A Tradition Born in England, Worn by America’s First Family of Luxury for Generations
One hundred and sixty years ago, Tiffany & Co. founder Charles Lewis Tiffany acquired this Charles Frodsham watch and began a family tradition that lasted for generations. Upon reaching adulthood, each generation passed the watch from the parents to an heir and brought the watch back to Tiffany & Co. to engrave each new recipient’s name and their birth date on the inside of the front case cover.
The watch remained a discreet and private family heirloom until now. Previously no one outside the family and the Tiffany & Co. engravers had knowledge of the existence of this watch until recent news of the ‘discovery’ of this watch crossed the Atlantic and spread around the world.
The fact that America’s leading retailer of jewelry and watches personally chose to wear an English made pocket watch as his most prized personal possession rewrites horological history and underlines the importance of the relationship and respect between Tiffany & Co. and English watchmaking in the 19th century.
According to the Charles Frodsham company archives, ‘Messrs Tiffany & Co.’ bought a number of quality timepieces and complicated watches (mostly chronographs) from Frodsham in the second half of the 19th century for retail to their most discerning clients. Furthermore, the Frodsham archive records that a ‘Miss Tiffany’ bought a fine gold open faced pocket chronometer in September 1883. The buyer is believed to be one of Charles Lewis Tiffany's two daughters.
Mr. Tiffany may have chosen this particular watch for a number of reasons. First, it is important to note the desire for Americans at the height of society to own a fine English made chronometer at this point in history. Junius Morgan, JP Morgan, and JP Morgan, Jr, all chose Frodshams as their preferred watchmakers. However, the main reason Tiffany may have chosen this watch was his close relationship with Frodshams as the ‘Sole Agents in New York’ for the company. Dozens of advertisements are known from 1867 through the early 1870s highlighting this important relationship.
According to John Loring’s ‘Tiffany Timepieces’, it transpires that initial watch offerings from Tiffany in NY were not just Patek but also Frodshams. “Tiffany did not begin using individual watchmakers’ names in its advertising until about 1860, but there is little doubt that Adrien Philippe’s stem winding system and Charles Frodshams chronometers were among its initial offering. A formal exclusivity agreement on the importation of watches was reached with Patek Philippe in 1854 and the exclusive right to import Frodsham watches to the Unites States was secured in 1860 from S. Willard & Son in Boston. (Loring, John. Tiffany Timepieces, p. 8)
In addition to the famous Tiffany Timers being sold by Tiffany & Co, advertisements from the 1860s highlight the offering from the famous retailer. ‘Tiffany & Co. have also a full assortment of Watches of all desirable sizes and styles, of the same quality in addition to their usual stock of Frodshams and Jurgensens’. Other ads from the era describe ‘Fine watches for Gentlemen: Frodsham, Jurgensen, and all other best makers’. Clearly Tiffany & Co. had the clientele to sell the best watches made globally and many chose to buy these English made masterpieces. However, buying a Frodsham came at a price for Americans. During this period of time, the price to own a Frodsham watch was $500 up to $1500, a huge amount of money for the mid-19th century.
This watch is London hallmarked for 1858 inside the case, and the casemakers initials AN are for Adolphe Nicole. It is interesting to note that the association between Nicole and Frodshams (through various directorships and company owners) runs continuously through to the 1930s. Furthermore, the Tiffany watch has an early form of keyless winding system invented by the same Adolphe Nicole, in 1844. The watch is thus inscribed Patent. It is often forgotten today that Adrien Philippe’s keyless winding system was not the first keyless winding system widely used in the 19th century. The earliest keyless winding system was patented in 1820 by Thomas Prest, John Arnold’s workshop foreman, and it was not for another 24 years that Adrien Philippe introduced his keyless winding system in 1844, the same year he joined Patek as head watchmaker.
This watch offers the opportunity to not only own an important piece of horological history but also the chance to own a watch with impeccable provenance from the founding family of the world’s most famous luxury goods retailer.
Charles Lewis Tiffany (1812-1902)
On September 21, 1837, Charles Lewis Tiffany and John P. Young opened a stationery and fancy goods store known as Tiffany & Young at 259 Broadway in New York City thanks to a loan from $1000 loan from Tiffany’s father. Within ten years, jewelry and silver items were added to their stock. By 1853, Tiffany had assumed complete ownership of the business and the name was changed to Tiffany & Co. Soon watches, a personal interest of Mr. Tiffany, became an increasingly important part of the business. During the 19th century, designers such as Edward C. Moore and G. Paulding Farnham, as well as renowned gemologist George Frederick Kunz, propelled Tiffany & Co. to the forefront of the international jewelry world. With watches, Tiffany forged relationships with the world’s most important watchmakers of the time including Patek Philippe, Jules Jurgensen, and of course Charles Frodsham. In the mid-1870s Tiffany & Co. opened its first watchmaking facility in Geneva, Switzerland at Place Cornavin, one the most state of the art watchmaking facilities of the time.
The Tiffany & Co. empire continued to grow to unimaginable levels even during Mr. Tiffany’s lifetime. At the time of his death at the age of 90, Tiffany’s company was worth over $2 million in 1902. Today, Tiffany & Co. is recognized as one of the most important names in luxury retail.
In 1839, Tiffany married his partner John B. Young’s younger sister, Harriet Olivier Avery Young (1817-1897). Their oldest son, Louis Comfort Tiffany, was born in 1848 and later on as an adult inherited the presently offered watch
Louis Comfort Tiffany (1848-1933)
Louis Comfort Tiffany was known primarily for his "hand-wrought" style in the tradition of the Arts and Crafts movement, and continually challenged the American palette with themes of exoticism, naturalism and light. During his half century career, from the 1860s to the 1920s, he demonstrated a multitude of talents as an architect, painter, interior and jewelry designer.
While Louis Comfort started as a painter, it was in the decorative arena where he truly made his mark. There was hardly a medium to which he did not turn, and he became interested in the decorative possibilities of glass from 1875. He operated under Tiffany Furnaces, separated from the auspices of Tiffany & Co. and his father, Charles Tiffany. It was here that he produced richly colored lamps and vibrantly toned favrile glass, pottery, tapestries, enamels, metalwork, furniture and hundreds of other items that would grace the homes of some of the most important Americans of the time including Mark Twain, Cornelius Vanderbilt II as well as The White House itself. Renowned for his excellence and perfection, Louis Comfort personally examined each piece before it received the final stamp of approval.
It was not until the death of his father, the patriarch Charles Tiffany, in 1902, that Louis Comfort began to manufacture his own jewelry designs. It is possible that this late flowering was due to the fact that he felt that his designs would be rejected, so as not to compete with those from Tiffany and Co., a firm that had defined American taste and style in jewelry for so many decades. Immediate yet highly secretive production was begun by Louis Comfort and his team of craftsmen in anticipation of the Louisiana Purchase Exposition to be held in St. Louis in 1904. It was at this world's fair that he showcased twenty-seven pieces of jewelry in the Arts and Crafts style, which received international acclaim.
Louis Comfort continued to work at the "Art Jewelry" department, which remained open until his death in 1933, producing approximately 5,500 individual pieces of jewelry. With a clear focus on color and a constant drive to express unusual combinations through themes of nature, he was driven to stimulate the ordinary palette and test the limit of conventional style.
Louis Comfort Tiffany married Mary Woodbridge Goddard in 1872. Their oldest daughter, Mary Woodbridge Tiffany (1873-1963) married Graham Lusk and the watch passed down through the Lusk branch of the family to this day.
Special thanks to Charles Frodsham & Co. Chronometer, Watch & Clockmakers, London for their invaluable assistance in researching this historically important timepiece.