Tiffany Engagement Ring History
Part 1. King of Diamonds
Tiffany & Co. wasn’t always known for its diamonds. When the company was founded in 1837, by the brilliant Charles Lewis Tiffany, it was launched as a ‘Fancy Goods’ store, selling novelties and stationery. One business trip in 1847 changed the direction of the company forever.
John B Young (Charles Lewis Tiffany’s business partner) and Thomas Crane Banks set sail for France to purchase European ‘novelties’. Whilst there, they encountered a fractious country in the throes of yet another revolt.
The King, Louis Philippe, was forced to abdicate in 1848 and many aristocrats, fearing a repeat of the ‘Reign of Terror’, fled. Fleeing required ready cash so, suddenly, a great deal of jewellery flooded the market – at very attractive prices.
Young and Banks seized the opportunity, returning to America with a fabulous collection of storied diamonds. Whilst the US prided itself on being a thoroughly modern democracy, the wives of the fabulously wealthy New York aristocracy – like Joseph Pulitzer and JP Morgan – were enthralled with these Royal European jewels.
'The Tiffany Diamond', a 128.54ct Fancy Yellow Cushion Cut
In 1877, Tiffany pulled off a once-in-an-epoque coup, buying nearly a third of the French Crown Jewels in a hotly anticipated sale in Paris. Symbols of the now defunct monarchy, the jewels were devoured by the wealthy industrialists and luminaries of America’s gilded age.
As if the diamond frenzy couldn’t get any more intense, in 1878, following the discovery of significant diamond deposits in the Kimberley diamond mines, Charles Lewis Tiffany, brilliant marketeer and businessman, bought a superb 287.42ct canary yellow diamond which was expertly cut into a 128.54ct cushion cut. This became the Tiffany Diamond and Charles Lewis Tiffany was crowned by the press the ‘King of Diamonds’.
Part 2. Tiffany Blue Box®
The 1870s saw the creation of the iconic Blue Box®. No one knows exactly why Charles Lewis Tiffany decided on this robin's-egg blue hue, but it's thought the popularity of the colour turquoise at the time was key.
Tiffany Blue Box®, 1878-83
Turquoise is also a native American gemstone, mined in New Mexico. So unique is the colour that in 1998 it was trademarked, and in 2001 it became a Pantone colour known as ‘1837 blue’.
Part 3. Tiffany® Setting
So ubiquitous is the diamond solitaire engagement ring now, that it’s hard to imagine how revolutionary it was at the time of its introduction. In the late 19th century engagement rings were, first of all, rings, with the gemstones serving as accents to the intricate work of the Goldsmith. Low settings and scrollwork were de rigeur. When in 1867 significant diamond reserves were discovered in South Africa, suddenly the supply of all categories of diamond increased.
Taking care not to flood the market with new stones, De Beers, owners of the nascent South African mines, managed to increase interest in, and the accessibility of, diamonds, which in turn helped lay the groundwork for a shift in taste. It would be Charles Lewis Tiffany, led by his faultless instincts, who correctly identified and predicted this shift from Engagement Ring to Diamond Engagement Ring.
In 1886 he introduced a ring set with a single high-quality diamond in a tapered six-prong setting. The setting was strong, but delicate enough to allow light to enter the diamond from all angles, increasing the total light return to the eye. This unique design totally upturned the standard bezel setting of the time; the ‘Tiffany® Setting’ was born and quickly became the diamond engagement of choice.
Such was its cachet that Franklin D Roosevelt proposed to Eleanor in 1904 with a Tiffany & Co. diamond engagement ring. And the business was forced to release statements warning customers against counterfeits.
Tiffany® Setting Engagement Ring, 1962, in a Blue Box® from 1872-1900
The introduction of the Diamond Saw in the early 20th century saw the bulky Old European Cut give way to diamonds with larger tables. In 1919, mathematician Marcel Tolkowsky published a series of measurements and proportions for an ideal cut diamond. Diamonds had previously been cut according to the techniques and instruments available at the time. Tolkowsky’s measurements produced what is now identifiable as a modern brilliant cut diamond. The brilliant cut diamond Tiffany® Setting Engagement Ring would become the de facto engagement ring of the 20th century.
Part 4. Jean Schlumberger Designs
Throughout the 20th Century, and into the 21st, the Tiffany Setting Engagement Ring was and is the symbol of love. But as well as brilliant cut solitaires, Tiffany & Co. produced rings with other fancy diamond shapes and styles. The 1950s saw the launch of a collection of engagement rings by Jean Schlumberger. Schlumberger’s style saw a return to a form where the central diamond and the setting were given equal weighting.
Engagement Ring by Jean Schlumberger for Tiffany & Co., 1958
Part 5. Tiffany & Co. Advertising
The 1960s was the golden age of Madison Avenue advertising, coining the term ‘Mad Men’. Tiffany & Co. began a series of very witty campaigns:
Part 6. New Cuts for a New Century
At the end of the 20th century Tiffany & Co. were busy designing a new cut of diamond. Not since Marcel Tolkowsky’s ideal cut had the consideration of angles and sizes been so considered. The diamond cut known as Lucida® took decades to perfect and was patented in 1999, ready to become the signature diamond for a new millennium. The Lucida® was unique in combining a step cut crown with a brilliant cut pavilion.
A further cut was developed and launched in 2007. The Novo® is a subtle cushion cut, a romantic shaped inspired by the legendary Tiffany Diamond. The Novo® was offset by a pavage of smaller cut diamonds resulting in a modern but delicate look.
The Tiffany True® launched just ahead of the 2020s in 2018. Reimagining both the diamond and the setting meant that Tiffany & Co. had repeated its act of 1886 and produced another revolutionary ring. The True® diamond, like the Lucida®, features a step cut crown and brilliant cut pavilion. But whilst the Lucida® was cut for depth and subtilty, the True® was cut for intensity and fire.
Marking a departure from previous designs, the Tiffany True® features branding in the ring design itself; a distinct, bevelled ‘T’ has been worked into the gallery. According to Reed Krakoff, Tiffany Chief Artistic Officer at launch, “The 'T' symbolises both the jewellery house and the essence of true romance”.
A fitting start to the future of the Tiffany Engagement Ring.