Tuesday, March 24, 2015

A Girl's Best Friend

We recently received a set of jewelry design drawings by Donald Claflin. Claflin, after whom the jewelry design studio in the Hopkins Center is named, was a designer at Tiffany & Co. from 1965 to 1977. During that time, he became known for his artistry and use of such unusual materials as leather and ivory in combination with the finest gemstones. His designs were both intricate and bold and quite expensive to produce. However, his tenure at Tiffany's coincided with the reestablishment of Tiffany's standard of quality under its new CEO, Walter Hoving.

Founded in 1837 by Charles Lewis Tiffany and John F. Young, Tiffany's beginnings were humble. The store sold stationery and a variety of fancy goods, including costume jewelry. In 1841, Tiffany's began selling real jewelry, adding silverware to their inventory in 1847. By that time, Tiffany and Young had distinguished themselves from other stores by clearly displaying prices for their items, thereby avoiding the practice of haggling, and accepting only cash for their wares. During the Civil War, Tiffany's became an emporium for military supplies. After the war, they returned to their staples of jewelry and silverware, as well as other higher profile items. From the 1860s to 1929, Tiffany's sales grew exponentially. They opened a store in London and Paris and a factory in New Jersey. However, after the financial crash of 1929, the company's profits sank. There was a brief resurgence during World War II, when the factory in New Jersey supplied military products, but by 1955, the real estate under the company's flagship New York building was more valuable than the company itself.


Claflin, along with top designers Jean Schlumberger and Thomas Hoving, whose stained glass lamps have become synonymous with the Tiffany name, were given almost free reign under Hoving. Among Claflin's most memorable designs, were the whimsical pieces he created based on children's stories, including Alice in Wonderland and Stuart Little, as well as less extravagant pieces, including the popular criss-cross ring. He was also the first designer to use and create an entire collection out of the rare blue gemstone Tanzanite. Claflin left Tiffany's in 1977 and was hired by Bulgari where his designs became sleeker and more abstract.

Claflin's designs were little pieces of art, expressions of his individuality as an artist. He felt that there was more to jewelry design than just the setting of expensive stones. Claflin was not unique in that thought, and he was certainly not the first jewelry designer to think so. More than one hundred years before Claflin another jewelry designer got his start at Tiffany's. Herman Marcus had emigrated from Dresden, Germany, in 1849, and started to work for the company in 1850. He struck out on his own in 1864, when he opened a store with Theodore B. Starr. Starr and Marcus dissolved in 1877, and Marcus returned to Tiffany's where he stayed until 1884. Giving entrepreneurship another try, Marcus opened Jaques & Marcus with George Jaques that same year. After Jaques retired in 1892, the company became Marcus & Co. Marcus and his family loved and lived for jewels, spending a lot of their time traveling to the far corners of the earth for gemstones. They were particularly interested in neglected gems such as zircons, chrysoberyls, tourmalines, opals, garnets, beryls, spinels, and peridots. Like Tiffany's, Marcus' clientele were the wealthy for whom he designed individual pieces that were never reproduced. The style of designs ranged from intricate filigree punctuated designs that used many colored gemstones, diamonds and pearls during the Edwardian period (1900-1910), to French Art Nouveau, Egyptian and Renaissance revival influenced designs in the 1920s and 30s. In 1899, the company had added a silversmithing department, as well as an appraisal service and began to buy old jewelry for cash. They also offered their premises for jewelry storage during the summers when the wealthy left the City. In 1941, the company was sold to Gimbel Brother's department store, and in 1963 merged with Black, Star & Frost.

To see scrapbooks of Jaques & Marcus designs, created at the time of their manufacture ask for
MS-674. To see the more than 300 drawings by Donald Claflin ask for MS
-1327.

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