The white satin ribbon slips easily from the robins-egg blue box. The heart quickens with anticipation at the sight of the plain black letters, Tiffany & Co.
What will be inside? Designer Elsa Peretti’s simple and sensual open heart necklace, the most imitated design in the history of jewellery? Or her Diamonds By The Yard that’s revolutionized the way diamonds are worn? Maybe a delicate chain with a single diamond. Or any one of Paloma Picasso’s aggressively chic designs. Perhaps it’s something really useful: a sterling silver key chain; a distinctive blue enamel pen or a Swiss Army knife a la Tiffany. One thing for sure, it can’t be 128.51 carat canary Tiffany diamond which for more than a century has smouldered incandescently in its display case on the first floor of the New York fifth Avenue store. It’s not for sale.
Lifting the lid from the blue box, we become participants in the enduring mystique of the legendary American design. The history of Tiffany & Co. is inextricably bound to the history of the United States. This, after all, is the jeweller to royalty, heads of government and upper-class America. When Abraham Lincoln purchased a pearl necklace for Mary Todd Lincoln to wear at his inauguration in 1861 he presented it to her in the famous blue box. President Eisenhower once asked a Tiffany’s salesperson if he could get a discount. The answer: “Lincoln didn’t get a discount.” John F. Kennedy gave Jacqueline the elegant sixteen stone ring. Mrs. Lyndon Johnson broke with White House tradition when she commissioned a porcelain service featuring American wildflowers. Surely Tiffany & Co. is the closest thing America has to a Crown Jeweller.
Good design has defined the history of Tiffany and will guide its future. When William R Chaney was Chairman of Tiffany & Co. he encouraged his designers to remember that a high quality product must not only satisfy today’s customers, but delight future generations as well. Aware that their unique talents are more scarce than gold or diamonds he employed some of the worlds best craftspeople.
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“Tiffany has never stepped aside from it’s principles of excellence,” said John Loring who was Senior Vice President and Design Director at Tiffany & Co. He was responsible for its aesthetic aspect and the creative genius behind the Atlas line. As Loring said, “Tiffany has the audacity to be itself: the American jeweller. American design does not carry with it all the baggage of traditional European ornaments and styles. Our history is involved with the landscape, nature and resources of the country. There is attention to flatter surfaces, simplicity and absolutely perfect line.” Loring believed that jewellery is very sensual. “If it isn’t,” he vowed, “we don’t make it around here.”
Diverse factors have come together to make Tiffany a cultural icon. Glamorous legends like Elizabeth Taylor, the Duchess of Kent, Lauren Bacall, brides, housewives and sweethearts by the thousands, Diamond Jim Brady and Jenny Lind. Even the NHL, NBA and NFL championship trophy winners, not to mention the Toronto Blue Jays. But most of all it was a movie: Breakfast at Tiffany’s. Audrey Hepburn carried the Tiffany image into every city and hamlet in the world. Today, people still walk into the Tiffany & Co. Fifth Avenue store in New York and ask where breakfast is served.
Sara Waxman is an award-winning restaurant critic, best-selling cookbook author, food and travel journalist and has eaten her way through much of the free world for four decades, while writing about it in books, newspapers and magazines. She is the Editor in Chief of DINE and Destinations magazine.