Professional Jeweler Archive: World's Fair Watch

August 2000

From the Vault

World's Fair Watch

Exhibitions provided a venue to display innovation

Access to information is easy; in fact, it’s hard to avoid. We’re bombarded with instant news updates and trends in absolutely everything via television, telephone, fax, newspapers, magazines and the Internet. In the 19th and early 20th centuries, when information wasn’t immediate, it was often necessary to travel long distances to see anything new. International expositions were a big deal. Beginning with the Great Exhibition held in London in 1851, these events brought together a stimulating smorgasbord of the finest and most innovative products and services developed around the world.

These massive expositions occurred every two to 10 years in cities in Europe and the U.S. They remained on display for about a year, attracting a significant percentage of the world’s population.

Jewelry Displays

Expositions were ideal for promotion; exhibitors were accorded prestige and competed for medals presented for excellence within product categories. The most enterprising jewelers soon realized the potential of international exhibitions and used them to launch new designs. Tiffany & Co. was no exception. Although it missed a few of the earliest expos, the company exhibited regularly by the late 19th century. At the 1889 Paris Exposition (for which the Eiffel Tower was constructed) Tiffany walked away with no less than six gold medals. These top honors were due in great part to the genius of Paulding Farnham, Tiffany’s talented jewelry designer. Farnham’s sensitive and sensational designs, created specifically for these expositions, helped vault Tiffany into the jewelry stratosphere, orbiting with such star jewelers of the era as Cartier and Boucheron.

Each jewel Farnham produced was exceptional in terms of design, material and workmanship. They were one-of-a-kind items, lovingly and carefully crafted with attention paid to the tiniest details: little miracles of perfection designed to capture the viewer’s attention, admiration and desire.

Mix of Movements

The beautiful little lapel watch shown is one of the exceptional pieces he designed for the 1893 World’s Columbian Exhibition in Chicago, IL. In keeping with the general theme of revival styles, Farnham melded classical, Renaissance and Louis XVI motifs. Classical figures of Cupid and a dove (the classical symbol of Venus) – motifs also used during the Renaissance – symbolize tender love. The figures are exquisitely carved in luminous moonstones of superlative quality with the adularescent phenomena perfectly centered. There also are floral garlands with ribbon bows characteristic of 18th century Louis XVI rococo style. The diamond-set golden bow rises behind Cupid’s shoulders like wings, while the dove, winking with tiny diamonds, carries a golden garland in its beak. The perfection of this nonpareil piece has an added dimension: utility. Cupid attaches to the lapel with a brooch fitting while the dove and garland swivel to reveal an open-faced watch on the reverse, situated upside down so its wearer can read the time. The piece is stamped with the symbol of a globe: the mark Tiffany used only for this exhibition.

In the lyric beauty of this sweet jewel, we see the sentimental romanticism of the 19th century evolving into the elegance of the garland style that dominated upper-class jewelry of the early 20th century. Also apparent is the dedication to excellence and perfection characteristic of jewelry designed and fabricated for display at the grand international exhibitions.

– by Elise B. Misiorowski

Everything about this little moonstone, gold and diamond lapel watch by Tiffany & Co. is superlative: design, materials and execution.

Courtesy of the Neil Lane Collection, Beverly Hills, CA; (310) 275-5015.

Copyright © 2001 by Bond Communications