Diamonds Are Forever: Tiffany & Co.’s Vision & Virtuosity at the Saatchi Gallery
Since June, London’s Duke of York Square has been graced by Saatchi Gallery’s newest exhibition in celebration of Tiffany & Co.’s 150th anniversary in the British capital.
Visually chronicling seven chapters of creative innovation, Vision & Virtuosity charts the big moments in the jeweller’s 185-year history through a 400-piece archive and striking, interactive exhibits.
If you think this is simply little blue boxes and entry-level silver jewellery, think again.
It’s Tiffany’s on steroids.
Accessing The Inaccessible
Dazzling jewels galore, enhanced with vast projected visuals, greet visitors in the first photography-restricted gallery. Recreations of fantastical window displays from NYC’s fifth avenue treasure house follow, showcasing signature creations over the years while optical illusions of floating jewellery adorn the walls and iconic engagement rings are exhibited in six foot circular windows inside a whimsical Tiffany-blue forest.
Considering our fascination with the experiential, especially its relation to luxury retail, the exhibition’s appeal was irresistible. Luxury brands’ dalliances with the art world are becoming increasingly customary, and with one right on our doorstep, we needed to see how Tiffany’s take on the trend would set them apart as aspiration for others.
Billed as ‘immersive’, the curators didn’t disappoint. Following the interactive engagement ring forest, guests are given the opportunity to try on a selection of Tiffany’s engagement rings, priced from $51,000.
Later, integrated AR technology allows smartphone-carrying visitors to try on the famous Tiffany Diamond, teasing us with its rarity and exclusivity.
Adding an immersive element to a brand’s IRL activations acts as an aspirational-driver. In this instance, Tiffany’s interactive try-ons create an unmissable experience as guests access the inaccessible – simultaneously generating a feeling of missed-opportunity in those who don’t attend, and a potent emotional connection in those who do.
The Rare, The Refined and Tiffany’s Raison D’Être
Unsurprisingly, our discussions post-visit were a chorus of awe and admiration, not only had the exhibition’s architects created a work of art simply by collating years of masterpieces, but they also succeeded in surprising us with their boldness.
Tiffany & Co. has been synonymous with classic, traditional luxury for the majority of its history, if not since its 1837 inception. Their commitment to brand-building over nearly two centuries has set their place in people’s hearts, and although Gentlemen Prefer Blondes may have credited diamonds, it was really Tiffany’s who were a girl’s best friend for much of the 20th century.
Everyone was desperate for that little blue box to appear, and many still are. But as Tiffany jewellery became universally adored, their rarity waned. The exhibition reminds, and reinstates Tiffany’s status as the world’s ‘premier artisanal jeweller’.
A beautifully curated room walked us through a timeline of daring pieces in tandem with the brand’s Blue Book – an annual showcase of artistic statement pieces.
With every edition of their bible-esque portfolio, Tiffany’s challenged the imagination with fantastical jewels that push the limits of craftsmanship and design, paying homage to the creative visionaries spearheading the innovation along the way.
The Blue Book was the United States’ first ever direct-mail catalogue. Since its inception, it’s evolved into a showcase of the world’s most exquisite high jewellery creations. Rooted in their heritage, the iconic Blue Book is a thing of beauty in its own right, but it’s also a reminder of Tiffany’s innate experiential spirit.
When introduced in 1845, the Blue Book transformed the luxury customer experience. Tiffany’s has continued to surprise and delight its customers, rooted in unwavering brand identity, iconic tradition and industry leadership.
Diamond-laden necklaces and silver rings developed into the first frontier of the brand but Vision & Virtuosity reintroduces less conventional, but no less extravagant, pieces.
Holding up a beautifully brazen middle finger to their mainstream, Tiffany & Co. creates a space to worship these forgotten or unheard-of pieces.
Paralleling the Blue Book’s evolution, the exquisite stained glass Tiffany Lamps – created during the reign of Louis Comfort Tiffany – hold their own mid-exhibition, being one of the costliest and rarest collections by the House at the time of their launch.
Other not-so-well-known items include a 1939 cocktail service set, a collection of sporting trophies, the House’s 1893 royal warrant, a gold-plated opera glass from the end of the 19th century and a truly excessive amount of avant-garde brooches.
Though their heritage is baked into everything they do, Tiffany’s retrospective proves they aren’t predictable. They’ve been innovators since the jump, leaders in craftsmanship and with the status to prove it, having influenced the world for 185 years.
Prioritising Pop Culture
Beyond the sheer beauty of the exhibition and pieces themselves, the gallery journey highlights Tiffany’s ever-growing emphasis on pop culture, and their mutual influence on one another.
Though we tend to dichotomise high culture and popular, Tiffany’s occupies a unique space – for the most part, one exclusive to luxury – spanning the two. In the venn diagram of contemporary culture, Tiffany & Co. takes a new place with each person you ask, and that’s not to undermine their brand positioning. If anything, it elevates it.
Unsurprisingly, Breakfast at Tiffany’s has a dedicated gallery in the exhibition. Focusing on Blake Edward’s 1961 film adaptation starring Audrey Hepburn rather than Truman Capote’s original novella, the fifth gallery pays homage to what is ‘undeniably one of the most beloved instances of Tiffany & Co. in popular culture.’
A recreated facade of the NYC flagship and a branded yellow taxi offer an Instagrammable element to the showcase, alongside displays of Hepburn’s annotated script, the iconic Givenchy LBD and the film’s Academy Award for ‘Moon River’.
Breakfast at Tiffany’s is undoubtedly one of the brand’s most enduring pop culture legacies, a fact they reiterated with a twist in their 2021 ‘About Love’ campaign starring Beyoncé and Jay-Z.
Referenced throughout the exhibition, the campaign’s short film features a soulful ‘Moon River’ performance from the ‘Formation’ singer as she is videoed by her husband on a Super 8 camera. In the background is Jean-Michel Basquiat’s elusive ‘Equals Pi’ painting – having been privately owned and mostly hidden from the world for four decades, its appearance was quite the talking point.
Catalysing the controversy was the Tiffany Diamond circling Beyoncé’s neck. A 128.54-carat South African diamond, discovered during colonial rule in 1877 and worn by only three women previously, is allegedly a blood diamond. And despite the House’s claims to the contrary, backlash was fairly widespread, not least due to the overt African-inspired tones that define her recent records.
In response, EVP of Product and Communication, Alexandre Arnault, told The Guardian:
‘Luxury brands used to communicate in a very authoritarian way. You could put a brand on the back page of Vogue and say, this is who I am. Now that people can share and comment, we know that our point of view won’t work for everyone.
But we can’t get so scared that we don’t do anything exciting. Tiffany has been part of pop culture for 185 years and we plan to continue with that forever, whether that’s with Beyoncé, or with [Korean pop star] Rosé.’
Even with a doubted history, Arnault’s confidence in the brand’s long-standing ability to adapt to the zeitgeist as well as their evolving appeal to younger generations is clear throughout the exhibition as much as in his words.
From Holly Golightly to Beyoncé, Tiffany’s has always been able to tap into the cultural moment, and when they can’t fill the gap, they create another.
The final gallery in an exhibition is usually a thought-provoking denouement of the curated narrative, this one is perhaps the opposite.
Vision & Virtuosity’s seventh gallery – the history of the Tiffany Diamond and its place in modern culture – feels like a launchpad for what comes next. It feels teasing and playful as much as it feels luxurious. And considering the spaces the brand is currently playing in, it makes perfect sense.
Only Tiffany’s would launch its first NFT collection as it celebrates 185 years of innovation, craft and heritage. It’s a fascinating juxtaposition and alongside the brand’s increasingly guerrilla marketing tactics, they’re positioning themselves as a heritage brand who is forever building on their legacy.
Exclusive to CryptoPunks holders, the NFTiff collection consists of 250 limited edition NFTs – priced at 30 Ethereum ($51,000) – that can be minted and transformed into a bespoke pendant handcrafted by the House’s artisans, plus a digital duplicate of the piece.
Having flirted with Web3 previously, Tiffany’s first NFT launch materialised following a tweet from Arnault in April. Asking his 20.9k followers whether the brand should make CryptoPunk pendants available to NFT owners for one week, the result was a resounding yes – 80.3% to be exact.
It’s one of the many exciting moves Tiffany’s is making right now, over and over again solidifying their status as a leader in luxury, not only in the old sense but the new frontier as well.
And as Tiffany & Co. chronicle their 185 years in one of London’s most contemporary galleries, they manage to deliver an almost how-to guide to restoring timelessness, eclipsing the expected and the well-known with the rare and unforgettable.
To luxury brands looking to breathe life into their heritage with relevant and imaginative experiences that elevate their legacy, take note.
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