Tiffany & Co.’s Iris Corsage Ornament c.1900

By Sara Abey

This superb piece shows what can be achieved with creative collaboration – here designer George Paulding Farnham, gemmologist George Frederick Kunz and Tiffany & Co’s craftsmen. Indeed, this brooch was specifically made to celebrate the skills and resources of the United States of America. It was presented to the world at the Exposition Universelle in Paris in 1900, an exhibition to celebrate the achievements of the previous century and to inspire developments in new one. Not surprisingly the brooch won Tiffany & Co a gold medal.

Farnham who was the chief designer and director of jewellery at Tiffany & Co at the turn of the 20th century was often inspired by botany. Renowned mineralogist/geologist, Kunz, who worked for Tiffany & CO as gemmologist, selected 120 sapphires from the then recently discovered Montana mines as the principle stones for the jewel. Kunz had been instrumental for recognising the beauty and commercial potential of these new-found gems. The brooch also incorporates diamonds, demantoid garnets and topaz and is set in gold and platinum.

The brooch is large, matching an actual iris in size at 24.1 cm high, and can be seen today in The Walters Art Museum, Baltimore. The brooch was bequeathed to the museum by Henry Walters and Tiffany & Co then gifted the Farnham’s original drawing.