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Tiffany’s Chrysanthemum Pearl Brooch


A designer's ingenious attempt to work with what he had.

In the early 1900s, world renowned geologist and gemologist George Frederick Kunz of Tiffany & Co. discovered an abundance of Freshwater Pearls in the Mississippi River Valley. Most of these natural pearls were elongated in shape and pink in color — known as 'dog tooth' pearls. The Chrysanthemum Pearl Brooch is the result of Tiffany's chief jewelry designer's ingenious attempt to put the abundance of pearls into some sort of creative use.

In 1904, G. Paulding Farnham modeled the brooch after the Chrysanthemum inflorescence. The pearls are drilled and mounted on gold spikes radiating from the center in concentric whorls with the innermost whorl containing the shortest pearls, gradually increasing in length towards the outermost whorl. The stem and leaves are made of gold and platinum studded with diamonds.

Inscribed on the brooch is 'L.R. Dec 04.' The initials L.R. stand for Lillian Russell, the internationally renowned singer and comedic opera star to whom the brooch was given in December 1904. It is unclear exactly who gifted the brooch to Russell. One account states millionaire bachelor Diamond Jim Brady — rumored to have had a close romantic relationship with the star as well as a penchant for collecting jewels — showered Russel with extravagant gifts, one of which may have been the Chrysanthemum Brooch. A second account implies Tiffany & Co. gave the pearl brooch to Russell directly.

The brooch currently belongs to Mr. and Mrs. R Weatherly. In 2001, it was given on loan to the American Museum of Natural History in New York City for the traveling exhibit 'Pearls: A Natural History.'