Tiffany Colored Gemstones
Colored gemstones played a major part in establishing Tiffany’s reputation as a world-renowned jeweler. Prior to the mid-19th century, colored gemstones were rarely used in American jewelry. All that changed in 1876 when a young gemologist, Dr. George Frederick Kunz (1856–1932), sold an exceptional tourmaline to founder Charles Lewis Tiffany (1812–1902). Soon after, Dr. Kunz joined the company and embarked on a lifelong quest for the most extraordinary gemstones for Tiffany’s clientele.
The treasures unearthed by this intrepid globetrotter formed the world’s greatest collection of gemstones, including exotic yellow beryl from Sri Lanka (Ceylon), demantoid (green) garnets from Russia’s Ural Mountains and aquamarines from Brazil. Kunz was equally passionate about American gemstones, adding Montana sapphires, Maine tourmalines, and garnets and topazes from Utah to Tiffany’s burgeoning vault. In 1902, a lilac pink stone that had been found in California was delivered to Kunz. The stone was a variety of spodumene, a noted gemstone that had not surfaced in many years. A fellow gemologist named the stone kunzite, for the man who made beautiful gems his lifelong passion.
Financier John Pierpont Morgan, a leading figure of America’s Gilded Age, was a major collector of colored gemstones and a devoted Tiffany customer. He commissioned Dr. Kunz to assemble several important collections of gems, which he eventually donated to the American Museum of Natural History, establishing the Morgan Memorial Hall of Gems. Also bearing his name is morganite, the violet pink beryl discovered in Madagascar and introduced by Tiffany in 1910.
With these and other brilliant gems Tiffany designers created lavish, color-saturated jewels. G. Paulding Farnham (1859–1927), chief jewelry designer from 1891 to 1908, designed many of them, including a nine-inch iris brooch set with Montana sapphires, green garnets and diamonds. Louis Comfort Tiffany (1848–1933), son of Charles Tiffany and a leader of the Art Nouveau movement, captured the key themes of his famous stained glass—vividly colored fruits, wildflowers, birds, insects—in jewels with Mexican fire opals, green and red garnets and amethysts.
The creations of these gifted designers were featured in Tiffany’s grand prize-winning exhibitions at the great world’s fairs in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. With motifs from Orientalist to Native American and later, the exuberant 1930s Cocktail Style, Tiffany & Co. received unprecedented recognition as the undisputed leader in the world of jewels.
Tiffany introduced new gemstones well into the 20th century. In the 1960s, a unique variety of the mineral zoisite was found at the foothills of Mount Kilimanjaro, in Tanzania. It was the first transparent blue gemstone discovery in hundreds of years, and represented a whole new species of gemstone. Tiffany named the stone tanzanite, after its country of origin and the only known source of the stone. Introduced by Tiffany in 1968, this exceedingly rare gemstone remains a symbol of glamour and style, celebrated for its color that captures the blue of the ocean with shades of the midnight sky and flashes of violet.
In 1970, Africa yielded another momentous find with the discovery of a glistening green gemstone at Tsavo National Park near the border of Kenya and Tanzania. The company took an immediate interest, identifying it as a very rare type of garnet distinguished by an intensely rich hue. Henry B. Platt, then president of Tiffany, named it tsavorite, and introduced it in 1974. Today, the luxuriant green stone is revered for its incomparable color and invigorating spirit.
Tiffany’s gemstone heritage remains vibrantly alive with many of the original stones acquired during the decades of discovery, as well as such stones as Paraiba tourmalines and mandarin garnets, exquisite emeralds from Colombia and sapphires from Kashmir. Each gem is set in jewelry designs handcrafted with the utmost quality and sparkling with a legendary style that has distinguished Tiffany & Co. for more than 175 years.
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