The Pretty (And Ugly) Politics Behind Fashion’s Favorite Colors: Tiffany Blue

Asking for a friend: Is it illegal to get “Please Return to Tiffany & Co. New York” tattooed on your body so you can be shipped off to the Fifth Ave store too?

By Andrea Mew5 min read
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Our modern concept of the diamond engagement ring can be traced back to Tiffany & Co. They’ve established themselves as the global authority on diamonds, and if they earned the Holly Golightly seal of approval, then you can consider us fans as well. As one of the world’s foremost jewelry houses, brand maintenance can’t be a simple task.

Sure, Tiffany & Co. is revered for their luxury jewelry, but we all know that one of the most exciting parts about owning one of their pieces is that beautifully colored box that comes with it. But what goes into owning (yes, owning!) a color like Tiffany & Co.’s quintessential Tiffany Blue? Well, it’s a lot of pretty and just a little bit of ugly. Read on to learn more.

Why That Particular Shade of Blue?

The verdict isn’t quite in on why Charles Lewis Tiffany chose this emblematic shade of blue to represent his luxury brand, but a few theories have made their way around high fashion scenes for decades. The most popular theory, according to Tiffany’s press team, goes back to the jewelry preference of Victorian brides who gave their wedding guests turquoise brooches as parting favors.

A slightly different origin story for Tiffany Blue is how the fashion idol of the time, Empress Eugénie of France, declared that light blue was her official color. Charles Lewis Tiffany allegedly anticipated this color would soon become a major sensation and adopted robin’s egg blue during the time he opened his first Paris location.

Some have called it forget-me-not blue while others have called it robin’s-egg blue, but in modern times it’s a fully trademarked color with its own customized Pantone color known as “1837 Blue” in honor of Tiffany’s founding date.

Tiffany Blue is a fully trademarked color with its own customized Pantone color known as “1837 Blue.” 

According to Pantone, Tiffany approached them in 2001 “to standardize their iconic shade in order to ensure that no matter where you were in the world, no matter the medium the color was reproduced in, it would be instantly recognizable.”

Brands express their identity and separate their image from every other company through color, a signifier that arouses curiosity in the brand’s exclusivity and novelty. Though 80% of our sensory experience allegedly is filtered through our eyes, brands tend to focus more on the colors to represent themselves rather than shape or text.

As a luxury jewelry brand focused on love and commitment, Tiffany sets itself apart not only by the products they sell but the iconic blue boxes their pieces come in. Legend has it, the Tiffany Blue Box was in such high demand that Charles Lewis Tiffany was approached by buyers who wanted to purchase the boxes on their own! His refusal enhanced the elite value of the boxes since the only way you could own that beautiful blue box was to purchase Tiffany’s luxury products. 

Both Luxury and Lawsuits Never Go out of Fashion

As mentioned before, this exact shade of blue for Tiffany’s boxes and bags is granted legal protection worldwide thanks to their color trademark. According to the Fashion Law Journal, “a colour trademark is a non-conventional trademark where at least one colour is used to perform the trademark function of uniquely identifying the commercial origin of products or services.”

So while they own the color in specific cases (boxes and bags), they don’t own it in all regards. Other examples would be Christian Louboutin trademarking their famous shade of red for the sole of their shoes or Cadbury’s iconic purple being trademarked for their packaging.

Naturally, Tiffany has faced quite a bit of criticism for the privilege of trademarking a color. An artist named Stuart Semple made a dupe for Tiffany’s signature color in a shade of acrylic paint. He called his paint “Tiffany Blue,” with the goal of making the color more attainable to all artists. While his cause may have been noble, we should keep in mind that the color trademark exists to protect against any confusion that bootleg brands may cause for consumers. The question is, will a bucket of paint really confuse consumers when Tiffany’s primary use is for their boxes and bags?

Tiffany is no stranger to trademark drama for their products themselves, as well as their trademarked color, with a brutal legal battle taking place between the luxury brand and wholesale retailer Costco. Costco used the terminology “Tiffany setting” to describe how their diamond engagement ring looked, and Tiffany fired back that they had been using that terminology to describe that look since the 1800s. Ultimately, Costco was allowed to use those words if they didn’t use Tiffany’s logo nor market the products as Tiffany’s own jewelry so as to not cause confusion.

So what’s to stop Tiffany from pursuing legal action when smaller companies like eternity rose boutiques market their blue preserved roses as “Tiffany Blue”?

If we’re taking a page out of Semple’s book, his lawyer told him it was a bad idea to sell the Tiffany Blue paint but he was willing to take the risk. As I write this, his paint is still available online, but if they wanted to, Tiffany & Co. could defensively sue. If they were to lose the legal battle, the actual action taken on a suit would likely deter anyone else from challenging their trademark. 

Maybe if Semple were to use online retailing website Ebay, for example, to sell his paints he’d have less of a legal threat dangled over his head. Tiffany & Co. tried to sue Ebay back in the mid-2000s for selling counterfeit goods, but U.S. courts determined that the luxury jewelry brand should have the burden of policing their own trademark, not Ebay.

In other cases, the drama has actually been luxury brand in-fighting. In 2019, Tiffany & Co. was purchased by the luxury conglomerate LVMH for $16.2 billion. Part of their ongoing brand rejuvenation has been to market Tiffany & Co.’s brand to younger consumers. Tiffany & Co. had allegedly hired a junior Cartier employee named Megan Marino. The complaint continues that after Marino was hired, she met with executives “for the express purpose of obtaining information about Cartier, openly asking for highly valuable, detailed confidential information that would foster unfair competition.” 

Tiffany & Co. denied any trade secret misappropriations and has since urged the court to dismiss the suit. Legal drama aside, let’s dive into some of the most iconic applications of Tiffany Blue.

Take a Look at Tiffany Blue in Action

Tiffany & Co. boasts a star-studded clientele, beginning with 16th President of the United States, Abraham Lincoln, who actually bought his wife Mary Todd Lincoln a Tiffany seed pearl necklace and earring set back in 1862. Since then, pieces from Tiffany’s vast collections have graced the bodies of politicians, celebrities, and fictional characters alike. I mean, let’s be honest, we all wanted a “Return to Tiffany” tag necklace after seeing the chunky piece of jewelry on Elle Woods in Legally Blonde.

The brand’s impact goes far beyond wearable goods. Published back in 1989 but authored between the years 1955 and 1980, Tiffany’s Table Manners for Teenagers was a coveted gift for young ladies. The Tiffany Blue bound book of etiquette guides the reader through everything from where you’re supposed to sit at the dinner table, to being social at evening functions, to the proper way to hold silverware, and “how to be a gracious dining companion.” This iteration of Tiffany Blue is arguably one of the most accessible, posh additions to any bookshelf or coffee table.

Tiffany Blue notoriously made its way into American cinema too! Holly Golightly, played by Audrey Hepburn in the 1961 film Breakfast at Tiffany’s, gazes into the window of Tiffany’s Fifth Avenue flagship wearing her pearls, sunglasses, and black gown while sipping coffee. Well now, you can actually enjoy breakfast at Tiffany’s in a couple of different locations at the brand’s Blue Box Cafés. Nothing calls for a chic photo-op quite like “Tiffany Blue leather banquettes, Tiffany Blue chairs, Tiffany Blue plates (from their Color Block collection) Tiffany Blue trim, and walls with amazonite, ‘the nature version of Tiffany Blue.’” 

More recently in Bride Wars, Anne Hathaway as Emma and Kate Hudson as Liv find a Tiffany blue box in Liv’s home, which gets the two ladies thinking that a proposal is in the works. Oh, and for the movie’s premiere, the producers asked Tiffany to customize what seemed like every aspect of their premiere party in Tiffany Blue, from the petits fours to the cocktails to the venue itself: Tiffany’s Fifth Avenue flagship in New York City.

When I think about high fashion jewelry, the sports industry isn’t really one of the first connections that comes to mind. However, Tiffany’s silver department is actually behind many of the most prestigious trophies, such as the Vince Lombardi Trophy for the winner of the NFL’s Super Bowl. And what’s a trophy for a sport that doesn’t even have a ball made to match? Tiffany also collaborated with Wilson on a leather, on-brand blue football exclusive to a limited celebrity audience.

This past spring, Tiffany held their annual Blue Book celebration event in Miami, Florida at a private residence known as BOTANICA. This “Tiffany Townhouse” was created to host the Blue Book collection – which sold out within days of its release – and was designed for attendees to “experience moving projections and dangling displays creating a unique visual experience.” We can only imagine how many tasteful appearances of Tiffany Blue were found throughout the rooms!

Also in 2022, London’s Saatchi Gallery is hosting an exhibition with Tiffany known as “Vision and Virtuosity,” displaying over 400 artifacts from Tiffany’s archive, including the Tiffany Diamond. Ironically, the Tiffany Diamond is actually canary yellow, but I doubt Charles Tiffany was thinking that hard about sticking to branding when he bought the 128.54-carat yellow diamond in 1877. Of course, visitors are drawn to the luxury lifestyle jewelry on display, but the gallery environment was crafted to be Tiffany Blue art in its own right.

Naturally, actress Gal Gadot attended the Saatchi Gallery’s “Vision and Virtuosity” opening in a Tiffany Blue dress after having signed on as Tiffany’s official ambassador for the 2022 Botanica collection.

Closing Thoughts

Tiffany & Co. exudes elegance and sophistication with a rich history behind it that has been aging like fine wine since its founding in 1837. From stationery to its iconic diamond, to trophies and more, the luxury brand has neatly packaged up its legacy in beautiful blue packaging. Though there have been blemishes along the way with legal drama, Tiffany & Co. has forever defined itself as a brand to be reckoned with thanks to its brilliance in branding.

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