Few things are as instantly recognizable as a box from Tiffany. The legendary jeweler is known as much for its iconic jewelry designs as it is for those robin’s egg blue boxes with their white ribbons and simple black lettering.
Now a global brand with stores in every major city in the world, Tiffany began as a New York store selling high-end stationery. In 1838, Charles Lewis Tiffany John Young opened their store on Fifth Avenue in New York City. When Charles’s son Louis Comfort Tiffany took over as the store’s artistic director, he shifted the emphasis to jewelry. Tiffany & Co. soon established itself as the leading retailer of luxury silver and diamond jewelry in the country.
The Tiffany Blue Book
In 1845, the store began publishing an annual catalog it called the Blue Book. This pale blue booklet was the first direct mail catalog in US history. People all over the country could buy Tiffany’s luxury goods, including rings, watches and rare gemstones.
Tiffany still publishes the Tiffany Blue Book every year. It lists the world’s most exclusive jewels currently for sale.
The catalog is the first place the famous Tiffany Blue color appeared.
Historic Firsts in Jewelry and Design
Tiffany has a history of being first and best when it comes to jewelry and design.
In 1886, Charles Lewis Tiffany introduced a diamond ring with a six-pronged setting and called it the Tiffany Setting. Today, this simple setting is considered the classic setting for an engagement ring. Charles’s son Louis Comfort Tiffany designed the stained-glass lamps we know as Tiffany lamps.
In 1967, the NFL commissioned Tiffany to design the Lombardi trophy for the Super Bowl. Tiffany & Co. still makes this trophy every year. In addition, it makes the trophy awarded to the winner of the NBA Finals, the World Series trophy and the US Open trophy.
Breakfast at Tiffany’s
The iconic film Breakfast at Tiffany’s, based on Truman Capote’s novel, is one of the few movies filmed at the flagship store in New York. There was no restaurant at the store. In 2017, you could finally eat breakfast at Tiffany’s in the store’s Blue Box Cafe.
The Blue Box
Charles Tiffany had an instinctive understanding about marketing. When he designed bags and advertising for his store, Tiffany used the same light blue color he used on the Blue Book. He also knew the bags would be in high demand.
He was right. People coveted the bags, but the store had a firm policy of only giving them out with a purchase. According to an article in the Jewellery Editor:
“It was Charles Lewis Tiffany who decreed that the boxes could only be procured with a Tiffany purchase, prompting the New York Times to report in 1906: ‘Tiffany has one thing in stock that you cannot buy off him for as much money as you may offer: He will only give it to you. And that is one of his boxes.” During the filming of Breakfast at Tiffany’s at the New York store, 40 armed guards were on hand to stop any of the blue boxes being pilfered.”
Registering Tiffany Blue
The company soon realized that both the boxes and the blue color were too distinctive to not protect. In 1998, Tiffany registered Tiffany Blue as a color trademark with the US Patent Office. Officially, it is Pantone Tiffany Blue 1837. The number refers to the year Tiffany first opened.
Subtle Changes Only
The lettering on Tiffany boxes is also a custom typeface named ITC Tiffany. It was designed in 1974 by graphic designer Ed Benguiat. https://www.tiffany.com/world-of-tiffany/the-world-of-tiffany-timeline/ The company still uses that lettering today.
Since its founding almost 200 years ago, Tiffany has made almost no changes to its packaging or trademarks. In 2017, the company felt it no longer captured minds and hearts as a high-end brand. To change that, Tiffany embarked on a marketing and graphics overhaul.
Tiffany hired the design company Pentagram and world famous graphic designer Paula Scher to once again position Tiffany as the arbiter of taste and style. As Pentagram described it:
“The designers achieved this by restoring the graphic luster of the brand, first refining the logotype and then establishing consistent application of the identity across packaging, advertising and other ephemera such as stationery, shopping bags, ribbons and corporate materials. Most important, the new standards focus on the most familiar and sought-after application of the Tiffany brand: the signature ‘little blue box.’ The designers have subtly redesigned the familiar blue packaging in a way that gives the bags and boxes a more luxurious feel.”
It was a subtle change that maintained the simple elegance associated with the name Tiffany.
Like any brand with a well-known trademark, Tiffany has had to defend its territory more than once.
Tiffany’s largest legal battle was the lawsuit it launched against Costco Wholesale, the discount price club. Costco was selling diamond engagement rings it marketed under the Tiffany name. Costco said it was using the term “Tiffany setting” to describe these rings and that the Tiffany setting is a widely accepted term for a six-prong setting. The judge found for Tiffany and awarded the jeweler $19.4 million in damages. The court said Costco “displayed at best a cavalier attitude toward Costco’s use of the Tiffany name in conjunction with ring sales and marketing.”
Read more on well-known trademarked colors, as well as the process for trademarking a color.
Overturned on Appeal
In August 2020, an appeals court overturned the ruling. The 2nd US Circuit Court of Appeals in Manhattan agreed with Costco that “ Tiffany is not only a brand name but also a widely recognized descriptive term for a particular style of pronged ring setting.” The court didn’t believe the use of “Tiffany setting” would make customers believe they were buying actual Tiffany rings.
Tiffany also lost a 2008 lawsuit against eBay. The suit charged that eBay was allowing its store owners to sell counterfeit Tiffany jewelry. Tiffany wanted to hold eBay liable for trademark infringement.
A judge found for eBay, however, saying, “eBay acted reasonably and has adequate procedures in place to effectively address counterfeiting. The ruling appropriately establishes that protecting brands and trademarks is the primary burden of rights owners.”
Blue Skies Ahead
Tiffany continues to be a profitable retailer with a line that includes gemstones, silver, pearls, home accessories, stationery and other luxury items. Its bright blue packaging will no doubt continue to be a symbol of grace and beauty for many years to come.