Everything is green now that spring is officially here! And that has me thinking about flowers! I recently came across this designer I hadn’t heard of before, this guy who made these absolutely exquisite and lifelike orchid pins. So of course I had to find out more! It turns out they were made by a jewelry designer named Paulding Farnham, who worked for Tiffany from 1875 (at the age of 16) to 1908. Take a look at the pin below. Gorgeous, right? That’s just one example!
Made with enamel, rubies, and diamonds, it sold for $228,000 in 2006. Wow!
Let’s learn more about this guy, shall we?
Orchids and other flowers
Pauldig Farnham, who we’ll just call Paul, came from a wealthy and well-connected family. Luckily, they recognized his artistic potential. An uncle who worked for Tiffany pulled some strings and before long, Paul was an apprentice there. He worked under Edward C. Moore, who was an amazing silversmith and all-around artist. Ed was influenced by nature, and passed that on to Paul.
Paul learned how to draw jewelry designs, and focused on flowers – chrysanthemum, roses, hydrangeas, irises, orchids, and dandelions.
The World’s Fair in Paris
After almost 10 years studying as an apprentice, Paul was offered a paid position at Tiffany’s when he was 26 years old. He got $55/week to be Ed’s assistant. He accepted, and got busy prepping for the upcoming World’s Fair.
World’s Fairs don’t really seem to attract as much attention anymore, even though they still happen. The last one took place in Milan in 2015, and the next big one will be in Dubai in 2020. Still, remember that back then they were still kind of new, and they were a big deal.
On behalf of Tiffany, Paul put forward a set of 24 bejeweled, enameled orchid brooches. Now, I have written past posts about flowers in jewelry (roses, pansies, the squash blossom, and the lotus flower). But I am here to tell you these orchids are just beyond! They looked so lifelike that people thought they were real! This was essentially because Paul had created molds from the actual flowers themselves. That’s right! Each of the 24 orchids was a unique, real variety of orchid. The enamel was so good that Tiffany today says it cannot be replicated! And of course, all were embellished with various gemstones – diamonds, emeralds, aquamarines, pearls and rubies.
Everyone loves orchids
Needless to says, the orchids were a huge hit at the Fair, for Paul, for Tiffany, and for the United States. Paul received a gold medal for the orchids. Tiffany won six gold medals, which was unprecedented. The compliments about the orchids were overwhelmingly positive. The collection was called “exceptional” and “one of the most striking features of the entire Exposition.” People raved over the “boldness and originality of design,” and said the the United States was indebted to Paul for his genius!
Not one to miss a marketing opportunity, more orchid brooches were created for Tiffany’s New York City location after the Fair.
”The greatest triumph is to be found in the orchid exhibition. ‘They are so faithfully reproduced that one would almost doubt that they are enamel, so well do they simulate the real flowers.” – The Paris Herald, 1889
Paul was on a creative winning streak. George Kunz, Tiffany’s gemologist, was supplying him with some amazing colored gemstones. In fact, he featured Montana sapphires with this iris brooch. He featured it at the Paris Exposition in 1900. It won Grand Prize.
Unfortunately, Tiffany as a company was undergoing a transition. Louis Comfort Tiffany officially took over in 1902 after his father, Charles Lewis Tiffany, died. And let’s just say that Louis and Paul didn’t see eye to eye. Despite all his success and accolades, Paul left Tiffany in 1908.
His sketchbooks were put in a storeroom, and left there for years. They were forgotten until Tiffany’s longtime design director, John Loring, discovered them recently.
“There was no room for two geniuses of the decorative arts in any house, even at Tiffany.” – John Loring, Tiffany design director
Paul’s orchids today
Paul moved out west, and became interested in mining. He still created art, although sculptures and paintings instead of jewelry.
His jewelry designs come up occasionally at auction. But they’re hard to spot. Because he did all of his work for Tiffany, few are actually signed by him. There are several pieces just signed Tiffany that we know are his. But it takes some detective work.
Sotheby’s sold one of his orchid brooches in 1993 for $415,000. Not too shabby! A gallery owner outbid Tiffany’s in 2000 for an iris brooch that was signed by Paul, not Tiffany. It sold for $300,000. So, if you find them, Paul’s pieces still get excellent prices.
”He was, without contest, the greatest native-born jewelry designer our country has ever produced.” – John Loring, Tiffany’s design director
Want to read more about Paul? There’s a whole book! Get it from Amazon!
This post has been edited and updated since it was originally published on May 2, 2019.