Fashion, Philanthropy and Jewelry Design
Elsa Peretti, an Italian jewelry designer, has become an iconic household name most well-known for her bold designs for Tiffany & Co. She attended schools in both Rome and Switzerland; after graduating she began to teach Italian, then became a ski instructor in the Swiss mountain village of Gstadd. In 1963, she moved to Italy to pursue a degree in architecture. As she studied, she was introduced to a cosmopolitan lifestyle and soon was asked to model. In high demand, she moved to New York City where she became a “Halstonettes”, one of the designer Halston’s favored models. Halston was the first designer that showed Peretti’s jewelry on the runway, catapulting her jewelry design career.
Peretti brought sterling silver, once thought to be common and understated, to the forefront of fine jewelry with bold and fresh designs that appealed to models and socialites alike. In 1974, Peretti joined Tiffany & Co., where she designed a collection of sterling silver that proved to be wildly popular. Today, her designs are just as iconic speaking to the timelessness of Elsa Peretti jewelry.
The day Elsa Peretti became a part of Tiffany & Co. was the day we entered a new era in our history of design innovation.
Michael J. Kowalski, former Chairman and CEO, Tiffany & Co.
The name Tiffany is now synonymous with luxury around the globe, but the company was born from slightly more humble beginnings. In 1837, 25-year-old Charles Lewis Tiffany and his friend John Young opened a stationary and fancy goods store in New York City on Broadway. Catering to fashionable men and women, they purveyed a new “American style” more inspired by the natural world rather than the ceremonial patterns and ornamented Victorian opulence of earlier decades. In 1853, Charles Tiffany took control of the company and renamed it Tiffany & Co. By then, he had already introduced their signature, and now iconic, robin’s egg blue color.
Tiffany’s silver studio, headed by celebrated silversmith Edward C. Moore, was the first American school of design. Moore compiled an enormous collection of sketches and artwork, encouraging apprentices both to study them as well as to observe and sketch the natural world. Under his guidance, the studio developed their own design identity and became famous for elegant, Japonesque-style silver and glittering gemstone and diamond jewelry. Tiffany & Co. became the first American company to adopt the British silver standard of using only 92% pure metal, and he achieved international acclaim at the 1867 Paris World’s Fair where he was awarded the Grand Prix for silver craftsmanship; it was the first time an American design firm had been honored so by a foreign jury.
By 1870, Tiffany & Co. had become the premier silversmith in America and leading purveyor of jewels and timepieces. Tiffany purchased crown jewels from France and Spain, revolutionized the engagement ring with solitaire prong-set stones, and by the end of the century would be known as the “King of Diamonds”—a fitting title for someone who was appointed Royal Jeweler to the crowned heads of Europe, the Ottoman Emperor, and the Czar of Russia. The firm won numerous awards at international exhibitions, employed more than one thousand people, and had established branches in London, Geneva, and Paris prior to Tiffany’s death in 1902. His son, Louis Comfort Tiffany (founder of Tiffany Studios), then took the helm and became design director.
Already a leading designer and artist in the Art Nouveau and Arts & Crafts movements, the younger Tiffany stewarded the company to even greater heights. They successfully navigated changing styles, adjusting to the Art Deco aesthetic through the 1920s and 30s and, after L.C. Tiffany’s death in 1933, the more streamlined, modernized designs of the 1940s and 50s. Their success and notoriety only continued to grow throughout the 20th century as they continued to hire visionary designers such as Jean Schlumberger, Paloma Picasso, and Elsa Peretti, and garnered diverse and important commissions, from the Congressional Medal of Honor to the Vince Lombardi Trophy for the National Football League, which they have created since the first Super Bowl in 1967.
Throughout its history, America’s elite politicians, families, socialites, and actors have all frequented Tiffany & Co.: Abraham Lincoln, Franklin Roosevelt, the Vanderbilts, Astors, Whitneys and Havemeyers, Elizabeth Taylor, and Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, to name but a few. With their global presence and steadfast dedication to excellence of quality and craftsmanship, Tiffany & Co. continues to be one of the foremost creators of silver, jewelry, and vertu in the world today.
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