Tiffany’s famous 6-prong setting diamond engagement ring introduced a milestone in jewelry design that made Tiffany’s the world’s premier jeweler for diamond engagement rings, 130 years ago.
Summer is all about weddings and so I find it ever-so-appropriate timing to share a special celebration that is happening at all of the Tiffany stores around the globe. It is the 130th anniversary of the infamous 6-prong Tiffany Setting as we know it today!
It has been said that ‘in matters of the heart Tiffany’s has no equal.’ It was its founder, Charles Lewis Tiffany that introduced the engagement ring as we know it today. Hence, in 1886, he introduced the acclaimed ‘Tiffany Setting’ which is without a doubt the most influential and popular setting in the world and has set the standard that others have followed. It was not until Mr. Tiffany’s design, that diamonds were elevated off the hand to highlight the beauty and brilliance of the diamond. Prior to that all diamonds had been enclosed in a bezel setting that now appeared dull by comparison. The innovative setting of six platinum prongs and brilliant-cut stone produced a ring of dazzling charisma. The setting’s introduction was a milestone in jewelry design that made Tiffany’s the world’s premier jeweler for diamond engagement rings……a reputation that they hold until this day.
As Tiffany’s kicked off its celebration of the 130th anniversary of this setting’s famous introduction, it brought to its Houston Galleria store, some of the key personnel from New York that make it all happen. This gave me a chance to chat with Melvyn Kirtley, chief gemologist for Tiffany & Co. In his role as lead procurer of diamonds and principal spokesperson for Tiffany’s, Melvin provides his gemological expertise, enabling him to explain to laymen like myself, just what makes Tiffany’s diamonds so special and also to discuss, not merely their past but what he sees in the future of fashion in gemstones and the fine jewelry business as a whole. It made for a very interesting and enlightening conversation, which I will share some of the highlights here with you now……
MRG: Melvin, please explain to us what is your role as Tiffany’s lead gemologist and how long have you been doing this?
Melvyn: I’ve been a gemologist for 30 years, basically my life’s work has been at Tiffany’s. British by birth, after arriving in States, began as a salesperson at Tiffany’s San Francisco, fell in love with gemstones, went to G.I.A. and received my degree while working for the company. I moved to NYC in 1990, have worked in London office but spend most of my time at corporate headquarters in NYC.
MRG: Being that our focus is on diamonds today, is that your specialty and please explain to us what makes a Tiffany’s diamond so special?
Melvyn: My specialty is in polished stones but do color, a fast trending area, as well. When shopping for diamonds, 99.9% of the diamonds that we see are unacceptable….they do not meet our very high standards in color, clarity and cut…..they must be perfect!
MRG: Please explain how the infamous ‘Tiffany Setting’ came to be?
Melvyn: In 1886, Charles Tiffany designed a setting that was six pronged, enabling the diamond to be lifted away from the finger to give the impression that the diamond was floating, allowing all of the light in. Prior to this time, diamonds were only set in bezel mountings that were very dull. Tiffany had cut the diamonds in a more brilliant manner and felt that he wanted to show them off. Also, it was the beginning of the use of platinum as the prongs needed to be stronger than what gold could provide. It has since become the benchmark that all others want to achieve. The look has been attempted to be copied but no one has come close to our patented design. Also, it should be noted that ‘engagement jewelry’ has become about one-third of the business and what Tiffany’s has become known for.
MRG: Can you share with us any significant changes that you see happening in the fine jewelry world? Is color something that we should be hearing more of?
Melvyn: Absolutely, colored stones are much more important. Customers are becoming much more aware of their beauty, value and rarity of color. What is exciting is that there is an acceptance beyond just the trilogy as we have known it of rubies, sapphires and emeralds, although there are amazing pieces being created in these stones. There is now also an interest in tourmalines and the many different and delicious colors of garnets.
Also, colored diamonds are becoming much more sought after. Colored diamonds are so exquisite in their unique beauty and rarity. As you know Tiffany’s has always been known for its exquisite yellow diamonds but now diamonds are available in every color of the rainbow and are becoming much more popular.
Melvyn Kirtley at his job of examining diamonds for their acceptance within the Tiffany standard