For his debut Blue Book high jewelry collection, chief artistic officer Reed Krakoff proves that Tiffany & Co. is in full bloom.
Following his departure at the helm of Coach after a 16-year tenure and with revenues of more than US $4 billion in his wake, Reed Krakoff took the reins at Tiffany & Co. in January 2017. Known for its spectacular jewelry collections by the likes of the late Jean Schlumberger and designer Paloma Picasso, the Tiffany family also produced all sorts of decor pieces that are housed in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, and that document the history of the US.
Upon arrival, Krakoff immediately injected one of the country’s oldest high jewelry houses with funkier designs, youthful aesthetics, and campaigns featuring Lady Gaga and Elle Fanning for the Hardwear and Paper Flower collections. Selecting celebrity faces to showcase the jewelry (a first) motioned that Tiffany & Co. was finally moving away from its most significant, if unofficial, cultural reference to date: Audrey Hepburn in Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961). All the while, high society held its breath for the reveal in New York in October of Krakoff’s debut high jewelry Blue Book collection, where new, boundary pushing creative ideas have been unveiled to a select few since the tradition was founded in 1845.
Choosing the theme of Four Seasons – a nod to nature being one of the house’s most beloved inspirations – Tiffany & Co.’s new chief artistic officer showed a dazzling 110-piece collection worth more than US $31 million. It comprises new pieces but also an archival vintage bracelet reinvented with butterflies. Rings, necklaces, earrings, and bracelets were designed to look like flowers and frost, with sustainably sourced colored jewels. Weighty blue cuprian elbaite tourmalines, a padparadscha sapphire, Melo Melo pearl, and a Sri Lankan emerald-cut sapphire at more than 29 carats are among the notable stones.
Undoubtedly, the standout is the Winter Season Ice necklace in platinum, which features an extraordinary array of translucent, sparkling diamonds, uniquely cut and assembled like a puzzle, reminding of cracked ice.
With its more than 91 carats, the necklace features the most diamond weight carats of the entire collection. As it was delicately placed around the swan-like neck of Halima Aden, also attending the New York launch, a thousand facets of light danced across her doll-like face. Here, Krakoff shares his memories of and vision for the brand.
Nowadays, many heritage brands are working on creating collections for a new, younger clientele. What role do high jewelry collections like Tiffany & Co.’s Blue Book play?
The role of high jewelry is evolving. People are enjoying and wearing jewelry in a new way, integrating it with a more personal twist in their wardrobes. The same piece can even be worn during the day and reinvented for the night. The idea is to create something so flexible that can make sense in different moments of your life.
Are people consuming jewelry in a different way?
I think so. Today, everyone can have access to everything. You can shop all over the world from your home, at any time of the day or night. Customers are more educated and more curious. This also applies to high jewelry. I believe that, increasingly, people want to cultivate their own sense of style and be more curated in their lives. This instills a fresh idea of what high jewelry should be, as opposed to that conservative style of the red carpet pieces.
Why choose the four seasons as the theme for your debut collection?
Since its beginnings, Tiffany has celebrated a fascination with nature. Throughout every decade, there was a reinterpretation of it. The fact that it is a big part of its history – but also that it is a broad concept that we could do many things with – led me to select the theme and divide the collection into the four seasons.
How did you develop your creative process, especially since this is your first high jewelry collection?
It is a continuous learning process, of exchanging of ideas, and observing people who I know and respect on a taste level. Traveling also plays a big part, because it allows me to see how people wear jewelry today. I also spent a lot of time in the archives of the brand, trying to understand its incredible 180-year history.
As a child, you used to visit Tiffany & Co.’s boutique with your mother. What do you remember from those times?
I was probably around nine years old or younger at the time. It was a magical place, where we would discover extraordinary things. One of my favorite areas was the fourth floor, where some of the most brilliant decorators in the world, such as Vladimir Kagan and Angelo Donghia, would do installations, many times in the form of exuberant dining tables. I have vivid memories of being fascinated by all the amazing objects, curated in such unique ways. The Met Museum holds a vast collection of pieces created by the Tiffany family, ranging from jewelry to decorative objects.
How was it to dive into its archives?
Even as someone who grew up with the brand, there were many things I didn’t know about Tiffany. I didn’t know that it was the first American company to institute the 925/1 000 sterling silver standard, which was later adopted by the US; I also didn’t know that the boutique is the largest column-free retail store on Fifth Avenue. I didn’t know how radical and groundbreaking the windows that Gene Moore created in the Sixties were… All this was exciting.
The Fifth Avenue boutique in itself is a New York landmark…
Definitely. And one of the most important facts about Tiffany is that on the top floor of the boutique, the brand houses its workshops. This proximity with the artisans is very special. We are fortunate to employ people with amazing skills, who can create magnificent things with their own hands. This is one of the key messages that we try to communicate to our clients: Tiffany makes things the proper way, one at a time, we have crafts people who are unparalleled. Today this is rare. Brands just want to do things fast, fast, fast.
Are the pieces still made as they were in the past or is technology playing a bigger role?
There’s very little technology; maybe with some modeling or 3D printing. But it’s still an artisanal process – by hand – and we have items that easily take more than six months to make. There are no shortcuts to doing things properly, especially in high jewelry.
The Blue Book was originally published in 1845. I imagine that it was quite a big responsibility to reinvent it?
It was, but it was also exciting to be part of the history of the Tiffany Blue Book. Personally, I have done a lot of jewelry, but not a lot of high jewelry, so I had great support. The design team, the gemologists, the people responsible for the settings… It was an incredible team effort of many different elements comprising various skills.
In the past, Tiffany & Co. was linked with traditional engagement rings and with Breakfast at Tiffany’s. It appears that you are aiming to renovate the brand. How do you balance this tension between past and future?
Well, that is the constant puzzle! Ultimately, we need to find a balance between the projects and offer more stories for the woman of today, while others remain more heritage-focused. It is the mix of all those things together that tell the story.
How do you consider the reaction of a client who has been shopping at Tiffany & Co. for 30 years, to a campaign featuring Lady Gaga, a performer known for being quite daring?
The reality is that you must surprise and excite people. Also, it is important to encourage more new customers than old customers, who will leave. You cannot be an exciting brand that wants to push forward and at the same time please everyone. You need to be bold and clearly know your message. Pleasing everyone is pleasing no one.