Charles Tiffany Opens an Emporium, 1837

Charles Lewis Tiffany grew up in the retail business. His father, the owner of a cotton manufacturing business, owned a small general store, and Charles started working there at the age of 15. In 1837, when he was 25, he borrowed $1,000 from his father, and started his own business, a stationery and gift store in New York. His partner was his best friend, John B. Young.

After three days of business, the men had only sold $4.38 of merchandise, but they persevered. Two years later Tiffany married John’s sister, Harriet. The young men were still in business, now selling glassware, porcelain, and clocks and watches. By 1841, they had begun to acquire a reputation for fine items, and specialized in Bohemian glass. Before another ten years had passed, they had stores in Paris and London, and had relocated their New York outlet to Fifth Avenue.

Tiffany’s achieved further fame in 1878, when they purchased one of the largest yellow diamonds ever discovered. Uncut, it weighed 287.42 carats, and was cut to a cushion shape of 90 facets and 128.54 carats. It was the largest yellow diamond that had ever been discovered at the time, and gemologist George Frederick Kunz studied the stone for over a year before he began cutting it. The stone had 32 more facets than were generally cut on a stone in the normal square brilliant cut, which gives it an exceptional brilliance. It is said that the stone has only been worn by two women: once by the wife of the diplomat Sheldon Whitehouse, and once by Audrey Hepburn in a publicity shot for Breakfast at Tiffany’s.

In 1887, Tiffany’s purchased a significant number of the French Crown Jewels. They were the largest buyer at the sale, purchasing 24 out of a total of 69 lots. This purchase, and subsequent sales, further augmented Tiffany’s reputation as a dealer of fine jewelry.

Today, Tiffany and Company is famous the world over, and there is hardly anyone who doesn’t know that the company is practically synonymous with fine diamond jewelry. Their famous Blue Box (which can never be purchased, but can only be received with a Tiffany purchase) is recognized all over the globe. But Tiffany’s diamonds are only the tip of the iceberg. Among the other notable creations of Tiffany and Company are:

The Great Seal of the United States was redesigned by Tiffany in 1885. It is the same design that still appears on the one-dollar bill.

A White House China Service was commissioned by Lady Bird Johnson in 1968. The design features 90 different flowers around the edge of the plate. In the center is the United States Eagle.

The Union Army ordered swords, flags, and surgical instruments from Tiffany’s.

Abraham Lincoln presented his wife Mary with a Tiffany pearl necklace to celebrate his inauguration.

A Medal of Honor was created for the first New York City police officer shot in the line of duty. The “NY” logo incorporated in the design is now the logo of the New York Yankees.

The Vince Lombardi Trophy, given to the winner of the Super Bowl annually, is created by Tiffany and Company.

Among the more unusual pieces Tiffany has created for its customers are:

— A miniature jeweled silver carriage that was given by P. T. Barnum as a wedding gift for Tom Thumb and his wife.

— A diamond-studded pocket watch with a chain of tiny handcuffs created for Harry Houdini.

A golden chamber pot created as a gift for actress Lillian Russell from Diamond Jim Brady.

Tiffany Standards for gold and platinum are now recognized as the official U. S. standards. Tiffany’s gemologist, George Frederick Kunz, played a significant part in the adoption of the carat as the international standard for gem weight.

Sources: Chase’s Calendar of Events, 2011 Edition: The Ultimate Go-To Guide for Special Days, Weeks, and Months, Editors of Chase’s Calendar of Events; 18;;;;

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