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Tina Casey headshot

Tiffany & Co. Makes Its Point: Presidents Come and Go, But Diamonds are Forever

By Tina Casey

As the firing of FBI Director James Comey swamps the news cycle, an amazing public statement by Tiffany & Co. still glitters through the muck. On Tuesday morning, the legendary American jeweler issued a terse but vehement pitch in favor of the Paris climate agreement, addressed directly to President Donald Trump.

The Tiffany statement comes at a particularly bad time for the president. Though his administration reportedly pre-planned an elaborate media campaign to cushion the blow of the Comey firing, Trump has been weathering a devastating firestorm of criticism ever since the White House announced the move on Tuesday evening.

The Tiffany & Co. climate statement

Though brief, the Tiffany statement packs a powerful punch.

Here is is, as it appeared on the company's Twitter handle, @TiffanyAndCo, on May 10 at approximately 7:30 a.m. Eastern Standard Time:

Tiffany could have made a similar point with a simple statement in support of the Paris agreement, without mentioning Trump by name.

By casting the statement as a direct, personal message to the president, Tiffany crossed the line into politics -- a rare move for the company.

And by choosing its iconic blue box as a background color, Tiffany added an extra layer of visual impact to the statement, openly encouraging its customers to identify the pro-Paris position with the Tiffany brand.

Trump vs. Tiffany brands

Many (many!) other top U.S. companies and other stakeholders have stepped forward in support of the Paris agreement. But it is difficult to spot another one that carries the weight of the Tiffany endorsement in terms of significance for the Trump brand with respect to its association with New York luxury.

Tiffany is a luxury brand that exemplifies everything to which the Trump brand aspires. The company's flagship Manhattan store is located in Trump Tower on 5th Avenue. Tiffany describes the store as a magical place: "It is simply the most famous store there is. Every cab driver, every New Yorker, every visitor knows where to find Tiffany & Co. This is the marvelous place where dreams come true."

The Trump brand has been trying hard to play catch up with Tiffany for many years, but there is one significant reason why it never can -- even though it shares the same building.

In the U.S. and many other countries, wealth and status have a great deal to do with roots and history. That "old money" bar is all the higher in New York City, where Manhattan holds the central position of status against the four outer boroughs.

The Trump brand is famously rooted in one of those outer boroughs: Queens. Its direct history can be traced only as far back as the 1970s when Trump became president of his father's real estate company.

In contrast, Tiffany can claim Manhattan roots for its brand in a straight line all the way back to 1837, when its first store opened on Broadway:

"On their way to the new emporium at 259 Broadway, fashionable ladies in silks, satins and beribboned bonnets faced a gauntlet of narrow streets teeming with horses and carriages. At Tiffany & Co. they discovered a newly emerging “American style” that departed from the European design aesthetic, which was rooted in ceremonial patterns and the Victorian era’s mannered opulence. The young entrepreneurs were inspired by the natural world, which they interpreted in patterns of simplicity, harmony and clarity."

Many other companies that came after Tiffany have established their own way to identify with luxury. However, the Trump brand has carved out a Manhattan identity that can never match up to an old-money company like Tiffany. Even if such comparisons sit widely out of touch with most Americans, they appear to matter to Trump's companies, at least if prior positioning is any indication.

Somewhat ironically, Trump and Tiffany do share one thing in common: both started their careers with the help of family money.

To be fair to Tiffany, though, the $1,000 loan from his father that enabled Charles Lewis Tiffany to open his first store pales beside the $8.5 million Trump borrowed from his father to escape bankruptcy in the 1970s, even accounting for inflation.

Sustainability matters

Speaking of inspiration from nature, among the many things that the Tiffany and Trump brands do not share in common is a solid track record in corporate social responsibility.

Tiffany first hit the TriplePundit radar with its 2014 corporate social responsibility report, but the company had already laid the groundwork years before:

"Twenty years before many luxury goods companies began to pay attention to the sourcing of raw materials and how people working within their supply chains were affected, Tiffany’s developed policies that are increasingly becoming more mainstream throughout the jewelry industry."

In 2015 TriplePundit took note of Tiffany's responsible mining policy:

"As a founding member of the Initiative for Responsible Mining Assurance (IRMA), the company has collaborated with representatives from industry, NGOs, impacted communities, labor organizations and others to develop third-party, multi-stakeholder standards for responsible mining."

And, last year TriplePundit published an article by Tiffany & Co. chief sustainability officer Anisa Kamadoli on the company's support for artisanal miners through the Diamond Development Initiative:

"The concept of DDI emerged in 2005 and its operations began in 2008. DDI picked up where the Kimberley Process Certification Scheme left off. While the Kimberley Process has made progress toward eliminating 'conflict diamonds' from the rough diamond supply chain, this focus on trade alone did not change conditions for artisanal miners.

"For nearly 10 years, the Tiffany & Co. Foundation has provided funding to DDI because the organization takes an expansive, long-term approach to improving the lives of miners, their families and their communities."

Leadership comes from the top

If you caught that thing about "chief sustainability officer," that's a key part of the equation.

Successful corporate sustainability initiatives happen when top leadership is involved. In 2014, TriplePundit published an exclusive interview with Ms. Kamadoli, in which she described her company's CSR team:

"Sustainability has always been a part of Tiffany & Co. and is central to how we operate as a luxury brand. Our commitment to sustainability was formalized in 2009 with the establishment of the CSR Committee of the board of directors, as well as my department. I report directly to Michael Kowalski, chairman & CEO of Tiffany & Co., who is extremely knowledgeable and passionate about the environmental issues that the company addresses."

Ms. Kamadoli elaborated on that theme:

"The fact that our team has such strong senior-level support allows us to collaborate closely with internal and external stakeholders and to continue to lead our industry."

With all of this in mind, it's little wonder that Tiffany & Co. took the extraordinary step of calling out President Trump by name on climate change and the Paris agreement.

As of this writing, President Trump has pushed back a decision on whether or not to keep the U.S. in the international climate accord.

Certainly he has other things on his mind this week, so perhaps the delay will give his daughter and top advisor, Ivanka Trump, an opportunity to exercise her alleged moderating influence on his approach to climate action.

Then again...

Readers please note: "A diamond is forever" is an advertising slogan created by Frances Gerety for De Beers during her long career at N.W. Ayer.

Images: top (cropped) via Tiffany & Co. website; bottom via @TiffanyAndCo.

Tina Casey headshot

Tina writes frequently for TriplePundit and other websites, with a focus on military, government and corporate sustainability, clean tech research and emerging energy technologies. She is a former Deputy Director of Public Affairs of the New York City Department of Environmental Protection, and author of books and articles on recycling and other conservation themes.

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