The late 19th Century was an exciting and transitional time for Tiffany. In 1887, the French government held the historic auction of the French Crown Jewels. This presented a rare opportunity which Tiffany & Co. founder Charles Lewis Tiffany embraced, buying more than a third of the items offered. Among those jewels auctioned by the French Government was a pair of matched natural pearls owned by Empress Eugenie. The purchase of so many pieces in the sale launched Tiffany into the dominant position among American jewelers.
In the later years of the 19th and early 20th century, three titans of Tiffany -- Paulding Farnham, George Frederick Kunz, and Louis Comfort Tiffany, the son of Charles Lewis Tiffany -- are credited with changing the face of traditional jewelry and initiating a new and exciting era. The Paris Exposition of 1889 marked the launch of Tiffany’s purely and profoundly American Style. They successfully blended American craftsmanship, design and materials with captivating sophistication.
George Frederick Kunz
George Frederick Kunz, the preeminent gemologist of his time, introduced a plethora of American gemstones that were incorporated into Tiffany’s jewelry designs and reflected a subtle yet defiantly patriotic note. Tourmalines from Maine, sapphires from Montana, Mexican opals, Kunzite, Mississippi freshwater pearls were among the many American gems that were often set in enchanting and unusual color combinations.
Paulding Farnham, America’s first world-class jewelry designer, refined Tiffany’s jewelry style. At 29 years old he became an international celebrity winning an uninterrupted series of gold medals at International Expositions. With over 200 Tiffany pieces on exhibition at the 1889 Paris Exposition, Paulding Farnham’s 24 enameled orchids captured the imagination of those that attended. So delicate and realistic, they had a life-like quality that rivaled a live orchid with a technique that had not been seen in jewelry before. He also made delicate enamel flowers with gold wire-wrapped stems. Although best known for his enamel flowers and orchids, Paulding Farnham’s jewelry designs were far broader with inspirations including Renaissance Revival, Viking, Byzantine, Aztec and Orientalist among many others. In 1902 his fortunes changed dramatically with the death of Charles Lewis Tiffany.
Louis Comfort Tiffany
From 1889 through 1902 all the jewelry Tiffany exhibited at international exhibitions had been designed under the direction of Paulding Farnham. With the death of Tiffany founder, Charles Lewis Tiffany, in 1902, his son, Louis Comfort Tiffany was named Vice President and began designing jewelry. The years creating glass in his Studio influenced in Louis Comfort Tiffany’s choice of gems incorporated into jewelry, particularly the adularescent moonstone which mimicked his iridescent glass. Together with Tiffany’s world renowned gemologist, George Frederick Kunz, they favored pairing the moonstones with Montana sapphires.
With the ascent of Louis Comfort Tiffany following his father’s death, the adversarial relationship with Tiffany’s chief designer led to the resignation of Paulding Farnham in 1908. At the age of 48, the immensely talented and internationally respected Paulding Farnham never created jewelry or silver again but his influence in Tiffany’s success still resonates today.