t’s rare for a jewellery house to buy a diamond (almost) as big as the Ritz, and then never sell it. But that is the singular story of the Tiffany Diamond. The rough fancy yellow diamond weighed 287.42 carats when it was unearthed in the Kimberley Mine, South Africa, in 1878. A year later, Charles Lewis Tiffany, the “Diamond King” and founder of Tiffany & Co., purchased the stone for USD 18,000 (some 30 million today).
“When the diamond was discovered, few had witnessed a yellow diamond so remarkable. Today, the Tiffany Diamond remains unrivalled in scintillation and beauty. Its intense sparkle can be seen from far across the room,” says Victoria Wirth Reynolds, Chief Gemmologist, Tiffany & Co.
Only a true craftsman could cut such a remarkable stone: the gemmologist Dr George Frederick Kunz. Under his supervision, the rough was cut into a cushion-shaped gem of 128.54 carats (forgoing more than half its weight) with an unprecedented 82 facets rather than the usual 58 to 64 facets. It has remained at Tiffany & Co. ever since. “The Tiffany Diamond is the cornerstone of our House. It embodies our unwavering commitment to pursuing beauty over size,” notes Victoria Wirth Reynolds.
- 1957: The Tiffany Diamond was unveiled in its first design, as a pendant.
The Tiffany Diamond has been set in five different designs and worn by just four women. The first incarnation, suspended in a pendant of 20 diamonds from a rivière of 64 diamonds, was worn by Mary Sheldon Whitehouse. The wife of diplomat Edwin Sheldon Whitehouse, she wore the diamond on July 13, 1957 at the benefit Tiffany Ball at Marble House, Newport, Rhode Island. That evening, some 1,200 members of East Coast society danced to the sound of Lester Lanin and his Orchestra. Among the guests was the senator for Massachusetts, a certain John Fitzgerald Kennedy who three years later, in 1960, was elected President of the United States.
In 1961 the stone would take a starring role thanks to another star, Audrey Hepburn, and to Jean Schlumberger, one of the most gifted jewellery designers ever, who worked for Tiffany from 1956 until 1970. He artfully mounted the Tiffany Diamond in the Ribbon Rosette necklace. In publicity photos promoting Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Blake Edwards’ adaptation of Truman Capote’s novel, Audrey Hepburn is resplendent in the necklace.
As stunning as it may have been, the Ribbon Rosette would not be the Tiffany Diamond’s “forever home”. In 1995, in honour of the Jean Schlumberger retrospective at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs in Paris, it was reset for the third time, in the designer’s iconic Bird on a Rock brooch. Then, when Tiffany & Co. celebrated its 175th anniversary in 2012, the namesake gem became the centrepiece of a necklace mounted with more than 100 carats of diamonds.
The honour of wearing this extraordinary jewel went to Lady Gaga, at the 2019 Academy Awards, where she received the Oscar for Best Original Song. The fourth woman to have worn the Tiffany Diamond is Beyoncé, for the House’s “About Love” campaign in 2021.
In 2022 the Tiffany Diamond found itself at the heart of the action in a new screen adaptation of Agatha Christie’s Death on the Nile. However, the dazzling yellow stone worn by Gal Gadot in the role of Linnet Ridgeway Doyle was in fact a replica of the original: it would have been unthinkable to allow such a priceless gem to be used as a film prop!
The grand reopening, on April 26 this year, of “The Landmark”, Tiffany & Co.’s flagship store on Fifth Avenue, New York, was the perfect opportunity to transform the stone’s setting for a fifth time. The new design takes inspiration from Schlumberger’s Bird on a Rock.
- The new design for the legendary 128.54-carat Tiffany Diamond was created by Nathalie Verdeille, the company’s Chief Artistic Officer, Jewelry & High Jewelry.
“Thirty years ago, we set the diamond in the Bird on a Rock for the Jean Schlumberger Paris retrospective. Today, the Tiffany Diamond and the Bird on a Rock meet again for a new love story full of liberty and joie de vivre,” declares Nathalie Verdeille, Chief Artistic Officer, Jewelry & High Jewelry, Tiffany & Co., who designed this fifth incarnation.
“Rather than a single bird resting on top of the diamond, our designers reimagined the motif to evoke five birds encircling the diamond in midair,” explains Victoria Wirth Reynolds. This new interpretation can be worn as a brooch or as a pendant, thanks to a clasp on the back. And who knows, perhaps the fifth person to wear the Tiffany Diamond will be… a man?