presents, and every daughter of New York insists her Pa shall go on Christmas" 4
Tiffany & Company carried a wide range of jewelry in order to "meet the needs of every occasion, from baby bracelets to mourning jewelry, and the amazing variety of influences then in vogue - the ancient classical world, the Renaissance, India and the Far East."5
Renowned French glass designer, René Lalique made jewelry for Tiffany's in the 1890s. An exquisite brooch by Lalique in platinum, gold, amethysts and diamonds is included in the exhibit and is also pictured in the book.
During what is called the "Gilded Age" in American history (the period right after the Civil War when industry was king and entrepreneurs achieved unprecedented wealth), the lust for diamonds was satisfied by none other than Tiffany & Co.. Charles Lewis Tiffany was nicknamed "the King of Diamonds" after acquiring the great fancy yellow 128-carat Tiffany Diamond--a purchase that precipitated the synonymy of the word "diamonds" with the name "Tiffany's"
Pearls were also popular and equal to diamonds in "prestige and value." Tiffany & Co. used many different types of pearls, popularizing the "tinted and irregular fresh-water pearls found in American rivers and the soft pink pearls from conch shells."7 Brooches were made from actual Australian Neotrigonia shells that were set in gold bezels with pearl accents. "Naturalism" is a theme that runs through Tiffany jewelry from the very beginning until the present time. "In the gilded age, not only did the jewelry closely resemble actual flowers, but things like tiger claws and tortoise shell abounded." 8
Some of the most fascinating pieces of jewelry shown in the book are the enameled and diamond orchids created by Tiffany designer G. Paulding Farnham for the 1889 Paris Exposition. "Actual orchids were electroformed with copper, the results of which were then used to make a mold in which the gold was cast. The gold flowers were then enameled and bejeweled."9
American gemologist, George Frederick Kunz , who was on Tiffany & Co.'s staff in the 1890s, helped to introduce a plethora of colorful American gemstones into Tiffany's jewelry production. A sales catalog of 1893 lists 47 different stones for rings. A hard pink stone discovered in Connecticut by Kunz was named "Kunzite" in his honor.
By the time of the American national centennial in 1876, Tiffany & Co. had risen to "the pinnacle of commercial success and influence." In 1902, When Charles Tiffany died, "all the major silver and jewelry manufacturers and retailers in New York City closed during the hours of his funeral, including Gorham Manufacturing Co., Reed and Barton, Whiting Manufacturing Co., Black Starr and Frost, and Lord and Taylor--a testament to his respect within the community." 11
The son of Charles Lewis Tiffany, Louis Comfort Tiffany became his successor in 1902. Louis had trained as a painter, but was already known for his brilliantly innovative glass and interior design. He came to jewelry "surprisingly late given the firm's prominence in the area, exhibiting his first collection in 1904." One can see evidences of his work in other media throughout his jewelry designs.13
The jewelry that Louis made....."became a symbol of culture, with an emphasis on art, design, and craftsmanship." He created "exquisite necklaces. hair ornaments and brooches, all of which reflected his spirit of ingenuity and his dedication to nature, color, and light."14
From 1904 to 1933 (the year of his death), all Tiffany & Co.'s designer jewelry was the creation of Louis Comfort Tiffany.
After Art Nouveau and the period of naturalism, came the abstract geometry of Art Deco and the "streamlining" of the 1930s. In 1939, for the New York World's Fair, Tiffany's created a "comet brooch" honoring the advent of the aerodynamic age.
During the Second World War, the production of Tiffany's extravagant jewelry was put on hold.
In the 1950s, Tiffany's could not ignore the changes taking place in the field of metal arts. It was the era of the artist-jeweler (designer-craftsman). Tiffany responded to the emerging quest for individuality by hiring Jean Schlumberger. French-born Schlumberger was known for his work with Schiaparelli in Paris in the 1930s.
Schlumberger's inspirations came from nature--the sea, oceanic creatures, and plants. He said that he tried "to make everything look as if it were growing, uneven, at random, organic, in motion." He explained, "I want to capture the irregularity of the universe." 20
In the 1960s Tiffany's hired the American designer Donald Claflin who created humorous, figurative pieces and was influenced by the "hippy era" in the 1970s.
Beginning in 1974, the jewelry of Elsa Peretti brought a totally different look to Tiffany jewelry. Her soft, sculptural shapes in silver and gold were "minimally elegant"-- naturalistic, but abstract and modern. Her jewelry was also affordable for a much larger segment of the population.
Since the 1980s "Paloma Picasso's bold forms and love of color.....have brought
modern expression to Tiffany's lasting fascination with gemstones."
TITLE: Bejewelled by Tiffany, 1837-1987
Yale University Press
1Bejewelled by Tiffany's, pg. 109
Review by Marbeth
© 2006 MODERN SILVER magazine
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