Tiffany opens new Lexington plant that will employ 125

Tiffany jewelry plant seen as 'super-duper' addition to city

bfortune@herald-leader.comSeptember 28, 2011 

Tiffany & Co. on Tuesday opened its Lexington manufacturing plant, which will produce Tiffany's classic six-prong engagement ring and several other fine jewelry pieces.

The 25,000-square-foot plant is in an understated building on four acres in Blue Grass Business Park on Innovation Drive near Georgetown Road in northern Fayette County.

Mayor Jim Gray's welcome was anything but understated as he greeted Tiffany officials, calling the opening "a super-duper day."

The Lexington facility is Tiffany's first manufacturing plant outside the Northeast. It will employ 125 people.

The city's quality of life was one of the main reasons the company — known around the world for high-quality jewelry in iconic blue boxes — chose Lexington for its expansion, said Tiffany chief executive Michael Ko walski.

The company was presented with a choice of 50 locations by a Memphis site-selection firm. Once the company decided that the manufacturing would be kept in the United States, the list was quickly reduced to five locations, said John Petterson, senior vice president of operations and manufacturing.

Petterson and his team visited all five cities. "We liked all the locations, but when we got to Lexington something just felt right — the quality of life, the hospitality, the people we dealt with," he said.

State and local officials created tax incentives — the state in April approved the company for a $2.75 million deal — and paid attention to the company's needs and questions.

"We know today we absolutely made the right decision in opening a plant in Lexington," Kowalski said.

"We want to make sure we get this facility running really smooth, then we may introduce new elements of the business" in Lexington, Petterson said.

The closest Tiffany retail outlet is Cincinnati. Lexington is not too small to support a Tiffany store, Petterson said. "We have to find the right location."

Product lines to be made in Lexington include engagement rings, diamond pendants, diamonds-by-the-yard necklaces and diamond stud earrings.

A small core of employees was hired in summer 2010 and had been manufacturing jewelry at a temporary plant before Tuesday's opening.

Tiffany has eight manufacturing sites in the United States. Five of them make jewelry — two in New York state, one each in Rhode Island and New Jersey, and now Lexington.

Corporate and civic leaders on Tuesday had breakfast after the opening ceremony. Said Gov. Steve Beshear: "Wow! Breakfast at Tiffany's in Lexington, Kentucky."

With first lady Jane Beshear in the audience, Beshear said that as a young lawyer in New York, he bought her engagement ring at Tiffany & Co.

The first lady was wearing the classic six-prong ring, which has a 1-carat diamond, with her diamond wedding band, also from Tiffany.

Tiffany already has become involved in community activities, and Kowalski said of his company, "We have a responsibility to all of you that goes beyond the bottom line." The company has partnered with the University of Kentucky Chandler Medical Center, the Lexington Philharmonic and LexArts on special events.

Jim Clark, executive director of LexArts, said Tiffany had contributed $10,000 to the organization, and he has talked to company representatives about doing a special event next year for LexArts' 40th anniversary.

For Kentucky Children's Hospital's annual giving program — Circle of Blue — Tiffany will create a special charm that will be given each year for gifts of $2,500 or more.

Friday night's philharmonic concert will be a "blue box event" where 100 Tiffany boxes will be sold for $100 each. All will contain a small Tiffany item, but one "will be a winner" with a larger item, said music director Scott Terrell, who attended Tuesday's opening. Tiffany will be the corporate sponsor for one of the philharmonic concerts in November.

"This is all a very nice kickoff to the 50th anniversary year of the orchestra," Terrell said. "It is a very nice partnership, and we are so pleased to collaborate with Tiffany."

Reach Beverly Fortune at (859) 231-3251 or 1-800-950-6397, Ext. 3251.

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