Tiffany & Co.'s Chief Gemmologist On What Qualifies An Exceptional Piece Of Jewellery

BY Sophie Stevens / Nov 6 2018 / 20:40 PM

As ‘The Extraordinary Colours of Tiffany’ archival exhibition is shown in the UAE for the first time, Tiffany & Co.’s chief gemmologist Melvyn Kirtley chats with Bazaar about the legacy brand's most iconic designs

Tiffany & Co.'s Chief Gemmologist On What Qualifies An Exceptional Piece Of Jewellery
Ziga Mihelcic

With the 128.54-carat fancy yellow Tiffany Diamond as his favourite gem – “It’s the most incredible stone I have had the privilege of working with” – it’s clearly all about colour for Tiffany’s chief gemmologist Melvyn Kirtley. Such precious gems are embedded throughout the house’s history, exemplified in the recent ‘Extraordinary Colours of Tiffany’ archival exhibition showcased in Abu Dhabi at their Galleria Mall boutique.

Tiffany and Co Jewels

Earrings in gold, platinum, diamonds, tourmalines and kunzite, designed by Paloma Picasso, 1987, Tiffany & Co Archival Collection. Dress, Dhs17,500, Lanvin. Headscarf, stylist’s own. 

Featuring heritage pieces spanning 175 years of jewellery design, the exhibition also marks the first time Tiffany’s archival collection has come to the UAE.  “Our Middle Eastern customers are discerning connoisseurs who believe in true luxury, luxury as a pursuit of painstaking craftsmanship, quality and excellence,” Melvyn explains. “’The Colours of Tiffany’ collection – vivid stones along with legacy gems tanzanite, morganite, kunzite and tsavorite – represent the utmost in craftsmanship.”

These ‘legacy gems’ Melvyn refers to are many of the stones that were pioneered by the jewellery house under the stewardship of Dr George F. Kunz, Tiffany’s chief gemmologist from 1879 to 1932. Key examples include kunzite, a lilac-pink stone discovered in California in 1902 and named after Kunz by a fellow gemmologist, and a Madagascan pink beryl introduced by Tiffany in 1910 and christened morganite in honour of loyal Tiffany client and gem collector, financier J.P. Morgan.

Tiffany and Co Jewels

Choker in gold, platinum and kunzites, 1910-1914, Tiffany & Co Archival Collection. Kaftan, Dhs2,500, Shatha Essa. Turban, Dhs900, Ingie Paris. Headscarf, stylist’s own

Such gems abound in the Colours of Tiffany collection, which presents these legacy stones in designs that offer a fascinating insight into the fashions, collectors and politics from the times that they were created. Bullet-cut kunzites, for example, can be found in a 1910 choker set with diamonds and connected by delicate gold wirework; the perfect companion for the lower necklines of the evening and tea gowns that dominated America’s early 20th-century fashion scene.

The collection culminates in the Legacy Gemstone necklace, designed by Paloma Picasso for the 1985 Blue Book celebrating her fifth anniversary with the house.

Tiffany and Co Jewels

Brooch and earrings in gold, platinum, diamonds, and rubies designed by Jean Schlumberger, 1945-1956, Tiffany & Co Archival Collection. Kaftan, Dhs1,800, Dulce by Safiya. Headscarf, stylist’s own

It pays clear tribute to Tiffany’s ability to source the finest gems, with its 15 stones ranging from a nine-carat tanzanite to an exceptional rubellite tourmaline of over 67 carats. Joined by a pair of en-suite earrings in 1987, the set embodies the finest gems blended with Picasso’s signature ‘X’ diamond motifs mounted in platinum and 18-carat gold.

Tiffany’s jewels frequented the pages of Harper’s Bazaar at the time, including the Extraordinary Colours ruby, diamond, platinum and yellow gold cuff bracelet from 1938, photographed by one of the first female fashion photographers, Louise Dahl-Wolfe, for the April issue of that year. Tiffany’s emerald jewels were also popular page-turners, partly down to a new trade treaty signed between Colombia and the United States in 1934 that made the former’s prized green gemstone more readily available to the house’s gemmologists.

Today, Melvyn ensures his team takes the utmost care when sourcing gems for their collections, particularly for diamonds where other industry processes fall short of his own exacting standards. “We are committed to sourcing high-quality diamonds with integrity. We value traceability and the importance of knowing the origin of our diamonds from the moment they are unearthed as rough stones and throughout their journey to polished gems and final designs.”

These demands continue when determining which of these gems reach Tiffany’s strict quality criteria, with Melvyn revealing he rejects a surprising 99.96 percent of gem-grade diamonds that come his way. “We have rigorous requirements that far surpass the conventional review of colour, cut, clarity and carat weight commonly known as the 4Cs,” he explains. “Stones with inferior clarity characteristics are unacceptable. Brilliance – a term used to describe how well a lapidary has cut the facets, removed flaws and brought out the gem’s scintillating light – is of the utmost importance.”

To read more, pick up a copy of the November 2018 Issue of Harper's Bazaar Arabia.

Styling: Gemma Deeks
Photography: Ziga Mihelcic
Set design: Lauren Haslam.
Hair and make-up: Bianca Hartkopf at MMG Artists.
Model: Daphne Lehoudi at Art Factory.
Fashion assistant: Anastasia Basano.
Producer: Laura Prior. With thanks to Rosewood Abu Dhabi.
All background fabrics available at Style Library

Press play to watch the Bazaar's Jewellery Edit of Tiffany & Co.'s archival collection