How Tiffany & Co. is Turning Prototypes into Products Faster

By Scott Kirsner |  September 9, 2019

Few companies can claim to have crafted as many enduring products as Manhattan-based Tiffany & Co. — from stained-glass lamps displayed in museums to china service for the White House to the Vince Lombardi trophy, given to the winner of the Super Bowl each year. Every February, movie stars walking the red carpet at the Oscars display some of the company’s higher-end wares. Even the company’s blue gift box sets the stage for a unique product within.

If there was ever a company that had plenty of laurels to rest on, it’s $4.4 billion Tiffany & Co., which traces its roots back to 1837.

Tiffany & Co. Vice President Dana Naberezny, who oversees the company’s Jewelry Design & Innovation Workshop. (Photo by Kara Swenson for InnoLead.)

But in 2018, the company opened a new product development studio in Manhattan, the Jewelry Design & Innovation Workshop. Why? To renew the company’s product offering “faster than we had been doing, and also to increase our operating efficiency,” explains Vice President Dana Naberezny. “Tiffany has always had the most brilliant innovators in the jewelry industry. We had  pockets of brilliance in different places, but the idea was, how do we put that all in one place to have a collective genius, if you will, and leverage that for innovation?”

The high-level goal, she explains, is becoming a “next-generation luxury jeweler,” one where both existing and new customers will come to shop for gifts (or for themselves). And a big part of the workshop’s mandate is prototyping more product concepts, more quickly — and sifting for those with the most potential. We sat down with Naberezny to talk about how it operates.

Four Principles Behind the Jewelry Design & Innovation Workshop

One was, how can we get prototypes faster? We want to rapid prototype as early in the process as possible. Second, how can we increase our competencies? How do we make sure that when a design hits retail and hits the marketplace, it looks like the designer intended? Maybe it gets changed along the way, but that is purposeful. The fourth would be our flexibility in sourcing.

All four of those principles were the driving factors to create the workshop in the first place.

No Bad Ideas

[We apply the] design thinking methodology, [and it’s important in that methodology] that there are no bad ideas. [It] was very important that everyone felt like the workshop was a very safe space to experiment and to think about ideas. … There’s a degree that we wanted to make sure that people felt like they could come up with any idea that made sense to them, because they’re also customers. They’re not just employees. They’re customers, and they’re buying the pieces [from the company]. They have a tremendous knowledge base. Why not use that to get us to the finish line?

Year One [was all about] focusing on the product, focusing on designs, and vision. Next, it really is, how do we interact better with our marketing partners and our manufacturing and merchandising partners? I’m not sure how that’s going to evolve yet, but it will.

‘Kill It or Evolve It’

There’s no worse feeling like feeling you’re chasing after a design, and you’re just not quite getting it, and then you kill it after months of working on it, when you knew you were chasing it the whole time.

The idea is, how do we provide a 3D representation of what the designer has in their mind, or what the merchants have in their mind, quicker and earlier in the process so that if it’s not a great idea, we do kill it or we evolve it.

That’s why we want to measure exactly when [things get killed,] because for us, it’s a sign of where we need to improve and how we show things and what we show… It’s always hard if you show a piece of material, a gemstone, or a fabric. Sometimes, someone has to see it in a piece for it to make sense, so we work with what is the best way for us to present.

We go to prototype unbelievably quickly. We definitely use 3D printing. We’ve got multiple machines and multiple materials depending on what we’re doing.

We [also] have traditional craftspeople who are actually hand-carving wax [models] that take them hours to do, but at the same time, it really does give you the feeling of what the piece is supposed to look like. We do a mix. It’s what’s right for the product. It might even be literally taking a cube of metal and carving it.

Creating a New Engagement Ring

It’s such a privilege to be able to work on an engagement ring for Tiffany & Co. If you think about it, one of the greatest innovations in engagement rings in general is the six‑prong setting, which was Tiffany. … Tiffany literally broke down the walls. I love saying that, because it gets me so excited to think that they broke down those walls and created this setting that was lifted off the finger, allowed light to go right through and enhance the brilliance of the stone.

The Tiffany True engagement ring, an entirely new design that launched in 2018.

The Tiffany True ring launched in North America in fall 2018. It launched worldwide in the spring 2019. It’s now in every store, and also being sold online. [With the new ring,] we have the Tiffany True cut diamond, which is amazing. … Then you’ve got a shank that’s carved very specifically not to take away from the brilliance of the stone and the T, [a T-shaped detail that is part of the ring’s setting]. It’s really a nice marriage of craftsmanship and this boldness of the T that represents us as Tiffany. 

We didn’t do it in isolation. It wasn’t just the Jewelry Design & Innovation Workshop. It was the partnership with manufacturing. It was partnership with some of our suppliers. It was working with the merchants and design.

We worked together in this really amazing group where failure was not an option in that case. We knew we were going to hit it. We also all believed in the design and what it represented for Tiffany. That helped bring us over the finish line.

Since the T True, we also launched Paper Flowers, which was [Chief Artistic Officer] Reed [Krakoff’s] first collection after home and accessories when he came to Tiffany. It’s a beautiful floral collection and that also we did in a pretty short period of time. It’s been nice to have some wins. The biggest thing for me in all those projects is what we took out of it and applied it to the next project.

Because we are so focused on how our teams work together, we took the teams that worked on Tiffany True and on Paper Flowers, and then said, “OK, how do we spread this knowledge?” We broke them up in a lot of ways and deposited them in other project teams for launches that you’ll see coming out in the next six to eight months.