Monday, Nov. 04, 1940
At Manhattan's 5th Avenue and 57th Street one morning last week two heavy glass doors revolved, admitted the first of 14,000 opening-day gawkers to Tiffany & Co.'s new store. Before them in fluorescent-lighted showcases lay the toniest U. S. jeweler's dazzling stock: diamond solitaires up to 20˝ carats (price: $100,000), pearls (up to $243,000 a string), emeralds, sapphires. The radiance of thousands of stones seemed to spread out and warm the visitors, an effect increased by spotlights hidden in the high soundproofed ceiling. Said Mrs. John F. Bigelow, a Tiffany customer for 40 years: "An inspiring structure with a very social atmosphere. In the old Tiffany's we never looked at each other. Here it is different."
Mrs. Bigelow was right. Gone were the grey, morgue-like walls, the drab showcases, the cloistered darkness of the old store at 37th Street. Instead, large windows, scarcely marred by crossbars, admitted beams of sunlight. Even the clerks looked a little younger. But one thing had not changed, probably never would: the Tiffany tradition of muffled, almost clandestine conservatism.
Tiffany has spent more than a century making its stamp the most upstage of all U. S. trade names. In the panic of 1837, 25-year-old Charles Lewis Tiffany opened his store in downtown Manhattan, sold $4.98 worth of goods in the first three days. A dozen years later, the firm (then Tiffany, Young & Ellis) startled rival jewelers by purchasing $100,000 worth of royal Hungarian diamonds, began gathering éclat. Still later it bought the 128˝-carat canary Tiffany diamond. Big as a man's fist, priceless, the stone is exhibited on state occasions, like the New York World's Fair.
Tiffany also has a factory (in Newark, N. J.), shapes its own articles of gold, silver and bronze, engraves invitations, calling cards, etc. During the Civil War the plant turned out ''miscellaneous military supplies" for the Union (Tiffany policy permits no details). In World War I it made surgical instruments. Tiffany also makes jewelers' trade rules, helped introduce to the U. S. the English standard of sterling silver 925/1000 fine.
Louis Comfort Tiffany, head man almost until his death in 1933, intensified his father's love for privacy. When the 37th Street store was built in 1905, Tiffany avoided telling anything about his business even to a banker. He paid $2,000,000 cash for the land, $2,000,000 cash for the building. To this day Tiffany & Co. has never published a financial report. Extremely inactive, the closely held stock sometimes does not change hands for years. Last known sale: three shares last summer at $465 a share. But in a 1932 lawsuit Tiffany & Co. reluctantly said sales in the preceding 40 years were $350,000,000. Fellow tradesmen put boom-year gross at $20,000,000. much less today. Present seneschal of Tiffany tradition is six-foot, grey-haired John Chandler Moore, whose grandfather was vice president under the first Tiffany. To friends, John Chandler is a kindly, dignified gentleman who wears high, stiff collars, tightly knotted ties. His weakness: he loves horses. To employes he is aloof, diamond-hard, almost a myth in an upstairs office. In best Tiffany style John Chandler does not tell Who's Who his age. Exact number of his employes is also secret (in the '20s it was well over 1,000). For many years, the old Tiffany's did not even have its name over its own door.
Most Tiffany employees have grown up with the company, revere its name like the family Bible. About half the staff has served more than 25 years. Most start as office boys for five years, then spend ten or more as general clerks, acquiring a knowledge of stones. By the time an office boy becomes a salesman, he is usually bald or grey-haired. Top-notch men get $150 a week; some also get 3/8 of 1% commission. All must wear dark suits, conservative ties, white collars, black shoes.
Careerists, Tiffany men seldom quit. But there are three sure ways to get fired. One is to sell (or give away) a Tiffany box to a non-purchaser. Another is to fight with an old customer. The third is to steal. About once in ten years an employee is caught stealing. But Tiffany's never prosecutes. Instead the wrongdoer is quietly escorted out the rear door, warned never to try the jewelry business again.