Although synonymous with luxury today, the firm started out rather modestly. Charles Lewis Tiffany and John B. Young founded it in Connecticut as a “stationery and fancy goods emporium” in 1837, at a time when European imports still dominated the nascent American luxury market. In 1853, Charles Tiffany — who in 1845 had launched the company’s famed catalog, the Blue Book, and with it, the firm’s signature robin’s-egg blue, which he chose for the cover — shifted the focus to fine jewelry. In 1868, Tiffany & Co. gained international recognition when it became the first U.S. firm to win an award for excellence in silverware at the Exposition Universelle in Paris. From then on, it belonged to the pantheon of American luxury brands.
At the start of the Gilded Age, in 1870, Tiffany & Co. opened its flagship store, described as a "palace of jewels" by the New York Times, at 15 Union Square West in Manhattan. Throughout this period, its designs for silver tableware, ceremonial silver, flatware, and jewelry were highly sought-after indicators of status and taste. They also won the firm numerous accolades, including the grand prize for silverware at the Paris Exposition of 1878. Among the firm’s glittering creations from this time are masterworks of Art Nouveau jewelry, such as this delicate aquamarine necklace and this lavish plique-à-jour peridot and gold necklace, both circa 1900.
When Charles Lewis Tiffany died, in 1902, his son Louis Comfort Tiffany became the firm’s design director. Under his leadership, the Tiffany silver studio was a de facto design school for apprentice silversmiths, who worked alongside head artisan Edward C. Moore. The firm produced distinctive objects inspired by Japanese art and design, North American plants and flowers, and Native American patterns and crafts, adding aesthetic diversity to Tiffany & Co.’s distinguished repertoire.
In 1955, with new owner Walter Hoving feeling that Tiffany & Co. was in need of a fresh look, he recruited Schlumberger and Bongard to the company, offering the two designers scope to express their artistic talents on a much larger scale.
Peretti began her career at Tiffany’s in 1974, and five years later became the firm’s principal designer. Peretti went on to design more than 30 collections. She traveled extensively to China and Japan, which led to the creation of such designs as the Bean, The Open Heart and the Zodiac.
Another talented designer, Angela Cummings, joins Tiffany & Co in 1974 as an in-house designer. The brand Angela Cummings exclusively for Tiffany & Co. was created.
In 1980, Paloma Picasso joined the company and brought a fresh look to its designs.
Tiffany is also closely associated with diamonds, even lending its name to one particularly rare and exceptional yellow stone. The firm bought the Tiffany diamond in its raw state from the Kimberley mines of South Africa in 1878. Cut to create a 128.54-carat gem with an unprecedented 82 facets, it is one of the most spectacular examples of a yellow diamond in the world. In a broader sense, Tiffany & Co. helped put diamonds on the map in 1886 by introducing the American marketplace to the solitaire diamond design, which is still among the most popular engagement-ring styles. The trademark Tiffany® Setting raises the stone above the band on six prongs, allowing its facets to catch the light. A lovely recent example is this circa-2005 platinum engagement ring.