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Tiffany in watchmaking history

Founded in New York City in 1837 as a "stationery and fancy goods emporium", Tiffany & Co. (initially Tiffany, Young & Ellis) began selling watches in 1847.


In 1853 the nine-foot bronzed statue of Atlas holding a clock above Tiffany’s store at 550 Broadway was one of the first public clocks in New York City soon becoming a landmark and a time reference for many New Yorkers which became used to check their watches against it.

 The Atlas Clock over the entrance to Tiffany & Co. 550 Broadway in the 1850s (photo courtesy of curbed/flickr)


The statue followed the move of the main store of the brand, located at Union Square in 1870, then at 401 Fifth Avenue in 1905 and finally, in 1940, just above the entrance of the iconic flagship at 727 Fifth Avenue. With the Atlas clock in its place, the granite and marble façade of the celebrated building does not need any advertising.

The Atlas Clock over the doorway of the Union Square Tiffany store inaugurated in 1870 


The Atlas Clock in its present location at Tiffany & Co.'s 5th Avenue and 57th Street building where it moved in 1940s (left picture courtesy of NYPL Collection)


To celebrate this iconic clock, in the 1980s Tiffany & Co. introduced the Atlas wristwatch featuring an hour track of polished Roman-numeral markers in high relief. In 1995, a full Atlas collection, outfitted with the same Roman numeral motif, was born for both men and women.



In 1854, Tiffany signed an agreement with Patek Philippe becoming the first retailer in America to carry the exclusive timepieces. The special relationship between the two brands continues in our days and Tiffany-dialled Patek Philippe watches are among the most sought after pieces at worldwide auctions.

Few years later, in 1868, Tiffany introduced what is usually considered as the America’s first chronograph, the split-seconds Tiffany Timer used for engineering and scientific purposes, as well as sporting events.


In the meanwhile Tiffany had started producing its own timepieces. To meet the increasing demand for sophisticated timepieces from its customers, in 1874 the company built its own factory in Geneva, Place Cornavin.


In particular, this advanced factory was dedicated to the production of gold pocket watches with advanced movements that chimed the hour and quarter-hour, diamond-encrusted lapel watches and timepieces embellished with enamel dials, floral motifs and fine scrolls engraved in gold.

The building was later sold to Patek Philippe which continued to produce movements for Tiffany watches at this location.

A precious Tiffany & Co. pocket watch in rose gold with minute repeater, split second chronograph and enamel dial, circa 1884


Over the years, Tiffany pioneered a number of important watchmaking innovations. The brand was assigned its first patent for watch improvements in 1875, including watch hand settings, anchor escapements and watch regulators.

In these years Tiffany's excellence was acknowledged in several awards, like the 1889 Paris World’s Fair prize for its American Wild Rose Lapel watch, a diamond and enamel creation by chief designer Paulding Farnham. Tiffany also received medals for watch cases and astronomical clocks at the 1893 Chicago Fair.

Tiffany’s Lapel Watch, 1989 (picture courtesy of Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum)


By the end of the century, Tiffany had become a world-renowned jeweler and watchmaker with more than one thousand employees and branches in London, Paris and Geneva.

The company always had a strong commitment to customer service. An example of this special care was the weekly regulation of over 400 clocks in the homes of Tiffany customers after the adoption of standard time in 1883 which followed the decision of the American and Canadian railroads to begin using four continental time zones to end the confusion of dealing with thousands of local times.



In 1903 Tiffany chief gemologist George Kunz patented a luminescent green paint based on some studies attributed to William J. Hammer who mixed radium with zinc sulfide. Kunz developed a special paint by mixing radium-barium carbonate with zinc sulfide and linseed oil.

George Kunz and one of the first pocket watches with luminescent hands and numerals

This paint started to be used on dials for numerals and hands to make them readable also in poor light conditions. At the time, the effects of radiation exposure were not yet understood and radium was used in several products including food, toothpaste and cosmetics. Over the time radium was replaced by safer materials but for sure the discovery had an impact on the watchmaking industry.


At the beginning of the 20th century, great advances were made in the miniaturization of watch movements. This allowed Tiffany to design highly successful and sought-after wristwatches for Ladies, especially in the Art Deco years (1920s and 1930s).

Watches and clocks developed in these years and the following ones are still today a sparkling source of inspiration for Tiffany’s designers.

Art Deco wristwatches from 1920s and a precious Tiffany Art Deco timepiece from today’s Cocktail collection on the right


The folding travel clock created by Tiffany in the 1940s which inspired the East West collection introduced in 2015 (on the right)


A watch that retains a special place in Tiffany’s watchmaking history is the gold calendar watch given to U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1945 as a birthday gift.

The Tiffany & Co. calendar watch given to U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1945

The inscription on the case back reads, "Franklin Delano Roosevelt, with loyalty, respect and affection". Roosevelt wore the watch to the historic Yalta Conference in 1945.


70 years later this watch inspired the entire new CT60 collection, where the CT of the name stands for Charles Tiffany and 60 refers to a symbol of the cadence of modern life typical of the streets of the Big Apple: the New York Minute – 60 seconds of pure possibility.


The CT60 collection marked the return of Tiffany to Switzerland where it established its own watch headquarters. Entirely crafted and assembled in Switzerland, these watches are built and finished according to the finest Swiss watchmaking tradition while remaining clearly inspired by New York, as evidenced by the "New York" designation below the company name on the dials of the new timepieces.

Combining fine jewelry design and no-compromise Swiss craftsmanship, the Metro collection for Ladies reinforces Tiffany’s diamond legacy, each timepiece featuring a unique round brilliant diamond crown that is assigned an individual serial number, making each watch personal to the wearer. tiffany.com


Name

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Time and Watches | The watch blog: Tiffany in watchmaking history
Tiffany in watchmaking history
Tiffany in watchmaking history. Tiffany watches history. Founded in New York City in 1837 as a "stationery and fancy goods emporium", Tiffany & Co. (initially Tiffany, Young & Ellis) began selling watches in 1847. To celebrate the Atlas clock, in 1980 Tiffany & Co. introduced the Atlas wristwatch featuring an hour track of polished Roman-numeral markers in high relief. In 1903 Tiffany chief gemologist George Kunz patented a luminescent green paint mixing radium with zinc sulfide. A watch that retains a special place in Tiffany’s watchmaking history is the calendar gold watch given to U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1945. 70 years later this watch inspired the entire new CT60 collection which marked the return of Tiffany to Switzerland where it established its own watch headquarters.
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