Tiffany&Co blue-book-launch aquamarine and turquoise necklace with diamonds

Statement jewellery | Tiffany & Co | NYC Blue Book launch | Francesca Amfitheatrof

Sexy and glamorous. Red carpet ready. Did someone say 'rescue fantasy'?


Tiffany & Co has a history of stellar designers such as Jean Schlumberger, Elsa Peretti and Paloma Picasso. Now Francesca Amfitheatrof adds to the 178-year-old jeweller’s legacy. In New York, Susan Skelly previewed the artistic director’s first Blue Book.

In the icy month of February, traffic isn’t the only thing that’s being disrupted in New York.

At the Fashion Institute of Technology at West 27th Street and Seventh Avenue, the Fashioning The ’70s exhibition is looking at how two unlikely partners in prime, couturiers Yves Saint Laurent (France) and Halston (US), shared the sensibilities of the zeitgeist and turned the world of fashion on its head. Both made dresses that echoed the sleek and streamlined aesthetic of the 1920s and ’30s: Halston rejected darts and waistbands, and removed linings and inner structures. YSL impressed with his use of colour, drama and fantasy. Both challenged haute couture with head-turning ready-to-wear.

At Tiffany & Co’s Fifth Avenue flagship store, the jeweller’s new artistic director, Francesca Amfitheatrof, is doing a little disrupting of her own, taking select international media through a preview of the annual Blue Book, a lustathon of gems, first published in 1845.

Amfitheatrof joins a line of innovators who have left their mark on the American jewellery company: Jean Schlumberger, Elsa Peretti, Paloma Picasso, Frank Gehry. Amfitheatrof’s portfolio includes jewellery designs for Chanel, Fendi, Marni and Asprey & Garrard. She has curated art collections, created furniture, lighting displays and Alessi homewares. Last year, she introduced herself to the buying public with the popular Tiffany T collection. Now comes the Blue Book collection of exquisite, sky’s-the-limit one-offs, introduced to jewellery connoisseurs last month at two glamorous NYC events.

Where the Tiffany T collection reflects an urban energy, the Blue Book collection nods to the art of the sea – “the variations of water transformed by tide and light, clouds and coastline” – inspired in part by the designer’s two decades of annual sun-soaked holidays on the Greek island of Patmos. So, in this dark cocoon – a transformed meeting room on Tiffany’s Fifth Avenue fifth floor – the walls are shimmering with images of iridescent sea depths. The display cases emanate enough glitter and sparkle to light up an emirate; a spellbinding array of cut, colour and daring juxtapositions.

Collars and cuffs

Amfitheatrof, dressed in Stella McCartney, hair pulled back from her sculptural face, radiates warmth, enthusiasm and an easy familiarity with her craft. She uses the word “fun” a lot and, indeed, many pieces are imbued with a sense of pushing the envelope on any predetermined sense of tradition, from the theatrical harlequin-style bracelets worn below the wristbone, dangling pearls, to a three- dimensional cuff in coral reef colours, set in a matrix of aquamarines conveying a sense of shifting worlds as its wearer moves.


Tiffany&Co BlueBook aquamarine and turquoise necklace with diamonds

From the Blue Book: aquaramine and turquoise necklace set with diamonds in fluid platinum setting


Amfitheatrof has focused on deep-sea blues and greens. Her palette canvasses rare blue diamonds, aquamarines, green tourmalines, tsavorites, tanzanites, and blue and green opals. There’s a statement bracelet using Montana sapphires in undulating waves; a 21.66ct chrysocolla lozenge as turquoise as the Whitsundays; a chunky necklace that’s an explosion of turquoise, aquamarines and diamonds; and rings of singular siren diamonds in silvery blues and greens. She plays with cuts, settings and heights, juxtaposing bezel and prong settings, baguettes and rounds in inventive ways. Things shimmer, ripple, drape and dance.


Gold, diamond and pearl cuffs worn low on the wrist.

“Like the Hockney paintings of pools in California, I wanted the pieces to make you feel you were diving into the blue and generating a ripple of diamonds,” says Amfitheatrof, handing over million-dollar rings to try on as if they were boho flea market silver. “I wanted it to feel like a curated art collection. If people buy, they should feel they are buying a part of history – if that doesn’t sound too lofty!”

One of the most breathtaking pieces – lofty indeed – is a three- dimensional, 300-stone neckpiece. The creation is based on a Jean Schlumberger design and interpreted, in the seventh-floor work studio overlooking Central Park, by artisan Michael Baggio and 17 colleagues, each of whom have a particular area of expertise. It took eight months to make and is as perfect at the back as it is at the front, a meticulous choreography of connections, undulations and movement.

Tiffany&Co BlueBook rubellite sapphire diamond gold bracelets

Shimmering rubellite, sapphire, diamond and gold bracelets in coral reef colours.

Next day, John Loring, artist, author and Tiffany & Co design director from 1979 to 2009, escorts us through a capsule archive in Tiffany’s Broadway HQ in Midtown. At 75, the dapper Loring is still the oracle. Politely pointing out to staff a captioning transposition on one of the exhibits, he makes the point that Tiffany & Co was always about modern design, not based on centuries of other ideas and designs, but on simple things based in nature.

“Schlumberger had a house on an island in the Caribbean [Guadeloupe],” he says, stopping in front of a Jean Schlumberger shell clip covered with hundreds of sapphires and diamonds that capture the colours of the sea. “He was fascinated by sea urchins, fish, starfish and shells, and the undersea life. Francesca has picked up on that: not on the creatures so much as ocean currents and the idiosyncrasies of the sea. Peretti was hearts – the eternal circle, zodiacs, cuff bracelets. Elsa’s heart is the most successful jewellery design in history. It is sensual and organic, a quintessential example of the Tiffany design. Go to basics and then turn it into the extraordinary.”

Tiffany co blue book launch classics Elsa Peretti bone cuffs

The Classic Bone Cuff for Tiffany & Co by Elsa Peretti. Photo Tiffany & Co

Two of Halston’s dresses in the Fashioning The ’70s exhibition are accessorised with Peretti pieces: a skewed “bridle bit” belt bisecting a purple cashmere maxi dress; and her iconic leaning Vessel necklace. The simple accessories take the dresses to even loftier heights. In 1980, Paloma Picasso came not so much with symbols as markings – such as the chain link made of Xs. She came, too, with big stones in brave colours set into large-scale jewellery in line with 1980s proportions.

Amfitheatrof’s inspiration has been touched by the wand of 1940s Hollywood style. “It was a period not influenced so much by Europe. It was super-glamorous. You don’t have to be the perfect woman to wear something from the Blue Book, you just have to be a strong character.”


Tiffany&Co BlueBook Ring 3.03 carat Fancy Intensive Blue diamond ring

Tiffany&Co Blue Book object of desire: a 3.03carat Fancy Intensive Blue diamond ring.

You also need a healthy bank balance. The Blue Book items will fetch from about $US100,000 ($135,700) to just shy of $US7m ($9.5m). The most expensive piece in the collection is an oval 4.16ct pink fancy intense diamond ring valued at $US6.8m ($9.2m). The largest stone in the collection is a round cabochon aquamarine, at 94.87ct, the centrepiece of a glittering pendant. But you won’t see many of these 200 pieces in Tiffany & Co stores. Inspection (and purchase) is by invitation only, in a closely guarded environment. Pieces that are not purchased are displayed in the New York store and will then travel with other statement pieces around the world.

Melvin Kirtley, Tiffany & Co’s chief gemologist, with eyes as blue as aquamarines enhanced by a green striped tie, sees himself as “auditioning” stones; looking for the jewels with that je ne sais quoi – stones with an enthusiasm and energy that speak to him.

Kirtley thinks Amfitheatrof’s first Blue Book collection is “masterful”. “Her whole design philosophy and interpretation, gemstones, her thinking about the ocean, water and waves – all the ideas have come together so beautifully. It’s so unique and so special. She’s worked with gems in a way that is quite magical. And quite different for us.”

He is particularly enamoured of the billowy turquoise blue chrysocolla ring. “It’s the rarest type of chalcedony you can find – a cabachon we all fell in love with. It all fits with Francesca’s thinking about colour – that Caribbean ocean colour [of the chrysocolla ring], contrasting with the blue gradations of Montana sapphires.”

Personally, he finds it hard to go past a blue diamond, such as the 3.03ct oval fancy intense blue in the Blue Book (pictured above). Or, indeed, the Tiffany Anniversary Blue that marked the house’s 175th birthday in 2012, a fancy vivid greenish blue diamond of 2.51ct, bordered with white diamonds in a platinum setting, and on offer at the time for $US10m ($13.6m). “Very once-in-a-lifetime, that one.”

Rare coloured gemstones

Kirtley also is partial to the cuprian elbaite tourmaline, an electric- blue tourmaline quite rare in larger sizes. “It’s the most unique colour, a tourmaline that has a lot of colour in it thanks to its copper content, which gives it an incredible metallic electric bright glow unlike any other gemstone. We have a 6ct one in the Blue Book worth about $US250,000 ($339,000). It’s incredibly beautiful, with such energy.”

Tiffany & Co has never been afraid to play with gems. When times were hard, Louis Comfort Tiffany, the son of founder Charles Lewis Tiffany, insisted on using inexpensive gemstones such as amethysts, tourmalines and nephrite jade – more affordable than diamonds and rubies. The house has also popularised rare coloured gemstones such as tanzanite, morganite, kunzite and tsavorite.

“Coloured gemstones have become as equally important [as diamonds],” says Kirtley. “What makes this collection special is that now we’ve got some incredible design around these pieces. We’re showing off the gemstones in a way quite unique for us. It is taking Tiffany to new heights and treating our statement jewellery in a whole different way that is refreshing. I love Francesca’s interpretations, the way the mixes of cut disrupt one another, but bring the eye back to the centre. It’s disruptive, but harmonic.”

Source Qantas the Australian Way, May 2015


Editor. Writer. Traveller. Keeping tabs on all things fab.

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