The Tiffany name is recognized internationally as a provider of beautiful and luxurious items. For generations the firm has produced a wide breadth of luxury items - from silver to stained glass to jewelry - and have sold these exceptional products to countless celebrities and the most prominent members of American society, such as the Vanderbilts, Astors, and Whitneys. Widely renowned and respected for nearly 200 years, Tiffany is certainly here to stay, but where did it get its start? In 1837, 25-year-old Charles Lewis Tiffany started up a “stationary and fancy good” store in New York City with his school friend John B. Young and $1,000 on loan from his father. Pulling inspiration from the bustling city streets and newly emerging “American style,” Charles Lewis Tiffany would develop his company into something spectacular. Read on to discover the many facets of this legendary company and how it was built upon generations of creative brilliance.
Tiffany and Co. gained international recognition when it became the first American company to adopt the English silver standard of using only 92% pure metal. Consequently, the company was awarded the grand prize in silver craftsmanship in the 1867 Paris World’s Fair. The company also signed an agreement with leading New York silversmith John C. Moore. Moore’s son, Edward, later became the head of the Tiffany and Co. silver studio, which was the first American school of design. Apprentices gathered at Tiffany’s silver studio where they were encouraged to study and sketch from both nature and Edward’s designs. By 1870, Tiffany and Co. had become America’s premier silver provider, and their gleaming silver legacy still holds strong today, specifically for ornately patterned flatware sets, which can be found at M.S. Rau!
A Multi-faceted Firm
Although silver is an enormously important part of Tiffany and Co.‘s history, one often thinks of jewelry when the name is mentioned. The firm’s name was linked with astonishing diamonds and jewelry in 1878, when Tiffany acquired one of the world’s largest and most impressive fancy yellow diamonds from the Kimberley diamond mines in South Africa. Cut down from 287.42 carats to 128.54 carats with 82 facets under the expert eye of Tiffany’s head gemologist, Dr. George Frederick Kunz, this diamond was known worldwide for its fiery color and brilliance. It was named the Tiffany Diamond and set into a necklace worn by Audrey Hepburn in the publicity photographs for Breakfast at Tiffany’s in 1961. It was this diamond, with its canary-colored sparkle, that made the Tiffany and Co. name synonymous with the world’s most precious gemstones.
Charles Lewis Tiffany earned the nickname “The King of Diamonds” when he bought one third of the French Crown Jewels in 1887. His introduction of major gemstones into the United States awarded him authority on the diamond market worldwide. He strove to innovate the industry, and he even found a way to reinvent the traditional engagement ring. Before Charles Lewis Tiffany, a bride-to-be would most commonly sport a gem set in a bezel. In 1886, Mr. Tiffany designed a way to highlight brilliant-cut diamonds by lifting the stone off of the band to allow more sparkle and shine. The famous ring design was trademarked as the Tiffany setting and has been a classic ever since.
Louis Comfort Tiffany: Glasswork Visionary
A tradition of finery ran through the Tiffany family. Louis Comfort Tiffany, son of Charles Lewis Tiffany, pursued his own artistic endeavors in lieu of taking on the family business with its focus on fine jewels and silverware. When one thinks of Tiffany glass, typically a mosaic of beautiful and vibrant colors is called into memory. This design is the product of Louis Comfort Tiffany and his company, Tiffany Studios, an entirely different enterprise from his father’s Tiffany & Co. Louis Comfort Tiffany embraced a breadth of artistic mediums, including leaded-glass windows, pottery, mosaics, and more. He began his artistic career as a painter, and eventually moved into decorative arts and interiors. In fact, in 1882, newly elected President Chester Alan Arthur refused to move into the White House until it had been redecorated. Tiffany worked on numerous rooms, infusing them with vibrant colors and patterns and, of course, adding Tiffany glass to many light fixtures and windows.
Tiffany’s stained glass mosaics are a staple of the Arts and Crafts movement, of which Louis Comfort Tiffany was a leading force. Practitioners of this movement worked in direct opposition to the wave of mass production in decorative arts that resulted from the Industrial Revolution. They instead believed that art should come from the hands of the craftsman themselves. Thus, the Arts and Crafts movement produced some of the finest, one-of-a-kind objects known to man, and Tiffany’s objects rise above the rest. This incredible example below, for instance, show’s the firm’s astonishing ability to combine whimsy and refinement, resulting in a lamp that is a functional work of art.
Louis Comfort Tiffany created his own glass with a “copper foil” technique. Using opalescent glass in a variety of colors and textures, he edged pieces of cut class together and soldered the whole to create a detailed and unique style of glass artwork previously unknown. He trademarked the term “favrile” in 1894 to describe this new and incredibly rare form of glass.
Louis Comfort Tiffany was prominent in the Art Nouveau movement. He often sought inspiration in the natural world and worked it into his artwork - especially his glass pieces like the rare and beautiful flower vase above. Late in his career, Louis Comfort Tiffany declared his lifelong goal had been the, “pursuit of beauty,” which he certainly achieved and will always be remembered for. To view M.S. Rau’s entire collection of fine Tiffany products, click here. Sources: