Tiffany: an American jeweler headed for the LVMH empire

Washington (AFP) –


An iconic US company with a storied history, the jeweler Tiffany agreed Monday to be acquired by French luxury giant LVMH for $16.2 billion.

Upon sealing the deal, LVMH chief Bernard Arnault called Tiffany itself a "jewel" and vowed to bestow it with "the same dedication and commitment" that the company had applied to all its businesses.

- Birth and evolution -

The company's story dates back to 1837 when founder Charles Lewis Tiffany opened a store on Broadway in New York that sold stationary, handkerchiefs and other finery.

Over the next decade or so, the company shifted to jewelry, especially in 1848 through acquisitions of top European collections, including diamonds worn by Marie-Antoinette.

In 1850, Tiffany opened a store in Paris at rue de Richelieu, which was followed by a London store in 1868 and a watch factory in Geneva a few years later.

The company flourished further when Charles' son, Louis Comfort Tiffany -- a painter, born in 1848 -- moved into glassmaking as the medium was enjoying a major renaissance in France, English and Italy.

Works by Louis Tiffany included lamps and stained glass that became synonymous with the "Gilded Age" in America at the end of the 19th century.

Some of Tiffany's work was event installed in the White House, but it was removed early in the 20th century.

Tiffany is "an American icon that is becoming a bit French. It has a lot of potential and an amazing history," Arnault said.

- Fifth Avenue store -

Tiffany's rise also parallels New York's ascent and the company in 1940 opened a luxury store on Fifth Avenue.

The store is still very much a destination in the upscale New York shopping hub, with its robin blue logo attracting tourists from around the US and the world.

The shop's list of clients have included the Kennedys, Richard Nixon, Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton.

The New York store is also home to the famous Tiffany Yellow diamond, a giant stone discovered in 1878.

The store was immortalized in the 1961 movie, "Breakfast at Tiffany's" which features Audrey Hepburn in perhaps her most famous part and the luminous song, "Moon River."

- 300 stores worldwide -

Tiffany's flagship store on Fifth Avenue, next to Trump Tower, accounts for almost 10 percent of the company's overall sales, with the rest coming from more than 300 stores worldwide.

The Americas account for 44 percent of Tiffany's sales, followed by Asia, excluding Japan, with 28 percent, Japan with 15 percent and Europe with 11 percent, according to company figures.

Tiffany last year reported $586 million in profits on $4.4 billion in sales.