Charles Lewis Tiffany: The Man and his Iconic House of Luxury

Charles Lewis Tiffany (left) in his store, about 1887
Charles Lewis Tiffany (left) in his store, about 1887

Charles Lewis Tiffany (1812 – 1902) | Encyclopedia Design
Founder of Tiffany & Co

Charles Lewis Tiffany (1812–1902) was more than a businessman and jeweller; he was a visionary who laid the foundation for American luxury retail. From inventing the country’s first retail catalogue to establishing the English standard of sterling silver in imported jewellery, his influence can still be felt today.

Early Life and Humble Beginnings

Born on February 15, 1812, in Killingly, Connecticut, Tiffany was educated at a district school and an academy in Plainfield, Connecticut. He assisted in managing a small general store founded by his father, who also owned a cotton-manufacturing company. Tiffany descended from Squire Humphrey Tiffany, an immigrant who had been part of the Massachusetts Bay Colony since 1660.

First Steps in Business

In 1837, Tiffany and his school friend, John B. Young, borrowed $1,000 from his father to open a small stationery and gift shop in New York City. Despite only earning $4.98 on their first day, they persevered, eventually expanding their inventory to include glassware, porcelain, cutlery, clocks, and jewellery.

From Tiffany, Young, and Ellis to Tiffany & Co.

By 1841, the store had rebranded as Tiffany, Young, and Ellis, earning a reputation for selling only the finest goods. During the European political unrest of 1848, Tiffany seized an opportunity to invest heavily in depreciated diamonds, turning a considerable profit a few years later. In 1853, the store rebranded once again, this time as the iconic Tiffany & Co., and expanded overseas with branches in Paris and London.

Shifting Focus During the Civil War

As the American Civil War loomed, Tiffany wisely diverted his capital towards the production of swords, medals, and other war materials, demonstrating his knack for adaptability.

Public Scandals and Reputational Challenges

Tiffany faced a public setback in 1872 when he was embarrassed by a diamond and gemstone hoax perpetrated by Philip Arnold, costing investors more than half a million dollars. However, this incident did little to tarnish his long-term reputation.

Technological Innovations and Collaborations

In partnership with Thomas Edison, Tiffany created innovative footlights and other theatre lighting devices, indirectly boosting the popularity of Broadway shows.

Acquisition of the French Crown Jewels

In 1887, Tiffany & Co. acquired and sold some of the French Crown Jewels, further solidifying its status as a merchant of high-quality gems and jewellery.

Personal Life and Legacy

Tiffany married Harriet Olivia Avery Young in 1841, with whom he had six children, including the famous designer Louis Comfort Tiffany. He was a patron of the Metropolitan Museum of Art and one of the founders of the New York Society of Fine Arts.

When he passed away in 1902, his company was valued at over $2 million and stood as the most prominent jewellery company in North America.


Charles Lewis Tiffany was not just a pioneer in the American jewellery industry but also a trailblazer in retail and design innovation. His legacy continues to shine brightly, not only through the luxurious items that bear his name but also in the global reputation for quality and elegance that he helped to forge for American designers.


Charles Lewis Tiffany. (2023, May 5). In Wikipedia.

Charles Lewis Tiffany (1812 – 1902) | Encyclopedia Design

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