Icons & Innovations: Tiffany & Co.: Architectural Jewels

  • Laurie Kahle

In April, Tiffany & Co. will unveil a new collection of jewelry and home accessories designed by renowned architect Frank Gehry. “Gehry’s revolutionary aesthetic has literally redefined architecture,” says Michael Kowalski, Tiffany’s chairman and CEO. “We fully anticipate that our partnership, combining as it does Mr. Gehry’s genius with Tiffany’s tradition of innovation and utmost quality, will change the rules of jewelry and fashion to equal and spectacular effect.” The Gehry Collection will debut with six distinct lines of jewelry, in addition to a selection of tabletop items employing precious metals, gemstones, and wood.

Why did you decide to partner with Tiffany & Co. and how did the collaboration come about?
frank gehry: When Tiffany introduced their Mark watch in 1999, they honored various people who had made their mark professionally. I was one of the honorees. I had been thinking about designing jewelry, but I wasn’t sure how to go about it. As I developed a relationship with Tiffany, the idea started to look more and more fascinating and feasible. They showed me how my ideas could become jewelry, and together we tested the limits of conventional jewelry design. I was amazed by how they transformed my sketches into beautiful objects.

How do you view Tiffany’s design legacy, and what do you hope to contribute to that legacy?
fg: Tiffany established a simple, elegant beauty that is timeless and completely American in character, while maintaining the highest standards of quality and craftsmanship. I hope to add a new twist to that heritage with my own unique point of view, realized with the same standards of excellence that define everything Tiffany creates.

What is the defining characteristic of great American design?
fg: One of the defining qualities of great American design surely is optimism. American designers are up for anything and for any challenge, and are not holier than thou when it comes to tackling and bringing good design to the most mundane problems.

What quality makes a building or a piece of jewelry transcend into the realm of art?
fg: Transcend is certainly the key word. A great building or piece of jewelry is more than the sum of its parts. It has a special quality that results from the perfect meeting of materials and design, and also of time and place, which makes the eye linger and the imagination go beyond the basic building blocks to touch the emotions in a deep and meaningful way.

What are the parallels between architecture and jewelry design? What challenges arose in developing the jewelry?
fg: They are both highly creative pursuits and require the ability to visualize within a prescribed environment. A building or a piece of jewelry can’t be just anything. It must adhere to certain conditions. The challenge is to satisfy all the conditions, yet design something that is truly different and innovative. Designing is never easy. But the more you work with the materials at hand, the more ideas come to you about new ways to shape them. That is where I found the collaboration with Tiffany to be so exciting. These people know how to make jewelry and are open and receptive to my thinking and process.

How did you select the materials for the jewelry, and why did you choose them?
fg: The forms and shapes that emerged from my sketches or models seemed to suggest the material that would best suit their size and particular contours. For the first collection, I used primarily gold, silver, wood, and gemstones, which gave me a broad color palette and an array of rich textures to work with. 

Do you wear jewelry or watches?
fg: Wearing jewelry never occurs to me. I do have a special Tiffany watch—it was a gift that I treasure very much. 

How do your designs fit into a square blue box? Or are you reconfiguring that box, too?
fg: My designs will fit perfectly in the famous Tiffany blue box, which is a worldwide icon. But don’t be surprised if I try to redesign it. I really can’t help myself. 

Photo by James Lipman
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