The Tiffany standard at 175

(CBS News) The posh New York jewelry store was celebrated in a famous novel and movie, and it now has a milestone to celebrate. Here's Rita Braver with her own version of "Breakfast at Tiffany's":

It's not just Audrey Hepburn in the 1961 film "Breakfast at Tiffany's" - generations of Americans have ooh-ed and ahh-ed over Tiffany rings and bracelets and necklaces, even if they can't afford to buy.

Which is just fine with the folks who run the place.

"To aspire to be a Tiffany and Co. customer, to dream about Tiffany, is certainly a powerful part of what happens here," said Tiffany's Chairman and CEO Michael Kowalksi. "We welcome it and encourage it."

Kowalksi says it's been that way since the company began 175 years ago: "We were a young country, growing very rapidly. Luxury here was defined not as something aristocratic, not as something that excluded people, but rather we had an inclusive, welcoming vision of luxury."

Long before this flagship 5th Avenue store was built in 1940, Charles Louis Tiffany and John Young opened a "stationery and fancy goods store" on Broadway in lower Manhattan. The year was 1837.

"Their two dads gave them each the grand sum of $500, and they opened Tiffany and Company with a capital of $1,000," said John Loring, the company's ad hoc historian and former design chief. "Its first day of sales were a magnificent $4.95!"

Tiffany and Co.'s landmark Manhattan store.
CBS

Loring says Young soon bowed out. But Charles Tiffany proved to be a marketing genius.

He hired some of the best American silversmiths whose sumptuous pieces started winning international prizes. They can now be found in the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art, as well as in the company's private collection - pieces like an American Indian0inspired loving cup.

By the mid-1800s, Tiffany jewelry was all the rage. Even Abraham Lincoln knew just where to buy seed pearls for his wife to wear at his 1861 inauguration:

Loring said Lincoln himself came into the store and chose them with the owner. "And the rumor goes that he wondered if the president of the United States got a discount at Tiffany and Company, and Charles Lewis Tiffany said, 'I'm terribly sorry, but no one gets a discount at Tiffany and Company!'"

And that famous Tiffany blue used in all the packaging? It was chosen because it was the favorite color of Empress Eugenie, wife of Napoleon III.

"She was also considered the most stylish woman in the world," said Loring. "She was the supermodel fashion plate - fashion arbiter of the universe."

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