“Elsa.” It’s a name that Tiffany & Co.’s Francesca Amfitheatrof repeats no fewer than five times, citing the artist (surname: Peretti) as one of her first connections to the brand she currently design-directs. “When it comes to jewelry design, she’s my hero,” Amfitheatrof says matter-of-factly. Peretti famously palled around with New York’s beau monde, including Andy Warhol, whose “prison lunch” mise-en-scène memorably appeared in the Tiffany table-setting book owned by Amfitheatrof’s mother. “It was behind bars, with a really stark table and just a plate, a piece of bread, and a glass of water,” she recalls. “What I loved about it was that it was quite funny, and it was also a great representation of Tiffany in the ‘70s.”
Like Peretti, who joined the company during that era, Amfitheatrof is a striking, exceedingly well-traveled woman who befriended great artists and became known for a body of work outside jewelry design. Reared in Moscow, Rome, and Tokyo by an Italian publicist mother and American journalist father, Amfitheatrof attended London’s Central Saint Martins and Royal College of Art. Soon thereafter, a Master’s in silversmithing in tow, Amfitheatrof began creating everything from housewares and furniture to jewelry and accessories for the likes of Alessi, Asprey & Garrard, Chanel, Marni, and Wedgwood.
Two years into her tenure, Amfitheatrof—the first woman to hold the title of design director in Tiffany’s 178-year-history—is carving out her own niche. Her first creation was Tiffany T, a well-received range of modern, streamlined rings, cuffs, and necklaces in sterling silver, gold, and diamonds made to be layered and worn every day. Incorporating the “T” into the collection’s designs enabled a subtle yet effective new means of branding, a fact not lost on its creator. Amfitheatrof is well aware of the need to both innovate and maintain a strong, recognizable identity for Tiffany—all while speaking to a global audience in a crowded marketplace. Her greatest challenge, she says, is distilling the company down to its pure essence.
“When companies have grown so big and been around for many, many years, it kind of piles on layers and layers and layers and creates a sort of dustiness,” Amfitheatrof says. In turn, she adds, you risk forgetting what made the company, long an American icon, truly special. Granted, Amfitheatrof has found an effective means of countering this risk. Following the April publication of her first “Blue Book,” a catalog showcasing over 200 couture-like fine jewelry pieces—“only the best of the best. Completely unhindered by cost, money, time,” Amfitheatrof explains—she’ll debut “ Tiffany Masterpieces” for Fall 2015.
A continuation of Blue Book, Masterpieces builds upon the former’s water theme, solidifying it, as it were. Comprised of pieces made of round and princess-cut diamonds, onyx, and platinum reminiscent of the Art Deco period, it’s “very much inspired by ice and icebergs and that purity, that uncontaminated world that’s created by nature,” Amfitheatrof explains. A rather different type of nature, the urban jungle, similarly influenced Amfitheatrof’s design, evident in pieces like a 27-carat diamond and platinum necklace made to conjure New York’s skyscrapers.
Life in Gotham seems to suit the former Londoner, now Brooklynite, who’s found the city’s denizens kind, spirited, and fun. “It’s very inspiring to have a constant level of support,” she says. “People love to celebrate success here. That’s very energetic. There’s no hidden agenda.”END
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