Thursday September 13, 2012
The elegant evolution of Tiffany & Co
By WILLIAM K.C. KEE
In conjunction with Tiffany & Co’s 175th anniversary, let’s take a look at its illustrious beginnings.
AS Tiffany & Co celebrates its 175th anniversary tomorrow, the jeweller’s heritage continues to glitter in its stores around the world. The company’s renowned flagship store at Fifth Avenue and 57th Street in New York City has certainly established itself as an elegant landmark in the Big Apple.
Tiffany & Co is New York’s first American jeweller and will be forever linked to its rise as an international capital of glamour and sophistication.
Tiffany’s showplaces marked New York’s path of growth, beginning with founder Charles Lewis Tiffany’s first emporium at 259 Broadway, which opened in 1837. He subsequently moved his enterprise to 271 Broadway (in 1847), 550 Broadway (1853) and then, Union Square and 15th Street (1870).
Three years after his death in 1902, the company moved to Fifth Avenue and 37th Street and in 1940, Tiffany’s current location opened at 727 Fifth Avenue, a move that established the area as Manhattan’s most fashionable shopping district.
Designed by the architectural firm Cross & Cross, the modern, seven-storey structure was embraced as the ideal new home for the treasures of Tiffany. Its graceful façade of limestone, granite and marble anchors the famous Atlas clock, a bronze statue of the mythological figure shouldering a clock. The clock was initially mounted in 1853 above the entrance of the Tiffany store at 550 Broadway.
The store’s entrance is framed by a wheat leaf pattern that represents nature as an important inspiration of Tiffany design. Arranged in crisp rows of stainless steel, the distinctive wheat leaf pays homage to the American West, with its open skies and sun-drenched fields. In addition, the store’s entry doors with the striking centre medallion are embellished with stainless steel fluting. This graphic pattern originates from the columns of classical architecture that influenced the Art Deco movement.
The 780sqm main floor is constructed without columns. The coffered ceiling (7.3m high) is secured with three, 96-tonne trusses, developed for bridge construction. Also, the store was the first mercantile building with central air conditioning as part of its original design.
Then and even now, Tiffany’s flagship store was a magnet for the famous and fashionable. Customers ranged from presidents such as John F. Kennedy and Richard Nixon, and stars of stage and screen, including Richard Burton, whose gifts of Tiffany jewels greatly enhanced the collection of his wife, Elizabeth Taylor.
The main floor also served as a set for films such as Breakfast At Tiffany’s (1961) with the indelible Audrey Hepburn as Holly Golightly, Sleepless In Seattle (1993) and Sweet Home Alabama (2002).
These luminaries are joined by people from all over the world who are drawn to the floor’s soaring expanse, with its wide aisles and windows framed by Alpine marble. Diamonds sparkle from streamlined showcases that surround pedestals of granite and burl wood.
Meanwhile, the Tiffany Salon is located on the mezzanine, through elegant double doors of patinated bronze. Customers interested in the rarest of all jewels may explore them in sumptuous surroundings, inspired by New York’s grand residential buildings of the 20s and 30s, with their splendid proportions and procession of rooms. The Patek Philippe Salon is also located on the mezzanine.
This salon continues the partnership that Tiffany and the watchmaker established in 1851.
The second floor is designed with a portal of Brazilian granite, a dramatic opening to the dazzling diamond engagement rings and other important jewels, arrayed amid luxurious furnishings, hand-painted porcelain vases and platinum leaf shimmering on panels and framing beveled mirrors.
The third floor highlights Tiffany’s heritage as master of American silver design. Cases of gleaming sterling silver jewellery and accessories line a broad centre aisle that ends at an open staircase of stainless steel and Winter Cloud marble.
The staircase leads to the fourth floor, configured as a series of boutiques for sterling silver hollowware and flatware, china, crystal, Elsa Peretti Home collection and the Tiffany Leather Collection, created by renowned designers Richard Lambertson and John Truex.
The fifth floor is reserved for special events and exhibitions and customer service is on the sixth floor. Last but certainly not least, a light-filled workshop is just above this floor, whereby master artisans handcraft Tiffany’s jewels.
The windows of this building overlook Fifth Avenue and Central Park, and these familiar sights are captured in photographs displayed throughout the store. Together they reflect the ongoing story of the city and its most renowned jeweller.