Ode to a little blue box – Fitch's Christian Davies on Tiffany's design classic

I’m writing about a box, a piece of packaging. That description hardly begins to do justice to a design icon like this, but a box it is nonetheless.

There is elegance in its proportion and visual weight, potentially even a humility in its simplicity of line, but none of these properties are the reasons it enjoys the status it has today. For this is a box with a sense of history, so storied that it is recognized the world over. Anyone who receives it can recall the first time, exactly where they were, who was giving it to them and, most importantly, why.

A little blue box resonant with meaning and emotion; a little blue box brought to you by the brand known as Tiffany.

Its origins are not 100 per cent clear. What we do know is the color was developed for the cover of the inaugural issue of founder Charles Lewis Tiffany’s ‘Blue Book’, an annual collection of exquisitely handcrafted jewels.

The color – PMS1837, for those that care about such things – is a nod to the year Tiffany was founded, although not the year the blue debuted. It is sometimes referred to as Robin’s Egg Blue, but is also known as Forget me not Blue – and what name could be more appropriate?

So, here we are, on Valentine’s Eve and I want to relay just one of the interpretations of the Tiffany Blue Box as told to me by someone in the know a few years back.

In the interest of full disclosure, Tiffany was a client at the time, a fabulous bunch of folks and the most amazing collection of brand apostles – they not only believed in their company, but loved everything about it.

What struck me about the story was how it exemplified Tiffany’s understanding of its business, its guests, and the recipients of its jewels. I also loved the simplicity of the conceit: that this isn’t a box at all but rather a series of moments. Of pauses, if you will.

Our story begins before the box even appears. It starts with a man – if you’ll forgive me, we’ll call him a man for the purposes of this exercise. I know the story need not be gender-role specific but it’s the way the tale was told to me so I’m sticking to the script.

This man has decision to make: “Will I find something she likes? Will it be something that will say what I want it to say? Will this be the moment I am hoping for?” For some this can be a paralyzing moment, for others a rite of passage, for others it’s something more enjoyable. But regardless of the mood, the box is out of sight until this decision is made.

The First Pause…

Or the pre-celebration. No turning back now, so why not enjoy the moment? The box is revealed and wrapping is done with the requisite care and attention. With every passing minute our man’s shoulders go back, the color returns to his cheeks and he begins to enjoy his purchase, beginning to truly look forward to the moment ahead. Then the signature bow is tied just right and snipped. When all is ready, the box is slid into a blue bag, ready to begin its journey.

The Second Pause…

Just like the box itself, the color of the bag is imbued with meaning. And as our man makes his way with his gift, he is surrounded by knowing glances, a nod of acknowledgement and often a smile from those who see him. Here is a prolonged celebration of his decision and of the happiness and hope everyone who sees him knows is contained within that rectangle swinging from his wrist.

The Third Pause…

Somewhat cheekily referred to as “the conceal”, this third step on our journey has all the cloak and dagger collusion of a magic trick – and often for good reason as the precious box is hidden in the back of the closet, or worse still, the sock drawer. But the actual conceal takes place in the setting where the deed is to be done. And may well involve the further deception of an accomplice.

Bottles of champagne arrive masking a shape behind them, bouquets of flowers appear unexpectedly with something buried within. It’s a ballet of subtle nods, winks, cues, whispers and polite coughs all designed to continue this delightful subterfuge until the moment arrives.

The Fourth Pause…

Known as “the reveal” or rather more romantically as “the flash of blue”. Accompanied often by a rush of blood, a raise in blood pressure and for some, uncontrollable giggles (and that’s just the person giving the gift!). Tiffany’s reputation, its assurance does its job. And every woman, no matter their age, understands the resonance of this moment and the big deal that accompanies it.

The Fifth Pause…

At last… “the unveil”. Where the elegantly tied bow comes into its own once more. There cannot be a more difficult knot to untie than Tiffany’s when your fingers are shaking beyond control and you can’t catch your breath or see straight. It’s the biggest pause of all, and rightfully the most significant.

Of course while I can at least try to dissect the science behind these moments, I know every step of this this journey by heart, having made these purchases myself; first for my dear mum, then 15 years ago in Boston choosing a wedding ring for my soon-to-be wife. And now performing the art of “the conceal” every Christmas for my daughter’s expanding charm bracelet.

In these days of friction-free, same-day expedited delivery, the idea of a gift-buying experience infused with moments of pause might seem like the ultimate anachronism. In reality, I think it’s anything but. We all need more chances to take a moment and pause, even when it’s not Valentine’s Day. And for my money there are few moments worthy of our attention more than these.

And so, this Valentine’s Day, I celebrate the little blue box in all its glory, and the millions of moments that have accompanied it. Happy Birthday Forget Me Not. Here’s to the next 170 years.

Christian Davies is executive creative director Americas at Fitch. He tweets @cdaviesfitch

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