From a dazzling flight of fantasy to one of the 20th century’s most recognisable jewellery designs, Tiffany & Co.’s Bird on a Rock continues to fascinate almost 60 years after its idea was first hatched. A newly-launched collection pays tribute to this feathered fashionista’s friend
There’s a thin line that divides amusing and funny. With the former, a wry smile may cross your lips. A nod and a wink to a shared pleasure, amusement is to be enjoyed together, conscious and knowing. Funny, however, is to be laughed at — not laughed with. Ridiculous, daft, dumb or stupid, call it what you will, funny may elicit a giggle but it never commands respect or admiration.
So where along that tricky line does a cocky little bird perched atop an almost cartoonishly-large jewel lie? According to jewellery design legend Jean Schlumberger, the originator of the Tiffany & Co. design that would come to be known as Bird on a Rock, his creation was firmly on the side of amusement.
Schlumberger was appointed Vice President of Tiffany in 1956, and the moment that he revealed his feathered creation to a group of colleagues and admirers in 1965 was captured for posterity by doyenne of fashion journalism Eugenia Sheppard. Present at the piece’s debut, she recounted the unveiling for the New York Herald Tribune: “When he sat down and pressed open the lid of the blue velvet box, everybody smiled.” And as for Schlumberger? “The bird is amusing rather than funny,” he opined to Sheppard. “I know there’s a thin dividing line, but I hate funny things. Jewellery is no joke.”
It’s not a joke, but there’s certainly room for fun, and since the day that this little bird began hopping into the hearts of jewellery lovers around the world, he’s brought it by the bucketful. The very first Bird on a Rock showcased a jaunty, diamond-studded cockatoo — complete with audacious golden crest — atop a giant pale golden topaz. The contrast of characterful bird and improbably-proportioned stone is just ridiculous enough to be sublime, and Schlumberger’s cheeky little avian has remained largely unchanged ever since.
The bird quickly became a sensation and a signature of Tiffany & Co. But far from becoming dated and a cliché of its era, the little cockatoo has shown an incredible amount of pluck over the years, evolving with the times and finding new ways to express its message, without ever losing its unique charisma. Indeed, it would take a huge personality to pull attention from the major stones it has accompanied— including the famed Tiffany Yellow Diamond, which it hopped upon in 1995 — a feat that it’s managed time and time again.
Nowadays the bird continues to pull focus, even from some of the biggest stars of the current era. Recent appearances have included accompanying Jay-Z down the Academy Awards red carpet in 2022, perching atop a 55 carat citrine the perfect shade of canary yellow to match Beyoncé’s gown. Something of a trend among gents in musical and acting circles, the Bird has also been worn by actor Michael B. Jordan, and former basketball player Dwayne Wade took it as his wingman to the Met Gala. But it’s not just the boys who get to enjoy the company of this little birdie — new incarnations of the Bird on the Rock in Tiffany & Co.’s 2023 Blue Book collection have taken it from lapel to neck and wrist, where it’s enjoying a new lease of life on the wing.
“With Blue Book 2023, we saw an opportunity to honour Jean Schlumberger’s legacy by giving new life to some of his most celebrated designs,” said Tiffany & Co.’s Chief Executive Officer Anthony Ledru, at the collection’s launch. “These creations have a distinct Schlumberger quality and personality to them, but the designs are all new. We are certain that he would have been as pleased with each masterpiece as we are.”
A collection rooted in Schlumberger’s passion for aquatic life —and aptly titled Out of the Blue — the fine jewellery collection’s pieces mostly revolve around sea creatures. But where there’s Schlumberger, there’s imagination, and a reimagining of the Bird on a Rock as a flock of cockatoos circling the neck or wrist is truly daring. The bird has finally spread its wings, forming a group in full flight that that unites to carry stones in vivid blues and dreamy yellows.
And that’s not all that the Bird’s been up to — with the reopening and renaming of Tiffany & Co.’s famed Fifth Avenue boutique as The Landmark, there’s also been a reimagining and a remaking of the Tiffany Yellow Diamond. An evolution of its previous single Bird on a Rock setting, the 128.5 carat icon is now flanked by a host of five birds in full flight in a setting that’s transformable to pendant or brooch and worthy of the unique stone it carries.
“Celebrating our fabulous heritage, we have created an exciting masterpiece in order to honour our legendary Tiffany Diamond,” said Tiffany & Co’s chief artistic officer Nathalie Verdeille as The Landmark was reopened. “Thirty years ago, we set the diamond in the Bird on aRock for the Jean Schlumberger Paris retrospective. Today, the Tiffany Diamond and the Bird on a Rock meet again for a new love story full of liberty and joie de vivre.”
Joy, optimism and an element of whimsy — the Bird on a Rock has soared its way through fickle trends to become a true classic. An example of how simplicity and emotional connection in design can form some of its most enduring examples, Schlumberger’s Bird has entered the history books as one of jewellery’s most beloved characters. Let’s wait and see where this little bird can fly to next.
- Words by Rachel Silvestri