It’s the company that designed the famous “NY” logo adopted by the Yankees as their official insignia, brought the French Crown Jewels to America and, in 1885, revised the Great Seal of the United States. Its celebrated six-prong setting defined the image of the engagement ring and its collections, such as Atlas and Open Heart, boast some of the most recognised jewellery designs in the world. Then of course, there’s the distinctive robin-egg-blue box topped with a white ribbon, so emblematic of luxury, sophistication and romance.
With heritage of this calibre, it seemed only natural that when Tiffany & Co. offered jeweller and multi-hyphenate Francesca Amfitheatrof (say “am-fee-thee-ah-trov”, above) the top creative job of design director, she didn’t even blink, and uprooted herself from London to New York with her husband, two young kids and dogs in tow. “As a jeweller, and for the type of aesthetic and design style that I have, it’s a great match,” she says. “It’s one of those incredible moments in your life where you feel so lucky to be asked.”
According to Michael J. Kowalski, chairman and CEO of the 177-year-old label, her appointment represents “an exciting opportunity to interpret Tiffany in a new way for the modern, global consumer”. Amfitheatrof herself sees it as part of her mission to bring a consistent character to all of the company’s creations. “I think focus and confidence are things that can be built,” she says. “A $400 ring and a $10 million necklace need to feel like they were by the same hand, so that’s a big challenge because Tiffany is the only brand in the world that has this diversity. I’m focusing on an aesthetic that can be shared throughout.”
Known for sleek, cool designs – she’s created jewellery for Chanel, Fendi and Marni – that mirror the trend towards casual sophistication, her appointment has often been taken as a sign of the company’s desire to modernise its image and offerings. Amfitheatrof, however, refutes this notion. She explains: “Tiffany is actually an extremely modern company with very much an American sensibility and modernity. Part of American culture is to sometimes take European ideas, simplify them and re-propose them in a very modern way. I think that’s always been the DNA of the brand and that’s why the fit between us works so well. There’s a certain lightness in Tiffany jewellery that is part of modernity.”
Amfitheatrof’s track record provides some clue as to why the largest luxury jewellery retailer in the US has entrusted her with its top creative post. A trained jeweller and silversmith with a masters degree from London’s Royal College of Art, her resume could double as a luxury and fine art catalogue: Apart from jewellery collections for top fashion houses like Chanel, there’s homeware and decor for Alessi and Wedgwood; and her art consultant and curator role for the Gucci Museo in Florence and the Francois Pinault Collection, founded by the French luxury goods tycoon who owns labels like Gucci and Saint Laurent.
The daughter of a former Time magazine journalist, she was born in Japan and has lived in various cities across Asia, Russia, Europe and the United States, giving her wide-ranging exposure and a truly global outlook. And there’s something else she brings to the table too – a woman’s understanding of how other women now shop for and wear jewellery.
“A fashion sensibility is something that’s quite important – creating a desire that speaks to women directly,” she says. “You go to Tiffany to shop because you want to shop, not necessarily because it’s an occasion or a moment in your life. Women are buying jewellery themselves so much more now. As the brand’s first woman design director – I love jewellery, I wear jewellery, I love fashion – it’s a natural progression for me and the brand to really speak to them,” she says.
Her debut collection Tiffany T reflects both her undeniably modern aesthetic and changes in consumers’ approach to fine jewellery. Centred on the graphic shape and sharp angles of the letter T, its 18K gold and sterling silver creations (from $800 for a sterling silver ring to over $145,000 for a statement necklace) fall into two contrasting camps: very fine or very bold (she admits it’s “sort of extreme”).
Within the former, one would find delicately wrought earrings and necklaces like the Tiffany Smile, as well as skinny wire bracelets made of elasticated metal that open and close with a simple twist. The latter category includes chunkier square bracelets and bold cuffs like the Wide Bar, which resembles the cuffs of a man’s shirt. Connecting all the pieces is the unmistakable T element, whether it appears in the links of a chain necklace, within the structure of a ring, or as a cut-out on a cuff.
Describing the pieces as “super unfussy” with a comfort and ease about them, she sees them as items that women can effortlessly pair with whatever they wear day to day, never mind the norms of fine jewellery as something precious. “I think it helps if they’re not fussy because then you don’t get bored or tire of them. I’ve always loved day jewellery, like diamonds in bezel settings, because they’re very casual and sporty. And increasingly, women are feeling that they can create their own trends – they don’t need to follow a structure like having diamonds for evening. All of that is breaking down because women are dictating things rather than conforming,” she says.
At the heart of Tiffany T is the spirit of New York, the brand’s home base. The raw energy, toughness and sophistication of the city and its female denizens are what Amfitheatrof wants to channel with the collection. “New York sort of has its own heartbeat, its own rhythm – it’s a hard, crazy city yet the women look so beautifully put together,” she says. “There’s an ease, a casualness and even ‘street-ness’ about them – they’re sporty, but elegant too. I think Tiffany T symbolises a lot of that because it’s very approachable, but also very strong.”
It goes without saying that expectations are high for the collection, with Amfitheatrof, and certainly the company, hoping it will become an icon with global appeal. She says: “I think Tiffany T is pretty democratic in the sense that it can be for 20-year-olds and 60-year-olds too. Because it’s at that level of modernity and simplicity and has a certain sort of aesthetic, it’s approachable to every age group.”
PHOTOGRAPHY ELVINA FARKAS/ANUE MANAGEMENT
STYLING IMRAN JALAL, assisted by Deanna Koh HAIR DENNIS SEAH/MOSCHE GRAND HYATT
MAKEUP ROS CHAN, USING YVES SAINT LAURENT BEAUTE MODEL MILENA Z/AVE
This story first appeared in the Oct 2014 issue of Female magazine