It was set to be the biggest-ever acquisition for LVMH: in November 2019, it was announced that the French luxury goods conglomerate had agreed to pay $135 per share for American jeweller Tiffany & Co, in a deal valued at $16.2 billion.
On September 8, it was revealed that the deal was off, with the two companies engaged in a legal battle. Rumours that the merger might not go ahead began in March, as the luxury market began to feel the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic.
The merger was expected to offer LVMH, whose stable of fine jewellery brands also includes Bulgari, Chaumet and Fred, a strong foothold in the US market. But the company said it was abandoning its purchase of the American jeweller following pressure from the French government amid a trade war with President Donald Trump, while also citing changes in the landscape following the pandemic and protests across America.
In turn, Tiffany has filed a lawsuit against LVMH in an attempt to push the deal through. Although this development is likely to cast a shadow on the American jeweller, which has reported lacklustre annual sales and profits for a few years, its brand power has never been in doubt.
When LVMH agreed to buy Tiffany last year, its chairman Bernard Arnault called the jeweller an “iconic, emblematic brand of America, with a great history”.
Its name, logo and distinctive blue branding is recognised the world over; alongside Cartier, it’s one of the two fine jewellery brands to consistently make the top 100 in Interbrand’s annual Best Global Brands rankings.
So how did Tiffany become so iconic?
Audrey Hepburn has a lot to answer for. The 1961 film Breakfast at Tiffany’s - which begins with Holly Golightly gazing into the windows of the brand’s Fifth Avenue flagship store, coffee and croissant in hand - remains one of the most memorable images in film history. Hepburn was draped in Tiffany diamonds for the film's publicity shots and, for generations of would-be society women, owning a Tiffany diamond remains the ultimate aspiration.
Those little blue boxes
Few brands can claim a Pantone colour as their own. ‘Tiffany Blue’ refers to the specific shade of robin’s-egg blue, first used on the cover of Tiffany’s Blue Book jewellery catalogue in 1845. Used throughout the brand’s packaging, advertising and branding, Tiffany trademarked the shade in 1998 and it’s one of the most instantly recognisable colours in the luxury world. Say the phrase ‘little blue box’ and everybody knows what to expect inside.
For a period in the Nineties and Noughties, there was but one item on every woman’s Christmas wishlist: a chunky silver bracelet strung with a single heart charm, inscribed with the phrase “Please Return to Tiffany & Co. New York”. The Return to Tiffany design originated in a silver key ring, introduced in 1969.
It’s just one example in a long list of Tiffany jewellery designs that can accurately be described as ‘iconic’: from the open heart and bean designs by Elsa Peretti, a rite of passage for 18th or 21st birthdays and graduations, to its ‘diamonds by the yard’, Tiffany Keys and Jean Schlumberger rope designs.
Tiffany & Co is also a go-to brand for engagement rings, thanks to its signature Tiffany Setting, introduced in 1886. The company was the first to elevate a diamond above the metal band, using a distinctive six-prong setting, allowing more light into the stone and thus making it sparkle more intensely. Savvy marketing has seen engagement rings and Tiffany blue boxes go hand in hand ever since.
A prestigious history…
Founded by Charles Lewis Tiffany in 1837, the Tiffany & Co brand is built on over 180 years of jewellery-making expertise. It has claimed some stonking stones - including the Tiffany Diamond, a 128.54-carat yellow diamond that was worn by Hepburn while promoting Breakfast at Tiffany’s and, 58 years later, by Lady Gaga at the 2019 Oscars. Kunzite, morganite, tanzanite and tsavorite were all discovered and named by Tiffany’s gemologists, while Charles Lewis Tiffany also bought a third of the French crown jewels in 1887.
His successor, Louis Comfort Tiffany, paved the way for the company’s rich design history. Over the years Tiffany enlisted artists and designers including Elsa Peretti, Paloma Picasso and Jean Schlumberger, all of whom created pieces still considered iconic today.
...With a modern touch
Despite its impressive legacy, Tiffany doesn’t live in the past. Its strategy is to attract younger, millennial and Generation Z consumers. Chief artistic officer Reed Krakoff, who took over from Francesca Amfitheatrof in 2017, aims to do so by, he says, “loosening the formality of diamonds”, creating diamond-dusted pieces women can wear with jeans and t-shirts, every day. The best-selling Tiffany T collection, designed by Amfitheatrof and launched in 2014, epitomises this contemporary, laid-back luxury approach.
From enlisting the likes of Lady Gaga, Zoe Kravitz and Elle Fanning as its brand ambassadors to installing perfume vending machines in its Covent Garden store, that Lady Gaga Oscars moment and unveiling a £104,000 jewellery advent calendar, Tiffany is a master at creating a social-media buzz.
When the Tiffany Blue Box cafe opened at its Fifth Avenue flagship in November 2017 - an Instagrammable vision of Tiffany Blue - it became the most-requested restaurant in New York on resy.com. A Tiffany representative told me recently that last year, over a million people joined the waiting list for a table. And with another Blue Box Cafe opening at Harrods earlier this year, it seems the appeal of having breakfast at Tiffany’s is stronger than ever.
Mass and high-end appeal
The secret of Tiffany’s success has always been in its democratic blend of accessible luxury - sterling-silver jewellery, key rings and accessories - with ultra high-end diamond jewellery. The brand’s annual Blue Book high jewellery collection, named after those original mail-order catalogues, showcases the most exceptional stones and one-of-a-kind designs, with prices reaching seven figures. Meanwhile, Reed Krakoff has also focused on expanding the house’s line of ‘everyday objects’, with dog bowls and leads, alarm clocks, yo-yos and metal straws all given the Tiffany blue touch.
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