Who remembers the 1961 film ‘Breakfast at Tiffany’s’ starring Audrey Hepburn?
The story is about country girl Holly Golightly, who comes to the big city of New York in search of wealth. She falls in love with a poor author, who cannot give her that wealth. So although in love with Paul, she still looks for a rich guy who can make her rich.
It is a great film not only because of Audrey Hepburn but also – at least for me – because of the beautiful diamonds from Tiffany’s that appear in this film.
The company Tiffany & Co
Tiffany’s or Tiffany & Co, as the store is called, has been known since its founding in 1837 for selling very luxurious jewelry (and other design products, such as tableware, etc.). They have a headquarters in New York, where the film was also shot.
When Charles Lewis Tiffany and John Burnett Young started this business, they had a very clear concept in mind. First of all, their target group was the wealthier Americans who had enough money for very luxurious items.
But… everyone had to pay in cash because payment by bank transfer was not accepted, although this was normal in most businesses. In addition, the jewelry could not be exchanged. So you bought a piece of jewelry for a fortune and if you wanted to exchange it, you were out of luck.
They had a reason for that. Diamonds were usually purchased on consignment. This means that you only paid for those diamonds once you sold them. If you allowed an exchange, those diamonds were already paid for, and you were never sure if you could resell them.
Tiffany’s had its ups and downs, but always managed to rise again, thanks to the design qualities of its successor Louis Comfort Tiffany, attracting very good jewelry designers and capital. The current owners are Louis Vuitton of the bags and Moët Hennessy of the champagne.
It was important for Tiffany’s to create that luxurious appearance. After all, you paid a fortune for high-quality diamonds, but if they also came from Tiffany’s, you could wow all your friends.
As a marketing stunt, Tiffany’s purchased one of the largest yellow diamonds in the world in 1879, which would become known as the Tiffany Diamond. And in 1887 they managed to acquire part of the French crown jewels at an auction. This gave them enough publicity to confirm their brand as the best jewelry house for diamonds.
Yellow Tiffany Diamond
Showpiece of Tiffany’s
I need to tell you a little more about that yellow Tiffany Diamond, which is usually on display in the Tiffany & Co store in New York.
This diamond has only ever been worn by 4 people. The first woman was Mary Whitehouse, an activist and wife of an American diplomat, at a ball hosted by Tiffany in 1957. The second was Audrey Hepburn in the film Breakfast at Tiffany’s in 1961.
Lady Gaga was the third to wear this famous yellow diamond in 2012 when Tiffany’s & Co. celebrated its 175th anniversary. The piece of jewelry with the yellow diamond was transformed into a beautiful (literally) necklace with more than 100 white diamonds in addition to the yellow diamond.
And Lady Gaga was allowed to show off that same necklace again, together with matching earrings made of white and yellow diamonds, during the Oscars ceremony in 2019. And given its value of $30 million, it was the most expensive piece of jewelry worn at an Oscar ever (so far).
Tiffany & Co pulls out all the stops to stand out and draw attention to luxury Tiffany jewelry. In 2021, Beyoncé and her husband Jay-Z are asked to enhance the new advertisement for their new jewelry line ‘About Love’, while she wears the Tiffany Diamond necklace.
The yellow diamond was mined from the South African Kimberley mine in 1877. Initially, the diamond weighed 287.42 carats and was purchased by Tiffany for $18,000. The stone was cut with 90 facets in Paris under the supervision of 23-year-old gemologist Dr George Frederick Kunz. That is 24 facets more than a ‘normal’ diamond, which gave the yellow Tiffany Diamond much more grandeur and shine.
These 90 facets created a pattern of 8 needle-shaped facets that point outwards from the bottom of the diamond. This is also called a ‘stellar brilliant cut’. So there were still 128.54 carats left of the original rough stone. Just under half remained, but a yellow diamond is still huge.
The yellow Tiffany Diamond traveled all over the world to shine in exhibitions. For the film ‘Breakfast at Tiffany’s’, the famous jewelry designer used the Tiffany Diamond for his ‘Ribbon Rosette’ necklace, which better suited Audrey Hepburn.
You wonder why this famous Tiffany Diamond was never sold. And during the crisis years, Tiffany desperately needed that money to survive.
The yellow diamond was once offered for sale in 1972 through an advertisement in the New York Times. The owners were asking for $5 million, but any potential buyers had to respond within 24 hours. But who can come up with that amount of cash in a day (which would be about $26 million today)? In short… the piece of jewelry remained the property of Tiffany’s and will probably not be offered for sale any time soon.
Changing course at Tiffany
During the 1990-1991 crisis in the United States, Tiffany’s had to change course. Customers no longer had the money to afford luxury jewelry, or they no longer dared to spend their money on luxury products.
Tiffany’s was probably the first jeweler to publish a brochure (Blue Book from 1845) to market jewelry and other products. That brochure launched a campaign around 1990 that offered diamond engagement rings starting at $850, a bargain considering Tiffany’s average prices.
After the recession, the ‘cheap’ engagement rings remained in the jewelry range, but Tiffany’s continued to look for luxurious and very expensive products for their collection. For example, in 2009, Tiffany’s entered into a partnership with the Japanese mobile phone operator SoftBank.
10 mobile phones were designed and produced from more than 400 diamonds (20 carats). Such a cell phone costs almost $1 million.
You may wonder how Tiffany’s manages to charge so much for their diamond jewelry. That cannot be due to the enormous advertising campaigns or the Blue Book catalog.
Success or USP (unique selling points)
I think there are 3 other reasons for Tiffany’s success:
Met name Louis Comfort Tiffany heeft voor zijn bedrijf veel sieraden ontwerpen voor zijn rekening genomen, maar uiteindelijk krijg je een beter product als ideeën en talenten van andere sieraden ontwerpers je collectie kunnen aanvullen.
Een paar van die beroemde sieradenontwerpers zal ik hier introduceren:
The high quality of the diamonds
Tiffany’s only sells the best flawless diamonds, which have an Excellent Cut Grade; very high-quality cut diamonds. Other diamonds of lesser quality are not sold.
Tiffany’s gemologist, Dr George Frederick Kunz, set the standard for that quality until 1932. Among other things, he has ensured that the ‘carat’ has become the standardized weight of gemstones in the world.
Nowadays they also guarantee that the diamonds used in jewelry are ‘clean’. No blood diamonds, but people are also very attentive to the conditions in which the miners mine the diamonds in Botswana, Canada, Namibia, South Africa, and Russia.
Buyers of diamond jewelry receive a certificate stating the origin of the diamonds and the specific characteristics of the diamond in question.
New designs and gemstones
A brilliant cut diamond (point down and flat on top) shines at its best when the diamond is properly ‘set’.
In 1886, Charles Tiffany introduced a method of diamond setting, which involved 6 ‘legs’ or prongs holding the diamond up, so that it appears as if it is standing on top of the ring. This setting was called ‘Tiffany Setting Ring Design’, but is also known as the ‘solitaire’ ring.
In addition to high-quality diamonds, Tyffany’s also sold high-quality colored gemstones, such as tsavorite, kunzite, and morganite. All gemstones which were hardly known, and were shown by Tiffany’s to the wider public.
A great example was the turquoise and aquamarine necklace, designed by Francesca Amfitheatrof, a designer at Tiffany’s, which was worn by Cate Blanchett at the 2015 Academy Rewards.
Collaboration with jewelry designers.
Jean Schlumberger was born in Mulhouse/France in 1907 and quickly proved to be a creative boy. There was something his parents didn’t like.
He persevered and initially started designing buttons but later custom jewelry for Elsa Schiaparelli. After a short career as an independent jeweler, he was asked to work for Tiffany’s in 1956. He was one of the few who was allowed to sign his work so that everyone could see who had created a particular design for Tiffany’s.
Jean Schlumberger had a preference for nature, which he developed with whimsical shapes into designs for jewelry covered with diamonds and other colored gemstones.
One of his most iconic designs was his ‘bird on a rock’, a brooch/pendant that, in addition to many diamonds, also included the yellow Tiffany Diamond.
His designs were appreciated by famous clients such as Jacqueline Kennedy and the Duchess of Windsor.
Elsa was born in 1940 in Florence/Italy and came to the USA as a model. In 1969 she started designing her jewelry, modern and mainly made of silver.
When she was asked to become a jewelry designer at Tiffany’s in 1974, sales of silver jewelry increased significantly. Younger customers loved her robust style and her bracelets became so famous that she was allowed to design her collection for Tiffany in 1980.
Paloma Picasso (the daughter of…) was born in 1949 and started her career as a costume designer in Paris in 1968. Her rock crystal necklaces impressed Yves Saint Laurent so much that he offered her a job as an accessories designer.
In 1980 she started working at Tiffany’s as a jewelry designer. Her famous pieces of jewelry include a kunzanite necklace and a moonstone bracelet called ‘lightning bolts’.
Of course, there have been more designers with whom Tiffany’s has collaborated, but these are the ones who were allowed to sign their designs.
Diamonds come in all colors, sizes, and quality or price. Tiffany’s represents the high segment and has rightly become very famous for it. However, they are usually not unique jewelry. That is, a successful design is executed multiple times and in multiple variations.
That makes it a little less exclusive.
Diamond is the birthstone of April. If you would like to know more about birthstones or other gemstones, you can download my PDF for free by completing the form below. The PDF provides information and fun facts about the most famous gemstones.
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