In a glitzy city filled with designer logos and luxury brands, it’s no surprise that a massive jewelry exhibition would pique everyone’s interest. But one glimpse of that striking, iconic shade of blue on the entrance to the Fosun Foundation in Shanghai makes it pretty clear who (or rather what) has come to town.
Dubbed as the first and largest show of its kind, Tiffany & Co.’s “Vision & Virtuosity” celebrating the brand’s 182-year history with a showcase of over 350 pieces, many from the Tiffany Archives and on view to the public for the first time. For a show of this magnitude, ironically it’s not in the United States, but in Mainland China—a strategic choice for the American jeweler. “Tiffany’s introduction here was relatively recent, so we feel it’s important to share the brand’s legacy with our discerning Chinese customers,” said Alessandro Bogliolo, Tiffany’s & Co. CEO. “The vibrancy of Shanghai—a global capital with a rich cultural heritage and international influence—makes a fitting destination for an exhibition of this caliber.”
Tapping into this audience, “Vision & Virtuosity” feels more like an art installation organized into six thematic, non-linear “chapters” with interactive displays, mood lighting, and cool music. “We wanted visitors to step into another world, where they get to discover, explore, and experience our story rather than simply reading their way through it,” said Richard Moore, Divisional V.P. for Global Store Design and Creative Visual Merchandising. Adding to that narrative was the Fosun Foundation itself—the arts and cultural center with its golden bronze tubes hanging and rotating like a bamboo curtain. “A building whose façade actually ‘dances’ adds to the whimsy and artistry of the exhibition,” said Moore.
After a maze of oversized Tiffany blue logos, visitors enter a room filled with exceptional blue gemstones—sapphires, tanzanites, aquamarines, moonstones, blue diamonds—recreating Tiffany’s beloved shop windows from the Fifth Avenue store in New York City. On display for the first time is a tanzanite and emerald floral brooch from 1968 when Tiffany introduced the purplish-blue stone to the world. Other signature pieces include a Jean Schlumberger-designed aquamarine bird pin, sapphire dragonfly brooch with “en tremblant” wings, and a 19th-century Montana sapphire-and-freshwater pearl brooch. Two figures play “Tug of War” over a retro-style 1940s aquamarine pendant in a window by Gene Moore, the former Artistic Director who designed approximately 5000 windows for the brand. To emphasize the link to China, a trio of diamond bracelets inspired by 12th-century silk hand-scroll paintings come alive through a mural by local contemporary artist Ran JiWei.
“The World of Tiffany” emphasizes its close-ties to pop culture with the first cash ledger from 1837 and the oldest known Tiffany Blue Box, an icon in itself. The color of the box—a robin’s egg blue—evolved over time, but it was not until 1886 when Tiffany introduced its first engagement ring did the packaging become more famous and coveted than the jewelry. Like the pages of a Tiffany scrapbook, old advertisements, and clippings from Vogue and the Saturday Evening Post are layered with photos of Elizabeth Taylor wearing the diamond-and-sapphire “Fleur de Mer” brooch, or Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis with her ruby “Two Fruit and Leaves” brooch, both pieces designed by Schlumberger. From the 1939 New York World’s Fair, a sterling silver cocktail shaker set inlaid with cabochon emeralds demonstrates Tiffany’s first foray into everyday objects.
“Our history is so rich, it was hard to select favorites,” said Moore. “How do you look at so many beautiful and meaningful things in our archives, and decide that one is more worthwhile than another?” To start, the original Blue Book—the direct-mail catalog first published in 1845—is displayed next to a 19th-century, archaeological-style necklace exemplifying the earliest jewelry sold by Tiffany. A diamond fleur-de-lis necklace uses 13 round-cut emeralds from the Crown Jewels originally belonging to Queen Isabella II of Spain. Other notable items—gold opera glasses, engraved cigarette cases, ribbon-shaped corsage ornaments, Deco-style jade—are paired with the corresponding Blue Books over the next 175 years. Nature-themed orchid and chrysanthemum brooches incorporate enamel and dog-tooth freshwater pearls while an elaborate Donald Claflin-designed “Beetles and Flowers” necklace is encrusted with a gold wreath of diamonds and colored stones. A minimalist silk cord necklace exemplifies the first of many design collaborations with Elsa Peretti, whose debut collection sold out in 1974.
The “Tiffany Love” section is devoted to eight different signature (and sizable!) diamond solitaires floating in glass spheres, including the iconic 6-prong Tiffany engagement ring. A more dazzling assortment of diamonds comes later in the exhibition with Gilded Age brooches, Art Deco line bracelets, a cascading fringe necklace, and the Savoy headpiece worn by Carey Mulligan in Baz Luhrmann’s 2013 adaptation of The Great Gatsby. Wavy glass display cases resembling a river of diamonds show contrasting styles from a geometric hairpiece by Frank Gehry to the romantic “Paper Flowers” collection. If these pieces are not blinding enough, the legendary Tiffany Diamond—a 128.54-carat fancy yellow diamond first discovered in 1877, and incidentally the same necklace Lady Gaga recently wore to the Oscars in February—leaves nothing but admiration.
No Tiffany exhibition would be complete without a nod to the 1961 film Breakfast at Tiffany’s starring Audrey Hepburn. Memorabilia like Hepburn’s original annotated script, theater posters, and costume sketches by Edith Head give movie buffs a new, intimate look at the making of the film while rotating scenes play on loop to a soundtrack by Chinese recording artist B6 featuring “Blue River,” an updated version of the movie’s theme song “Moon River.” A mannequin wears Hepburn’s iconic little black dress, reimagined by renowned Chinese artist Li Xiaofeng using deconstructed glazed porcelain shards.
An oversized Tiffany ring box or giant bone china coffee cup offers the chance for one last social media post, hinting that the brand’s future lies not only with its extraordinary history, but its appeal to the next generation of millennials. “Today, luxury doesn’t have to be formal,” said Reed Krakoff, Chief Artistic Officer. “I’m reconfiguring our designs to make them desirable in a world where you can wear an incredible diamond necklace with a T-shirt and pair of jeans and still look completely of-the-moment.” For all its beauty and glamour, maybe Tiffany will trade in the little black dress after all.