A Conversation With… Melvyn Kirtley

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Our editor-in-chief, Haleh Nia, interviews Melvyn Kirtley, the chief gemologist at Tiffany & Co.

It’s a beautiful Spring day in New York, and I’m sitting in the grand headquarters of one of the world’s oldest and most prestigious jewelry houses, Tiffany & Co. As I enter a conference room filled with vase after vase of breathtaking arrangements created daily by an in-house florist, I notice Mr. Melvyn Kirtley sitting at the head of the mahogany table, waiting for our interview. He’s slender and impeccably-dressed, and displays the type of polite, unassuming mannerisms you’d expect from a gentleman living in the 1920s, the decade that has been much-discussed during my trip owing to the unique collaboration Tiffany has just announced with the makers of the now-infamous film, The Great Gatsby.

Mr. Kirtley has had a long and illustrious career with Tiffany & Co., having started as sales manager of the Main Floor of the iconic New York flagship in 1985, until the present day, where he has earned the title of chief gemologist at the 176-year-old company.

I am here for the annual unveiling of Tiffany & Co.’s illustrious Blue Book, the highly-anticipated catalogue that features the house’s most extravagant pieces of jewelry. I settle into my seat as I prepare to ask him my first question and notice his piercing blue eyes, the incredible color of which might serve as inspiration for a piece of jewelry. I let him in on my observation and he provides a warm chuckle which sets the tone for our intimate interview.

The Tiffany Yellow Diamond | Photo: Courtesy of Tiffany & Co.

Melvyn, it’s an honor to be interviewing you, especially in the heart of your incredible city and in these splendid headquarters. Now, speaking about the color of your eyes, I’d like to ask what you anticipate will be the forthcoming jewelry trends of the next year. Do you think colored diamonds, for example, will be as highly coveted as they are now?

Thank you, Haleh. It’s a real pleasure to have you here.

We’ve seen a big interest in colored diamonds recently. This whole notion of the rarity and the unique aspects of colored diamonds fits beautifully into the consumer sentiment right now. People are looking for unique, rare, special, and one-of-a-kind collectibles that have this wonderful inherent value to them. Colored diamonds, I think, speak to all of that.

Also, from a very personal standpoint, you can get connected to something like a colored diamond in a very specific way. It all has to do with the personal connection to the jewelry, to the piece, the color, all of that together. I think it’s the uniqueness of the trend that is important.

So you anticipate that colored diamonds will be a fleeting trend?

When I say a trend, I think of it as a growing trend. I don’t think it will come and go. I think it will continue to grow as a trend to increase in popularity.

They certainly are popular in the Middle East, where I am based. Speaking of which… Is Tiffany & Co. planning on catering to our market specifically, by launching a capsule Middle Eastern collection of sorts? You know, we’re not so much an emerging market anymore – most luxury buyers tend to come from our region.

Well, it’s an interesting idea on the capsule collection side, but no. We are not developing anything specifically geographically focused for the Middle East. But the interesting thing is that we have an incredibly broad selection, and a broad spectrum on both price points and designs. So the great thing about the Tiffany landscape is that there is a component of it that attracts many different types of cultures.

The great thing about the Tiffany landscape is that there is a component of it that attracts many different types of cultures.

What have you noticed the Middle Eastern consumer prefers to buy?

Our Middle Eastern customers in general tend to like more gold, they like more color, they like more design. With plenty of items within our range, whenever we imagine doing any type of selling events in the Middle East, or in Dubai particularly, we need to bring pieces that could translate into things that customers from that area would love. In fact in the UK every year during June and July, particularly July, we see a lot of clientele coming in from the Middle East. They are very attracted to our jewelry because we have this wonderful assortment of gold and bold and we use a lot of different colors as well.

If you think about some of our dramatic pieces, like a Jean Schlumberger design, a lot of them do appeal to our Middle Eastern customers. I think we have a lot to offer and what I do is I try to cater to each. Of course all cultures are different and everyone has a different perspective, but Middle Eastern customers love diamonds as well. So I try to curate a collection that would work in different geographic areas.

That must be really fulfilling to know that you are catering to each market, that women from each geographic area in the world gravitate towards a Tiffany & Co. design.

It is quite unique work that we have to do. It’s like each market has its own unique customer. I try to think about a specific customer in mind, for a specific gem that I am buying. I think about it on a greater scale when I think about us going to any of the Middle Eastern markets. As well as what I would like to take with me that might appeal to our customers based there.

Now tell me about the importance of the annual Blue Book, where these beautiful gems you speak of appear in print.

It’s enormously important for us. Because it’s our one point of reference every year, when we introduce a very special statement, or a one-of-a-kind piece collection. It’s our moment to shine in an entire calendar of the year when we can introduce this. I think it resonates around the world and really also shows the world how important we are in this field. For anyone who might doubt that, it really proves this. We are the jeweler to many, many people. We have many different styles: we’ve got simple, complex, affordable, expensive. This is our one moment when we showcase the real couture of jewelry and showcase our craftsmanship. All of those design elements that make us so special. It’s a wonderful feeling every year. This year is even more special because it has this point of view [the The Great Gatsby collaboration]. We have some of the most important pieces this year that we’ve had in many years.

I love that you use the word couture in reference to jewelry.

It is our couture collection. What we are doing, essentially, is couture.

You don’t hear a lot of people talking about couture in that way, with reference to jewelry. What about the opposite end of the spectrum, with entry-level collections such as Paloma Picasso’s or Elsa Peretti’s? How well do they sell in the Middle East?

Very well. Paloma’s jewelry particularly because I think it speaks to the sort of design elements that our customers in the Middle East like. She uses a lot of very brightly-colored stones; quite bright, wearable jewelry. Elsa’s as well. Because Elsa’s jewelry is very wearable; it has a very specific organic feel to it.

Very wearable; I am such a big fan.

Oh my God, it’s so incredibly wearable. I mean you think about the bean pendant, or the heart pendant. You can give that to someone – a teenager even. Someone who is 14, 15, or 16. They would wear it for the rest of their lives, probably. It’s this everyday, wearable jewelry that works day in and day out and never goes out of style.

It’s fascinating because Tiffany & Co. is one of the few jewelry houses that sells entry-level jewelry. You become a fan of the house at age 14 or 15, but then there are these iconic moments in your life where it’s still very much a part of the dream. I could gift a necklace to my little niece from Tiffany, or I could be 60 years old and still wearing Tiffany. It’s so interesting that you provide both price points.

The strength of collections like our Blue Book collection really resonate, and give a lot of strength to the collections that are more affordable. Because one really works with the other, I think. One adds to the other. It’s all buying a piece of a Tiffany dream, and yet in a very tangible way.

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