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American Luxury: Jewels from the House of Tiffany
160 pgs, full color
The delicious charm of this new volume on Tiffany & Co. is enhanced by the jewels illustrated in such glorious profusion. But the real heart of American Luxury, as multifaceted as its lavish creations, is the story of the firm behind the gems and Tiffany's rise to international reputation. Edited by Jeannine Falino and Yvonne J. Markowitz, both authors of several noted publications on jewelry, the essays craft a lively understanding of Tiffany's founding, its early promotional endeavors at home and abroad, its gem sourcing, and its intimate connection with design and fashion. The key interest of American Luxury lies in firm's early years, particularly its first century in which development was most dramatic and in which the 'Tiffany mystique' became firmly established.
That which would mature into Tiffany & Co. was a small shop founded in 1837 by Charles Lewis Tiffany (son Louis Comfort being the Tiffany of art-glass fame). For an American to conceive of a firm that would compete with established European design houses was a move nothing short of boldness in the New York of those days, itself a mere colonial seaport. But the rising wave of American wealth and fortune would buoy Tiffany, providing the wealth, opportunity and social milieu to support an American purveyor of luxurious goods. American Luxury outlines the firm's earliest developments in publicity and promotion, the tireless and continual drive of Charles Lewis to position the company favorably with the public, garnering positive press and cultivating the firm's aura of elegance.
A secure reputation among 19th-century New York society was not enough, and Tiffany & Co. looked for acclaim abroad as well. A study of 14 separate 'world's fair' expositions between 1853 and 1933 showcases the company's adaptive strategies as well as its rising fortunes. Tiffany's presence at fairs such as the New York Exhibition of the Industry of All Nations of 1853-54 and the Paris Exposition Universelle of 1867 gave this American establishment an opportunity to show its wares in competition with those of established European design houses.
Praise from overseas was particularly prized. A medal for silversmithing given at the Paris Exposition Universelle of 1867, was the first such award to go to an American firm. It garnered Tiffany & Co. international respect, helped to cultivate the firm's image as the premiere provider of luxury goods of all kinds, and heralded the first time Europe looked across the sea for design and inspiration. Princes and potentates were seen to purchase Tiffany jewelry at such fairs, further adding to the firm's cachet. By the World's Columbian Exposition of 1893 Tiffany was universally established, with not only its own extensive booth but a presence in exhibitions throughout the fair. Its broad influence included demonstrations of diamond-cutting in concert with De Beers, the display of Tiffany-decorated rifles among the wares of the Smith & Wesson, and the positioning of Tiffany gem specialist George Frederick Kunz as the exposition's Honorary Commissioner of Mines and Mining.
Driving that appeal to luxury's delight were the creative responses of Tiffany designers, who drew on influences as diverse as Japanese art, Cypriot artifacts, Roman intaglio and the Victorian love of lavish ornament. A roster of Tiffany talent including early design chief Edward Moore, G. Paulding Farnham, Charles Lewis's own son Louis Comfort Tiffany, Jean Schlumberger, and Donald Claflin, and present-day designers such as Paloma Picasso are discussed. Their contributions and creative inspiration reflected a sensitively shifting response to fashionable trends, realities such as the scarcity of metals during wartime, and current interests, such as the craze for exotic orchids on which designer Farnham based a series of lifelike floral brooches in gold and enamel. A further aspect of Tiffany's success lay in practical concerns of quality. A chapter on the gemstones used in Tiffany creations highlights the achievements of a less well-known yet just as essential Tiffany talent: the company's in-house gemologist, Kunz, whose passion for mineralogy and employment by Tiffany contributed to the firm's reputation for sourcing the finest gems from around the world.
Alongside its development and its designers, American Luxury further touches on Tiffany's fashionable clientele. A study of the relationship between ornament and fashion designers notes eminent Tiffany wearers, from Mary Todd Lincoln to Jacqueline Kennedy. A final chapter on Tiffany's fashions for men underscores that Tiffany's elegance extends to well-dressed persons of both sexes.
Photographs from the Tiffany archives dazzle in over 200 lustrous images. Cennini-like goldwork, encrustations of diamonds in the Victorian style, and the exclusive Cypriot line based on an archaeological trove unearthed in the 1860s-1870s are a few examples of the range of Tiffany craft included here. Focusing primarily on vintage works, and of those, mainly jewelry, the highlighted items also include a number of modern creations as well as other luxury goods, including a richly ornamented Civil War presentation sword, Art Deco cigarette cases, and Japanesque cufflinks. Each item is mentioned in the text, making the illustrations a dazzling counterpoint to topics under discussion. Produced by the Antique Collectors' Club in association with the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, American Luxury will appeal to collectors, to those interested in the decorative arts, and to anyone intrigued by the Tiffany mystique.
--Katherine R. Lieber
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