By Michelle Graff
michelle.graff@nationaljeweler.com
Michelle-blogTiffany, after all, was among those that led the charge to get jewelers to vow to boycott gold from the mine back in 2009. At the center of that charge was Kowalski, who personally visited Bristol Bay for fly-fishing and, when he returned to New York, showed Tiffany’s board of directors the documentary Red Gold, which was enough to convince them that the retailer should take a stand on this issue.

The Pebble Mine issue, actually, was my personal introduction to Mr. Kowalski.

Back in 2009, I still was fairly new to National Jeweler and so I accompanied former Executive Editor Teresa Novellino and Whitney Sielaff uptown for an interview at Tiffany & Co. headquarters with Kowalski.

The topic of the interview was the stance Tiffany was taking on Pebble and Red Gold, which the retailer screened for editors in New York.

I won’t pretend I remember many specifics from the interview; I was (relatively speaking) young at the time, still fairly new on the job and didn’t understand as much about the industry or consumer behavior as I do today.

On Monday, though, I had the chance to go back to the article that resulted from that 2009 interview, which ran in a print edition of National Jeweler (relic!)--where I believe Tiffany also took out a full-page ad lobbying against the mine--and has been archived on our website.

In the article, Kowalski talked about a topic that only has gained relevance in the intervening five years since it was written: That members of the Millennial generation care about the origin of the products they buy and the policies of the companies behind them.

Social and environmental issues don’t have “top-of-mind awareness,” he said back in 2009.  “It’s not as if people are coming in and asking about where our gold is sourced. (But) I think it’s dangerous to say ‘No one’s asking about it, therefore it doesn’t matter.’ I think you need to be careful about warily approaching a tipping point. A few years ago, no one talked about climate change. Al Gore writes a book, a few other things happen, and suddenly climate change is at the top of everyone’s agenda.”


Whether or not we’ve reached that “tipping point” with consumer concerns about sourcing is a matter of debate for another article.

But I do think Kowalski’s statement illustrates what has made Tiffany & Co. a successful brand that has survived for more than 175 years: staying ahead of the curve on issues that matter, whether it’s consumer consciousness, technology or design. To wit: in the same National Jeweler article from 2009, the writer mentions the “hot new” Tiffany Keys collection. How many manufacturers followed suit with their own key pendants after seeing Tiffany’s?

After news broke Monday of the 62-year-old Kowalski’s plan to step down in March 2015, analysts’ remarks seemed to indicate that they didn’t expect any drop-off in performance from the retailer when the CEO-in-waiting, 54-year-old Frederic Cumenal, takes the reins on April 1, 2015.

The prospect of Cumenal, who came to Tiffany in 2011 from LVMH, where he most recently was CEO of champagne maker Moët & Chandon, running Tiffany is seen a positive for the New York-based brand because of his broad, global luxury goods experience.

I also think that another reason Cumenal is likely to be successful at the helm of Tiffany & Co. is the strong brand recognition it has built up over years and continues to enjoy today.

That is not to say the retailer has not had its missteps along the way--recall its recent $449.5 million lawsuit loss to Swatch Group--and won’t have its challenges in the future, such as its still-pending court battle with Costco over the term “Tiffany setting.”

But Tiffany & Co. is a brand that has been built to last. That’s why it’s still around, and still independent, after 177 years.


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