A Tiffany Gift

PrintPrintEmailEmail

SINCE NEW YORK CITY IS WHERE, AT ONE TIME OR ANOTHER, MOST OF THE MONEY IN THE COUNTRY tends to migrate, it is not surprising that it seems to have almost as many jewelry stores as it does restaurants. Of these many are excellent, and a few—Cartier, Harry Winston, Van Cleef & Arpels—are grand by any standards. But only one of them has lodged itself in the national consciousness as being something beyond a purveyor of luxury goods.

Tiffany’s is one hundred and fifty years old this year, and during its century and a half, it has come to represent more than china and stationery and, of course, jewelry; it suggests, even to people who have never set foot in the store, a sense of ease, well-being, and an especially American kind of luxury. It also connotes quality—and to such a pervasive degree that World War II Navy pilots never thought they were wildly out of context when they told each other happily that seeing the name Grumman on their planes was like seeing the Tiffany hallmark on sterling.

So for a very long time, Tiffany’s has been the source of the ultimate Gift. And now, on its birthday, we look at a few of them from past decades. Each is accompanied by an observation from a writer of the era when it was made, and, marshaled into a glittering whole, they remind us that Tiffany’s exclusive clientele is, in fact, a freemasonry broad enough to embrace such diverse personalities as George Templeton Strong and Truman Capote.

“I experience today a gloomy, superstitious foreboding of duns, a mournful presentiment of a bank account pumped dry, and impertinent creditors to be bullied or dodged. Perhaps it’s because I went into Tiffany’s with Ellen this morning and saw a great many things I wanted but could not afford to buy....”—George Templeton Strong, Diary, 1848

 

“Dear Sirs: The watch which Mrs. Clemens bought of you some days ago keeps too much time, sometimes, & the rest of the time it doesn’t keep any. Will you please take out its present works & put in some of a more orthodox character.”—Samuel Langhorne Clemens to Tiffany’s, December 1885

 

“The great Palladian pile just erected by Messrs. Tiffany...presents itself to the friendly sky with a great nobleness of white marble. One is so thankful to it, I recognize, for not having twenty-five stories, which it might easily have had, 1 suppose, in the wantonness of wealth or of greed, that one gives it a double greeting.…”—Henry James, The American Scene, 1907

 

“But when the salesman turned his back a moment she was not too absorbed to give a rapturous little squeeze to her husband’s arm, and as their eyes met and the miracle of good and pure and fervent married love flashed in the look they exchanged, it seemed to me that I had at last found something worth buying in Tiffany’s—the brightest jewel in the world!”—Kathleen Norris, short story in The Ladies’ Home Journal, 1916

 
 

“The Universal idea prevalent about Tiffany’s is that while it is the finest store ever organized in the world, it is, also, the highest priced....It is this fear of high prices that has scared people away from Tiffany’s. They should swarm the store....A thousand dollars will go further in Tiffany’s than a thousand dollars anywhere. So will twenty-five, fifty, or a hundred dollars....So don’t get stage fright when you pass Tiffany’s. Go in! The humble are as welcome as the well-to-do.”—Editorial in The Palisadian, Palisades Park, N.J., February 27,1925

“What I’ve found does the most good is just to get into a taxi and go to Tiffany’s. It calms me down right away, the quietness and proud look of it; nothing very bad could happen to you there, not with those kind men in their nice suits and the lovely smell of silver and alligator wallets.”—Truman Capote, Breakfast at Tiffany’s, 1958

 

To celebrate Tiffany’s anniversary, separate exhibitions will take place this fall at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City (September 16,1987–January 1988); the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston (September 9–November 8, 1987); and the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago (November 7, 1987–February 6, 1988).