Vision & Virtuosity is Tiffany & Co.’s biggest and boldest exhibition since 1837. Hosted at the Fosun Art Foundation in Shanghai, China from September 23 to November 10, it is a rare, deep exploration of Tiffany & Co.’s history and DNA. The megawatt presentation showcases the American brand’s crown jewels—quite literally.
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Prestige, the sole Indonesia media representative to this momentous event, had the exclusive privilege of speaking to Tiffany & Co.’s Chief Executive Officer Alessandro Bogliolo.
The brain of this gargantuan exhibition–his biggest project since his appointment in October 2017–passionately talked to us about the impetus of this exhibition in China, millennials’ growing purchasing power, and what it takes to be the ultimate maker of beauty and creator of joy. Highlights of his interview with Prestige Executive Editor Paul dela Merced.
Why launch the largest Tiffany & Co. exhibition now, and why China?
Tiffany actually, you can imagine in its 180-year history, already had several exhibitions but none of the size of Vision & Virtuosity. Here we have about 350 pieces, 300 of them are archival pieces that comprise only 10% of our total archives. So it’s a major effort in displaying our history and the evolution of design, and the continuous unparalleled craftsmanship of the brand. At the same time we also wanted to do something that is more modern and experiential. We decided to do it in China, specifically in Shanghai, because we had a lot of requests in the past few years from Chinese customers who want to know more about the brand. The brand is very well known in China. Everybody loves Tiffany and Co. because we have the most beautiful diamonds in the world, but there was a lot of curiosity about why the brand is famous. People hardly know that the company was founded in 1837, and they wanted to know all about this evolution and connection with culture across the globe. This is why we did it here.
Tell us about the uniqueness of Tiffany design.
Tiffany & Co. is a global company. But being headquartered in New York is a very big strength for the company because New York is a city of the world, a melting pot of all different cultures, and you can find a lot of inspirations that are relevant wherever you are in the world. Having said so, as we operate in different markets and have actually become the market leader, a lot of inspiration come from local markets, specifically from China. It is something very typical of Tiffany every now and then to get inspirations from China, from Japan, from Europe but the core of this inspiration always comes from New York.
What sort of impact do you imagine this one-of-a-kind exhibition will have on both short- and long-term basis to the Chinese/Asian market?
It will definitely influence the millennial customers. For them it is neither about status nor displaying wealth; it’s more about investing money on something that has meaning, that has a reason. The credentials of the brand are very important to this young clientele. I believe the immediate impact will be awareness, not just about the brand but of the wealth of the brand, especially matters like sustainability, the traceability of our diamonds, the craftsmanship and evolution of design. These will have a long-lasting impact on consumers.
Let’s talk about sustainability and fair trade, especially in this day and age of transparency.
Tiffany has been very committed to sustainability in a pretty wide spectrum. This has to do with the supply chain and Tiffany really stands apart. More than 20 years ago we started sourcing between 80-90% of our solitaire diamonds directly from mines that comply with human rights, labour, safety, and no child labour, including having proper standard living wages. All these mean that we have internally our own diamond polishers. We have about 1500 polishers, and this sets Tiffany apart from any luxury jeweller; nobody else has this internal craftsmanship.
Now the important thing is through this way we can trace the diamonds. So when you come to a Tiffany store, we are the only one that can tell you which is the origin of that diamond. We can tell if it comes from Russia, from Australia, from Canada. We have 360-degree control of the supply chain.
How about Tiffany’s stand on inclusivity and diversity in the workplace?
Inclusivity has always been part of the company culture and this is true if you look at our board of directors where women constitute almost 50%, to our advertising campaigns where we have models of different ethnic groups, to the fact that we are the very first brand that displayed bands and rings for same sex couples.
Millennials and Gen Z account for a significant chunk of Tiffany’s global luxury sales now. How does an heritage brand modernise?
There is a big difference between Tiffany and the European luxury brands. In Europe, luxury brands tend to look at the past in order to find the inspiration, especially in hard luxury jewellery watches it’s a constant reference to the archives and try to re-propose and repackage those designs in a new way.
Tiffany has always been different. So our inspiration, since we are in New York, it’s always about the future. Taking the inspiration from the architecture of the city and from the people. Take the engagement ring, The Tiffany® Setting that was launched by Charles Lewis Tiffany in 1886. Previously diamonds were set in basels but he decided to set it on prongs and it was quite revolutionary. Up until today, after 130 years, it is still one of our bestsellers.
You don’t have any other luxury brands nowadays that have bestsellers that had been designed over a century ago. That was totally visionary because Charles Lewis Tiffany not only changed the way a diamond was set but he also introduced a new symbol or way at the time for a man to tell a woman ‘I love you’. What’s more, it started all social tradition that then expanded from United States to Japan and to the rest of the world. So it is this constant orientation to the future that is really the characteristic and the strength of the brand.
How does Tiffany & Co. balance business and creativity?
I don’t think there is a difference in a sense that customers come to Tiffany for its unique design, unparalleled craftsmanship and innovation. Now this is only if we are original, if we are really searching and aiming for the utmost quality that a product can be successful. Beauty and quality are key drivers of sales and this is the beauty of this industry. It is not an industry driven by low price and mass production but is driven by something special, because really you don’t need jewellery in your life, you buy jewellery for celebrating special moments or to give pleasure to yourself or to the person you love or to express yourself.
How has the internet changed the way you run the business?
Tiffany is one of the first luxury brands back in the 90s to really embrace internet. While other luxury brands said ‘We won’t sell our products on the internet’, Tiffany said ‘Let’s go for it.’ And this a sign of innovation of Tiffany.
Now we have about 14 countries where we run our own website and you can actually purchase online. And this actually very important because it’s not only an opportunity to sell but it’s also a good way for consumers to know the brand. Digital platforms came naturally with Tiffany and now it’s even more important because our digital marketing links to our website, which then links back to our physical stores. It’s all an ecosystem that is truly omni-channel.
When you purchase something at the store there is a feeling, an emotion connected to it. Customer service plays a role, too. How do you translate these online?
Of course what is special about buying a piece of jewellery at a Tiffany store is the fact that, first of all, you can touch and feel the beauty of the product and also interact with our highly experienced sales professionals. It is difficult to translate all these online but we are communicating through imagery, through a lot of videos, and also through some concierge systems for which you can either have a chat online assistance while you do your purchase, while you browse or even book an appointment in the store.
There are six mind-blowing themes in Vision & Virtuosity. Which one is your favourite?
My favorite chapter, difficult to say but if you force me to make a decision, I would say, is the river of diamonds (‘Diamonds: Miracles of Nature’) that lead to the Tiffany yellow diamond. That river is amazing because we probably have brought out 100 high jewellery pieces or more. All of Tiffany’s diamonds throughout almost 200 years are all mixed together. So you have next to each other the French crown jewels that Tiffany bought in the 19th century next to a Blue Book High Jewellery collection of 2019. They match so well together even if they come from different centuries.
Where are you taking Tiffany & Co. five to ten years from now? What’s your vision for the brand?
This is a brand with a very pristine legacy. And for me the most important thing is not just the day by day but to make sure that everyday I make the right decision to make this brand relevant and as beautiful as it has always been for the next 180 years. For me it is to take very seriously our mission that is to be makers of beauty and creators of joy. Tiffany is a company that is about creating joy for the customers. This is the responsibility that I feel and the dream that I have for the success of the brand.
Are we going to have more events of this scale? What’s in the pipeline?
We have here in Shanghai a lot of management and CEOs from around the world wanting to repeat this in different parts of the world. We will definitely be very active, I am not sure we will repeat exactly the same exhibition, but for sure we will keep on surprising customers every time.
You are a veteran in the luxury industry with nearly 3 decades wealth of diverse experience. How did you end up in the jewellery business?
I started my career over 30 years ago in a totally different industry. I was in the automotive industry and I ended in luxury and jewellery almost by chance. It became a passion. It became a personal pleasure to deal with not only with beautiful gemstones and design but also to work with the people that make a brand like Tiffany great. Think of designers but think of the craftspeople, think of sales professionals in the stores, they are all very interesting people —some for their creativity, others for their technical skills, others for their human connection. Even sales professionals, they have so many anecdotes and beautiful love stories that are celebrated in the stores, surprises that a lover would make to a her/his partner and the like. This is what really transformed me from being just a manager into being a player in luxury goods. At the end of the day, yes it’s about technical skills and design, but it’s also geared towards beauty and happiness. And that is the special thing of this industry.
Among other brands, why should a luxury jewellery buyer—especially new ones, young ones—choose Tiffany & Co.?
We welcome all customers. We are a brand that is very inclusive. We are not an intimidating brand. And at the same time we have products that combine unparalleled craftsmanship and amazing gemstones—with a lifestyle and attitude that is very modern. Tiffany is not about formality. Tiffany is not about status symbol, not to show off, it’s about expressing yourself and this is what at the end of the day customers, especially modern customers, are all about.