Audrey Hepburn declared, “I’m crazy about Tiffany’s” in the iconic film “Breakfast at Tiffany’s.” Whether they know it or not, athletes have been crazy about Tiffany’s products since long before the film was released in 1961.
Tiffany opened its first store in New York in 1837 and in the 1860s started making sports trophies. Tiffany’s first major piece was the Woodlawn Vase, which is awarded to the winner of the Preakness Stakes, part of horseracing’s Triple Crown.
Tiffany also produces trophies for the U.S. Open Tennis Championships, NASCAR, Major League Soccer, Sports Illustrated, the WNBA, the New York City Marathon and college football’s Rose and Gator bowls. But the list doesn’t stop there.
“We do have a great history in yachting. We also make the NBA Championship. In the NHL we make the president’s trophy, a number of trophies on the PGA tour, horseracing, polo, swimming, rugby, the list goes on,” said Tom O’Rourke, the Tiffany & Co. vice president of business sales.
A Tiffany piece is also part of the biggest day in American sports. Tiffany silversmiths have been making the National Football League’s ultimate prize since the first Super Bowl in 1967. Tiffany does charge all of the leagues for the trophies but will not reveal its prices.
O’Rourke said the Vince Lombardi Trophy, the NFL’s iconic sterling silver football on a triangular pedestal, was developed during a lunch with the league’s first commissioner.
“It was literally sketched on a cocktail napkin. Our design director, Oscar Riedner, was sitting down with Pete Rozelle, talking about what the championship meant, sketched it out on a cocktail napkin, and Pete Rozelle clearly had the authority to say, ‘Yes, that’s what we want’,” O’Rourke said.
“And in that one lunch meeting we were able to design the Super Bowl trophy.”
Tea sets, large cups and bowls, often made of sterling silver, are known as hollowware. Craftspeople practice centuries-old silversmithing techniques in the Tiffany Hollowware Department, set off in a small section of the company’s Customer Fulfillment Center in Parsippany, N.J.
It’s late September, and lead spinner Corpus Crespo is standing at a lathe, working on the large cup that will top the trophy for golf’s Northern Trust Open, which will be played in February.
Around the corner several silversmiths are sitting at their benches. A silversmith’s job includes hammering, soldering, sanding and final fitting. There’s also a finishing and polishing area where most trophies go through 10 distinct procedures to achieve the perfect luster.
Tiffany’s Hollowware Department has 18 employees. Some of have been with the company for more than 30 years. Ysela Caceres has been with Tiffany since the 1980s. Caceres does flat chasing, using small chisels and hammers to create fine details in the silver. She is working on the football that will top the 2010 Rose Bowl Trophy.
At her bench, Caseres has the ball resting on two pillows, which are in Tiffany Blue pillow cases, of course. She is forming the lines that divide the football into quadrants.
“Lines are the most difficult things to do because you can make (them) crooked or whatever, so you have to be very careful, especially for the Super Bowl trophy or the Rose Bowl trophy,” Caceres said.
Tiffany makes the NBA’s Eastern and Western conference championship trophies, each of which feature a full-sized basketball. The dimples on one ball take at least 30 hours for Caceres to complete. It takes six to nine months to finish most of the trophies.
The craftspeople enjoy seeing their trophies in presentation ceremonies on national television broadcasts.
“I call all my friends back home. I’m from Minnesota, so I call ‘em and say, ‘I think they’re going to show the trophy at the end of this game, so make sure you watch”,” said silversmith Lance Neirby.
Millions of people watch as the World Series champions are crowned each fall. Tiffany was hired to redesign the Commissioner’s Trophy in 2000. The updated version still features tall, thin flagpoles representing each of the 30 Major League Baseball teams. After the initial celebrations, the championship team ships its trophy back to Tiffany for engraving, and sometimes repairs are necessary.
“It has champagne stains. Finger prints all over it. We’ll clean it up. A lot of times they have dents and scratches from some of the parties that the trophies attended and engrave it and send it back to the team for their use,” O’Rourke said.
“The World Series trophy has fallen off some floats. The Super Bowl trophy has come back with some major bumps and bruises on it.”
O’Rourke said the craftspeople are good-natured about the dings and dents, and they see repairing them as a challenge.
And the cycle will soon begin again when either the Philadelphia Phillies or the New York Yankees hoist Tiffany’s latest production to celebrate their victory in the World Series.