For more than 150 years, Tiffany & Co. has represented the pinnacle of American wealth, artistry, and luxury. On September 18, 1837, Charles Lewis Tiffany and John B. Young decided to open an emporium of luxury goods on Broadway St. in New York City. Tiffany made a splash in the fancy goods world by establishing a nonnegotiable selling price for all items sold in his store. 1837 was a good year because Tiffany & Co. achieved considerable growth. During the first year, Tiffany introduced its first “Tiffany Blue Box.” All merchandise purchased from Tiffany’s was wrapped in a luxurious blue box. A distinctive shade of aqua blue was chosen as the company’s hallmark color. To this day, Tiffany & Co. boxes and catalogues are made in this color.
As New York grew into a large metropolis, the demand for luxury items continued to increase. In 1848, Tiffany began producing sterling flatware patterns. Tiffany & Co. worked tirelessly to produce the purest sterling available. Their 925/1000 purity standard was immediately recognized by knowledgeable silver customers and eventually became the US sterling silver standard. Such notable achievements were not uncommon for Tiffany & Co. In 1907, Tiffany & Co.’s gemology department helped the US government establish a standard set of weights for precious stones. In addition, the Tiffany standard for measuring the purity of platinum was adopted by the US government in 1926.
The years following the Civil War were good for many people. Captains of industry, like John Piermont Morgan and John D. Rockefeller, wanted the best that money could buy. Tiffany & Co. was there to meet their demand. Mark Twain dubbed the industrious years following the Civil War the Gilded Age. America had not known a time of such immense wealth. As industry increased and spread, so did the demand for luxury items. Tiffany met that demand head on with a line of increasingly opulent luxury goods, including tea services, art, and jewelry. In 1871, Tiffany introduced the pattern Japanese, which in 1956 was reintroduced as the popular Audubon pattern. The pattern drew its inspiration from oriental designs popular in France. Tiffany & Co. had recently displayed several of their porcelain designs at the Louvre museum in Paris. Many of the pieces remain at the Louvre today.
Throughout the remaining years of the 19th century, Tiffany’s won wide acclaim for the nature of its product and the wealth of its clientele. The company acquired its now famous Tiffany diamond in 1878. The faceted diamond was purchased by Charles Lewis Tiffany and weighs in at a hefty 128 karats. In 1885, Tiffany & Co. was solicited by the US government to redesign the United States seal that appears on US currency. Tiffany’s design can now be seen on every American one dollar bill.
In 1930, Tiffany & Co. produced one of its most famous trophies. The New York Yacht Club requested that Tiffany make a trophy of 18 karat gold for its annual race. The trophy was so beautiful that Tiffany developed an entire department for producing trophies. Today, Tiffany makes the Vince Lombardi Super Bowl trophy, in addition to the Super Bowl champion team rings. Replacements, Ltd. has recently acquired a Tiffany & Co. trophy that is on display in our museum. The trophy is the John McDonald Trophy, donated to Oakland Golf Club in Manhattan in the early 20th century by John McDonald, engineer for the New York subway system. The trophy weighs more than 250 troy ounces, and is exquisite in detail.
Tiffany & Co. moved to its current location on 5th Ave. in 1940. The new building was immensely beautiful and was designed in the art deco style. Above the door is a statue of Atlas bearing the weight of the world. Instead of a globe being held above his head, he holds a clock. The architects of the building wanted to create an ominous affect that reminded Tiffany & Co.’s visitors of the rarity and preciousness of the treasures carried by the store. For that reason, all of the buildings doors were made to look like the doors of industrial bank vaults.
The new location was the setting of Truman Capote’s book, Breakfast at Tiffany’s. In Capote’s book, Holly Golightly comes to New York seeking true happiness. In a twisted turn of events, Holly finds herself in love with a young writer. The book was later made into a movie starring Audrey Hepburn. To Ms. Golightly, Tiffany & Co. represented happiness and wealth. The book and the movie were both a success.
Today, Tiffany & Co. remains a leading maker of jewelry, china, crystal, silver, and glassware. Tiffany’s sterling pieces are some of the purest to be found in the world. Patterns like Audubon , English King, Shell and Thread, and Faneuil are available through Replacements.