This Is Tiffany
Charles Lewis Tiffany’s unquenchable thirst for beauty led to the discovery of some of the world’s most extraordinary coloured gemstones.
By Alexander Fury
Photographs by Robin Broadbent
Above: Tiffany & Co. Schlumberger Bird on a Rock clip in platinum and 18k gold with a 49.07-carat amethyst and round brilliant diamonds.
Archival Blue Book Paloma Picasso® necklace in platinum and 18k gold with coloured gemstones and diamonds, not for sale. Original designs copyrighted by Paloma Picasso.
Think of Tiffany, and you think of diamonds. You think of the famous yellow Tiffany Diamond, all 128.54 carats of it, which took a year of study before it was cut in 1877; of the diamonds of the French Crown Jewels, which Charles Lewis Tiffany—dubbed “The King of Diamonds”—purchased in May 1887 in an audacious move. Then there is the Tiffany® Setting, the most iconic engagement ring in the world.
But these most hallowed of gemstones—a girl’s best friend—weren’t common in the United States until the second half of the 19th century. Charles Lewis Tiffany was the first to offer them in any quantity, hence his regal sobriquet. In buying the jewels of European aristocrats and royals, it was Tiffany who popularized diamonds in the United States. In fact, many Americans first discovered diamonds through Tiffany & Co.
There will always be something magical in that notion of discovery—of unearthing the unknown, revealing the new. That’s a thrill Tiffany & Co. has also passed on to its clients—not just through the revelation of a new piece of jewellery, a fresh design, an aesthetic novelty, but through a whole array of never-before-seen gemstones, discovered by Tiffany’s gemmologists and craftsmen. For example, Dr. George Frederick Kunz (1856–1932), a world-renowned mineralogist and collector. Entirely self-educated about gemmology and fired by his own burning passion, Kunz was the man charged with the 12-month study of that still-breathtaking Tiffany Diamond.
As early as 1893, Tiffany offered 47 variations of gemstones to set in their jewels. Some were familiar, others more obscure or overlooked: demantoid garnets from Russia, Brazilian aquamarine, yellow beryl from Sri Lanka (Ceylon) or, closer to home, Montana sapphires and Mexican fire opals. But Tiffany & Co.’s combination of curiosity and quest for beauty also added a whole new vocabulary to the world of jewellery—new gems, entirely unique. The result was a dazzling array of colours and stones, literally unlike anything seen before.
Tiffany’s discovery of new, modern gemstones gave them their own unique and equally fabulous four: kunzite, morganite, tanzanite and tsavorite.
Kunz was the key player, his boundless curiosity combined with the artistic foresight of Charles Lewis Tiffany, and later, his son, Louis Comfort Tiffany. In the mid-1870s, it was Kunz’s presentation of an American-mined green tourmaline to Tiffany Sr. that caused the latter to employ him; and by the age of 23, he was the company’s vice president. Kunz really made his mark in 1902, with the discovery of a new gem variety of the mineral spodumene, in the Pala District of San Diego County in California. This gem had been considered so rare as to be almost extinct before the discovery of its new, distinct variety, shimmering in a surprisingly delicate shade of lilac, which was named in his honour. Kunzite’s association with Tiffany was cemented in 1904, when it formed the centerpiece of a display at the Louisiana Purchase Exposition in St. Louis, Missouri. Kunzite first appeared in Tiffany & Co.’s Blue Book in 1905, the same year it was described as “the most popular jewel,” its colour specified as “something between a pink topaz, a pink sapphire and a very light amethyst.” Its price could range as high as those commanded by diamonds or emeralds.
Left: Tiffany & Co. Schlumberger rings in platinum and 18k gold with diamonds. Aquamarine and tanzanite. Prices available upon request. For more information, call 1800 829 152.
“In those first days very naturally a large part of my interest was engaged in this problem of discovering and introducing these lovely unknown stones in which no jeweller of the time was even slightly interested,” said Kunz in 1927. “Of course, with the backing of such a firm I was in a commanding position to do so.”
Indeed, it was less than a decade before Kunz debuted another new discovery: a luscious peach-pink beryl, discovered on the island of Madagascar at the end of 1910. The stone was christened morganite in recognition of the support of financier and jewellery aficionado J.P. Morgan, a patron of Kunz and a generous donor to various mineralogical collections in the United States. Foremost was—and is—the Morgan Memorial Hall of Gems at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City.
Tiffany’s combination of curiosity and a quest for beauty added a new vocabulary to the world of jewellery—new gems, entirely unique.
Tiffany & Co.’s exploration of the new continued well into the 20th century. In 1967, two stones were unearthed in the heart of Africa—in Tanzania and Kenya. A Maasai tribesman discovered the blue gemstone that Tiffany & Co. christened tanzanite, after its birthplace, in 1968; while tsavorite, a deep green stone named after the Tsavo River and Tsavo National Park, was unveiled to the public in 1974. Both were immediately utilized by Tiffany for new and exciting designs. The company’s designer Donald Claflin (1935–1979) created a 1968 collection liberally using tanzanite, which debuted at the opening of the first Tiffany & Co. store in San Francisco. By the end of 1969, New York Post columnist Eugenia Sheppard reported that tanzanite was the second most popular stone at Tiffany & Co. after diamonds. Fast forward to 1981, when The New York Times reported that “tsavorite and tanzanite are being treated by top-flight jewellery designers with all the reverence and pomp once devoted to the fabulous four.”
As early as 1893, Tiffany offered 47 variations of gemstones to set in their jewels.
That fabulous four would be sapphires, rubies, emeralds and diamonds; but Tiffany’s discovery of this new spectrum of gemstones gave them their own unique and equally fabulous four: kunzite, morganite, tanzanite and tsavorite. Their championing ties in perfectly with the company’s legacy of continual invention, innovation and surprise. Ensuing generations of Tiffany designers have utilized these stones again and again in their jewellery. In the 1960s, Jean Schlumberger perched whimsical diamond birds on slabs of kunzite for his “Bird on a Rock” clips. In 1985, to celebrate her fifth anniversary with Tiffany, Paloma Picasso paired her trademark diamond Xs with oversized topaz, tourmaline and tanzanite in candied hues. Today, Tiffany & Co. designers turn to this quartet of Tiffany gemstones to add flashes of dazzling colour to their elegant, modern creations.
The last word, perhaps, should go to Dr. George Frederick Kunz, Tiffany’s gem maestro: “I invariably found that it was those who cared most for beauty—in other words, artists—who needed no persuasion to my way of thinking.” That is why Tiffany & Co. designers continue to explore and experiment with brilliantly coloured gemstones today, adding a unique sparkle to their artistic endeavours.
Prices available upon request. For more information, call 1800 829 152. DISCOVER COLOURED GEMSTONES