Cover The timeless appeal of Tiffany lamps. Photo: iStock

Once the preserve of ice cream parlours and chintzy hotels, Art Nouveau Tiffany lamps are back in vogue and selling for US$1 million

When The Office for Metropolitan Architecture (OMA) recently completed a pop-up jewellery emporium for Tiffany & Co in a pop-up on Avenue Montaigne in Paris’s 8th arrondissement in June this year, the immersive adaptive design featured the brand's iconic blue in various permutations as well as antique Tiffany lamps.

This endorsement by a cutting-edge architecture firm that curates exhibitions for the likes of Prada, of an Art Nouveau object often relegated to a relic of a bygone era than a blue chip collectable for contemporary homes seems to be catching on.

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After all, when Christie’s auctioned 44 Tiffany masterworks from the Garden Museum, a private collection in Japan, in June this year, the sale earned a whopping US$6,662,124 with one piece alone, a rare circa-1905 stained glass chandelier adorned with dragonflies, going for more than US$1 million.

This seems like the continuation of a trend as the auction house's first dedicated Tiffany lamps sale in December 2020 was a resounding success that doubled estimates. Since then, Christie’s has sales dedicated to Tiffany lamps every six months, which attracts new collectors every time.

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Renowned online and brick-and-mortar marketplace for authenticated luxury consignment. The RealReal also recently listed a pair of Tiffany lamps. One of them was listed at US$350,000, which ties the site’s record for the most expensive item they have ever sold.

As to why this Art Nouveau lamp is finding a following again, perhaps this could be attributed to the backlash against all that's minimal and neutral coloured. Also, with shows like The Gilded Age creating renewed interest in the area, the time is ripe for tastes to take a turn toward more decorative interiors. 

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Founded in the 1880s by painter and interior designer Louis Comfort Tiffany (the son of Charles Lewis Tiffany of jewellery brand Tiffany & Co.) in New York City, Tiffany Studios is best known for its glasswork—iridescent favrile glass and leaded stained glass, which took the form of windows, mosaics, fire screens, decorative objects, and, of course, the iconic lamps.

Inspired by the glass of Ancient Rome, Tiffany developed two crucial innovations: favrile glass and the copper foil technique. He debuted the former at the 1893 World's Fair in Chicago, where unlike the painted iridescent glass of the past, favrile is achieved by mixing different coloured glass while hot.

The latter eschewed the thick lead rods soldered at their joints of stained glass windows past which did not allow artisans to achieve intricate detail without paint. To minimise the outlines and eliminate the need for colour, Tiffany created a thin, flexible copper foil that could discreetly connect pieces of glass.

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The lamp became Tiffany's most iconic product and a typical one composed of a bronze stand topped with a stained glass shade. Congruent with the Art Nouveau penchant for nature prevalent in the early 2000s, Tiffany lampshades showcased intricate patterns and motifs inspired by flora and fauna, with daisies and dragonflies serving as famous muses.

Although it was widely believed that Tiffany designed these pieces, it has recently been proven that artist Clara Driscoll was the originator of these designs. And it was Driscoll who led a group of self-proclaimed Tiffany Girls who crafted each lamp by hand.

As trends move from by the book minimalism, the interest in Tiffany Lamps and decorating with them hails a return to this craftsman era. OMA certainly thinks so.

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