Day 469: This Article Comes In A Pretty Blue Box

originally published April 13, 2013

In the last week I have written about baseball, golf and birds – three topics that my wife finds either tedious or filthy, loathsome and verminous (she really hates golf). Since she comprises the complete demographic of my most devoted audience, I’m thinking I need to make it up to her. So since my sub-glorious government job as a Gelatinous Carbon-Dioxide Producer won’t afford me the opportunity to buy her a fancy diamond, I’ll instead give her a thousand words about her favorite corporate institution: Tiffany & Co.

That’s practically the same thing, right?

I don’t know much about the company, and there’s no great scandal or dark, disturbing past here – the founder wasn’t discovered impaled with a diamond-studded pickaxe or anything awesome like that. But there’s enough interesting trivia to keep me intrigued, at least until tomorrow’s topic hijacks my attention.

  • Tiffany began its life in 1837 as Tiffany, Young & Ellis, and their specialty for the first twenty years was stationery. I suppose using this logic, our descendants may be buying their engagement rings at Staples in the 22nd century.
  • They set their own rules for how a jewelry store should operate: cash only, and with the prices clearly marked so that the customers would all get gouged for the same amount of ridiculous markup, not a penny more. Also, no haggling.
  • During the Civil War, Tiffany sided with the Union (they were headquartered in New York City, so to do otherwise would have been awkward). They manufactured swords for the cavalry and surgical instruments for the doctors who tended to them.
  • The company was commissioned to design and manufacture a Medal of Honor for the Navy in 1877. The New York Yankees loved the insignia on the medal, and adopted it as their official logo in 1909. Sure, an ‘N’ and a ‘Y’ superimposed on top of one another seems simple, but it’s all about fonts, baby.
  • Their catalogue was the first mail-order catalogue in the United States, launching in 1845. That’s according to Tiffany’s website. Wikipedia asserts that Ben Franklin launched his own mail-order catalogue full of scientific and academic books way back in 1744. Sorry Tiffany, looks like you got caught in a lie with this one.
  • In 1867, Tiffany became the first American company to win an award for excellence in silverware at the Exposition Universelle in Paris. That’s pretty impressive. Even more impressive is that they actually give out awards for excellence in silverware.
  • In 1878, the company got their hands on this gigantic rock: the Tiffany Yellow Diamond. That’s 128 carats, 90 facets, and zillions of bucks, all packed into that little yellow gem. The Yellow Diamond has never been sold, and tends to sit on display in the Tiffany flagship store on 5th avenue in Manhattan. This thing has only been worn twice: by Mrs. Sheldon Whitehouse at the 1957 Tiffany Ball in Newport, Rhode Island, and by the delightful Audrey Hepburn in publicity shots for the 1961 film Breakfast at Tiffany’s.
  • Speaking of which, the Truman Capote novella which inspired the movie doesn’t actually involve any sort of egg-related meal being served inside the store. In fact, Tiffany’s on 5th Avenue is not of tantamount importance to the plot of the story, however the protagonist’s insistence that Tiffany’s is “the best place in the world, where nothing bad can take place” is pivotal to her character. I’m not giving away any spoilers here; if you haven’t read the novella or seen the movie, you’re missing out.
  • In the late 50’s, Tiffany commissioned pop artist Andy Warhol to design some Christmas cards. You can purchase a hardcover collection of these cards on Amazon for $88.95. That’s 96 pages – almost a dollar per page, and the only way you can use them as functional Christmas cards is if you rip apart the book you just spent $88.95 on. Ouch.
  • Tiffany & Co. was bought out by Avon in 1978. They made a shift to promote so many inexpensive trinkets, a 1984 Newsweek article compared the store to Macy’s during a white sale. The quality of the merchandise dipped and the service level began to rot – the company had to be sold again.
  • The company went public in 1987, and while they still tried to prod diamond glitz at a reasonable rate to the poor schlubs of the working class, they went back to stocking mostly top-end stuff for display in their stores.
  • Tiffany sued eBay in 2004 because the auction company was making money off people hocking counterfeit Tiffany merchandise online. Tiffany lost.
  • Without a doubt the most important item produced by Tiffany & Co. is the annual Vince Lombardi Trophy, awarded every year to the winning Super Bowl team. Unlike the Stanley Cup, a new championship trophy is minted every year. As it should be – nobody wants last year’s winners’ slobber all over their coveted prize.
  • In the late 19th century, it was more common to give one’s lady a sewing thimble instead of an engagement ring. Rings became more of a thing around the turn of the century, but it wasn’t until the 1930’s when the diamond industry (with Tiffany boldly waving their flag at the front of the march) pushed the diamond ring as the engagement standard. Just try giving the love of your life a thimble today. I dare you.
  • Among Tiffany’s present and past roster of jewelry designers are Paloma Picasso (Pablo’s daughter), the brilliant architect Frank Gehry, and Jean Schlumberger, who designed so many bracelets worn by Jackie Kennedy, they simply came to be known as ‘Jackie bracelets’.
  • For the woman who has everything and now wants things that simply don’t need to exist, Tiffany teamed up with SoftBank, a Japanese cell phone company, and created this thing. It features more than 400 diamonds, totaling over 20 carats and would cost you over a million bucks if you can find one. They only made ten, so expect a markup for rarity.
  • Pantone color 1837, the color of the famed blue boxes that have been causing women’s hearts to leap into their throats for almost as long as the company has been around, is trademarked by Tiffany & Co. Yes, they own a color on the spectrum. Beat that, Bulgari.

No scandals, no media disasters, and no blood on their hands – well, except for the blood that comes naturally from the diamond trade, but let’s try not to think about that. Tiffany & Co. seems to be a pretty straight-up company. If you’ve got the cash (or the credit), you can’t go wrong professing your love through spending money on something glittery inside one of these blue boxes.

Or, you could just do what I did and write about them. Right, honey?

Honey?

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