Image: Tiffany & Co.

LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton is vying for Tiffany & Co. The Paris-based luxury goods conglomerate made a $14.5 billion play for the American jewelry stalwart last month, in furtherance of a quest to bolster its offerings in the fast-growing jewelry market. Just as analysts predicted, Tiffany’s board reportedly rejected LVMH’s initial, unsolicited offer to seek a higher price, thereby, potentially kicking off what Reuters calls “a battle for control of the company known for its signature robin’s egg blue packaging.”

Not to be overlooked in LVMH’s budding acquisition attempts – and in the value of Tiffany & Co. as a whole – is just that: the 182-year old brand’s signature robin’s egg blue. Dating back to at least 1889 and the World’s Fair in Paris, Tiffany & Co. has consistently and exclusively used the “cool and fresh aquatic blue,” as color-categorizing company Pantone describes it, in certain classes of goods and services. As a result, the color has come to signify the Tiffany brand in the mind of the average consumer, so much so that robin’s egg blue jewelry boxes are “very possibly the most recognizable and most desired retail container in history,” according to AdWeek.

The ability of consumers across the globe to link the robin’s egg blue color with a single source means that the blue hue transcends the traditional, decorative function of color, and puts Tiffany & Co. in the “rare and enviable position [in which] consumers recognize the brand simply by seeing the color – even without any other brand identity,” Andrea Davey, the senior vice president of global marketing at Tiffany, told CNN this spring. Relatively few companies can accurately make such a claim.

With that remarkably high level of consumer awareness comes legal rights – trademark (or more specifically, trade dress) rights – since trademark law provides protection for any word, name, symbol, or design (including colors and product configurations, etc.) that is used to identify and distinguish the goods of one brand from those of another.

In addition to enjoying longstanding common law rights as a result of its consistent use of the color in a trademark capacity, since the 1990s, Tiffany & Co. has maintained federal registrations for the color for use on an array of goods and services, ranging from fragrance products, tableware, and leather goods to product packaging and retail services … and of course, jewelry.

More than merely enabling consumers to identify products as coming from the Tiffany & Co. brand, and giving Tiffany exclusive rights in its signature hue (in connection with certain classes of goods and services), the robin’s egg blue color, itself, serves to communicate messages and values specific to the Tiffany & Co. brand. Because Tiffany has used the color consistently for more than a century in connection with its luxury offerings, consumers have come to associated the brand’s values – quality craftsmanship, exclusivity, elegance, etc. – with the color, thereby, standing to positively affect their purchasing decisions.

These positive brand qualities – or goodwill – are a big part of what makes trademark rights valuable in the first place, particularly since nearly every product in the market, high quality diamonds included, faces competition, meaning that similar – or at least, good enough – substitutes abound. This is where a brand’s goodwill – i.e., the favorable reputational elements that consciously or subconsciously come to consumers’ minds when they encounter a brand’s trademarks – comes in: it helps a brand to differentiate itself from its competitors in the minds of consumers no matter how similar their product offerings may be.

Given that Tiffany & Co. is hardly the only upscale jewelry company in the market and considering that there are relatively comparable jewelry designs and diamonds out there for consumers to choose from, the brand’s goodwill often serves as a distinguishing factor for many consumers. After all, as AdWeek’s Robert Klara wrote in 2014, “The shade [has] become instantly identified with Tiffany—and with the finest jewelry in the business.”

This positive association in the minds of consumers is precisely why many trademarks make for such valuable assets for brands, including Tiffany, and any interested buyers, such as LVMH.

So, how valuable is Tiffany & Co’s robin’s egg blue color (and the goodwill implicit in it) exactly? That’s a billion dollar – or more likely, a multi-billion dollar – question, which is not made easy by the fact that the valuation of intangible assets, such as trademarks, is not a straightforward inquiry and more of an imperfect science.

Tiffany & Co. certainly places significant emphasis on its branding-specific assets in the larger scheme of its overall brand value. The company routinely asserts in its annual filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission that the “TIFFANY & CO. brand is the single most important asset of Tiffany,” with trademark rights proving “essential to the competitiveness and success of the company’s business.” And the jewelry icon is not alone in drawing a straight line between the value of its intellectual property and its value as a company.

Each year, Brand Finance issues its Global 500 ranking of the “most valuable brands” in the world, with the London-based business valuation consultancy defining “brand value” as “the value of the [brand’s] trademark and associated marketing intellectual property within the branded business,” including intangible assets that are “intended to identify goods, services or entities, [thereby], create distinctive images and associations in the minds of stakeholders, and generate economic benefits.”

For 2019, Brand Finance put Tiffany & Co. in the number 351 position on its list with a “brand value” of $5.895 billion, a testament to the value of its intellectual property portfolio as a whole, which includes its world-famous color mark. “We consider a brand’s intellectual property a crucial part of the overall brand valuation analysis,” according to Brand Finance Director Alex Haigh.

As for Tiffany & Co., in particular, he says that that “the iconic blue color is an integral part of its brand and its visual identity,” and thus, its overall valuation.

In other words, while it might not be as easy to put a valuation on the robin’s egg blue as it is to price a flawless diamond, it is undeniable that the color has played an integral role in helping Tiffany & Co. to achieve the status of one of the valuable jewelry brands in the world. As such, it is safe to say that Tiffany has not only “monopolized” a color for itself, as many publications assert, but has monetized it in a big way, with LVMH’s initial bid of $14.5 billion and Tiffany & Co.’s reported push towards a higher $16.9 figure being proof.

The merger ultimately closed on December 30, 2020 when ninety-nine percent of Tiffany & Co.’s shareholders sought to approve the jewelry stalwart’s renegotiated merger with LVMH during a virtual shareholder meeting. The deal that Tiffany and LVMH reached towards the end of October 2020, shaves roughly $425 million dollars off of the originally-agreed-upon price tag, with LVMH ponying up $131.5 per Tiffany share, down from the $135/share price they first put in writing in November 2019.