Lawsuit at Tiffany’s

A necklace composed of 759 diamonds and an array of amethysts, all set in precious metal, has become the focus of a battle between a San Antonio jeweler and Tiffany & Co., the renowned jeweler based on Fifth Avenue in New York. The creation, which Tiffany titled “Leaves,” is believed by the company’s experts to be a design of Jean Schlumberger, a Parisian master jewelry designer who worked for Tiffany from 1956 until his death in 1987. One of his last designs, “Leaves” was created in New York and Paris in 1988 and listed at $165,000 in the 1988-1989 Tiffany Blue Book Catalog. In 1994, it went on display in Taiwan and was to be returned to New York but never arrived. Roger John Coleman, Tiffany’s manager of investigations, concluded that the necklace never was put on the China Airlines jet and probably was stolen at the Taiwan airport. In 1998, Andrew and Priscilla Garza came to Roger Miller, owner of Texas Diamond International Inc., to sell him a necklace. Miller operates a retail store in a strip center at Northwest Loop 410 and Fredericksburg Road. Miller said the couple told him a grandfather gave them the necklace to sell to help raise the down payment on a house. The grandfather, who was manager of the popular conjunto band Los Dos Gilbertos, had said the necklace was received as partial payment for a performance the band gave at a wedding in Mexico, said Marcia Miller, Roger’s wife. Miller sent a photocopy of the necklace to a San Antonio Police Department burglary detective to make sure it had not been reported stolen. When he got a thumbs up from the department, he negotiated a price, which he now declines to reveal, and took possession. “I bought it for the precious metal weight and the diamond weight,” Miller said. The diamonds alone weighed 20 carats and were worth a small fortune. Miller initially thought of breaking up the piece and using the gems and precious metal to manufacture many pieces. “After we purchased it, and I got to looking at it more closely, it really looked like a pretty nice piece, probably not something for the clientele around here,” he said. Miller sent the necklace to Beverly Hills Auctioneers Inc. in California with hopes of finding a buyer there. Their agent noticed a “Tiffany Schlumberger” mark and suggested the piece be sent to New York for verification, where Tiffany could evaluate it for a $250 fee. Miller agreed and the piece was shipped. “Two weeks go by and we haven’t heard anything. We called (the auctioneers). They tell us Tiffany & Co. is keeping the piece,” Miller said. Miller filed a lawsuit, but the district court judge, David Peeples, sided with Tiffany. Miller’s attorney, Dick Brown, appealed to the 4th Court of Appeals. Miller says his only hope of recovering his loss is to prove that his necklace is not the original “Leaves.” Miller asked Tiffany’s representatives if the company would let him come to New York with an expert to re-examine the piece in light of their claims. Tiffany refused. There are a number of differences between Tiffany’s description of “Leaves” and the piece Miller remembers. Tiffany contends “Leaves” had 20 amethyst stones and the settings contained platinum. Miller’s piece had 19 amethysts and was made of 18 karat gold, he said. Marc Joseph, an assistant buyer in the Schlumberger department when the necklace was produced, testified in court that the amethysts were sent to Paris to be attached using a special technique. Numerous other techniques were pointed out as being unique to the Tiffany processes. But Miller, tapping the skills of a local expert, brought what he claimed were identical samples of the workmanship Tiffany claimed was unique. Frederick Grabhorn, a lapidarist, testified that, while expensive, it would not be impossible to copy the necklace from a photograph. Justice Tom Rickhoff, writing a majority opinion, said genuine issues existed as to whether the necklace Tiffany lost and the piece Miller bought were the same. “Even assuming Tiffany is correct that its ‘Leaves’ necklace is too unique to be reproduced, Texas Diamond should have the opportunity to inspect the necklace before any resolution of this dispute can be made,” Rickhoff wrote. Justice Sarah B. Duncan dissented. She agreed with Tiffany’s witness that it would be virtually impossible to create a copy that would so accurately match the photographs of the stolen piece. The opinion was filed on Valentine’s Day. When Brown called his client, Miller could barely hear him. “We were packed with customers. I asked him if this was good news. He said it was. It was a good Valentine’s Day.” Further inspection of the piece may yet prompt a resolution that won’t favor Miller, but at least he’ll know for certain the identity of the piece, he said. “The bottom line is we felt they did not have a right to just take it without going through the courts,” he said. “I spent a lot of money. This is a small business and it did affect us pretty hard. It’s nothing to them.”