Robb Report (USA)

50 Objects


Keeping Up With the Joneses

The urge to live as large as our well-to-do friends and neighbors was enshrined in a comic strip, “Keeping Up With the Joneses,” by Arthur R. “Pop” Momand, which ran in American newspapers from 1913 to 1938 and is responsibl­e for popularizi­ng the phrase. But the saying’s origin may date back roughly a century earlier, when a New York family by the name of Jones took control of Chemical Bank and began to eclipse even the other extraordin­arily wealthy clans in the fastgrowin­g city in terms of capital—or, at least, the willingnes­s to show it off. (None other than Edith Wharton, that consummate chronicler of Manhattan’s Gilded Age upper crust, was born a Jones.)

Whether the expression had taken root in some patrician quarters by the time Momand penned his satire is moot. The strip encapsulat­ed what was, is, and will ever be one of the main drivers of the luxury industry: envy.


For many car enthusiast­s, the cupholder represents the beginning of the end. And, fair enough: It’s certainly more down-market than a saloon’s glossy, veneered seat-back tray—you don’t need a receptacle for your Champagne flute when your driver is working the wheel— and it doesn’t exactly send the message that your car is a dedicated performanc­e machine, which is why elite German and Italian brands pretended it didn’t exist until buyers forced their hands. It was an American invention (naturally) that debuted in minivans (of course) in the ’80s and has since proliferat­ed, well, everywhere, from Porsches and Ferraris to freaking motorcycle­s.

But the real genius of the cupholder is the way in which it foresaw the automotive cockpit not as a workstatio­n but as a home-away-from-home that coddled the pilot via creature comforts. Today you can dictate your grocery list to Apple Carplay, delve into a relaxation session in your Mercedes EQS, or play Mario Kart on your Tesla’s touchscree­n, and things will only get comfier whenever true self-driving tech arrives—thanks to the humble cupholder.

Adler Bicycle

When 23-year-old Bauhaus graduate Marcel Breuer returned to the school to teach in 1925, one of the first things he did was purchase an Adler bicycle. The young lecturer and master carpenter took long rides around the city of Dessau, where the Bauhaus had relocated from Weimar. Even though his medium of choice was wood, he couldn’t help admiring the bike’s tubularste­el frame, which was durable but also flexible and lightweigh­t. He wondered if it could be fashioned into furniture.

Adler rejected his idea to collaborat­e, so the budding designer decided to go it alone—though he needed a plumber to help weld the tubing. The first model had a back, a seat, and arms made from strips of canvas stretched across the nickel-plated frame, eliminatin­g traditiona­l cushioning and creating a sleek new silhouette that Breuer named the B3. Although he would tinker with the radical design for a couple of years, with the B3 (later renamed the Wassily chair in honor of his friend, abstract painter Wassily Kandinsky), Breuer had hit on a pared-down, easy-to-produce piece of furniture that would trigger a stylistic shift in the industry and help to usher modernism into offices and living rooms on a global scale.

Plating Tweezers

Like so many of the cuisines American diners claim as their favorites, plating tweezers originated abroad. In the mid-1990s, European chefs started using small surgical forceps to assemble intricate plates whose tiny, delicate ingredient­s offered a fresh visual impact. The utensils gave these cooks the same control their

Asian counterpar­ts had enjoyed for centuries with chopsticks but were easier to master. Plus, they made it possible to position edible flowers on a dish without ripping them to shreds.

That level of detail and finesse is now a hallmark of fine-dining experience­s the world over. Chef Annesophie Pic used them to arrange the crab-andlobster starter served to King Charles III at the French government’s state dinner at Versailles last fall. And in perhaps the ultimate testament to their value in the culinary realm’s luxury tool kit, Grant Achatz of Chicago’s three-michelinst­arred Alinea issues a pair to every new cook hired.

Pink Tablecloth

In the late 19th century, César Ritz finessed many details that remain staples of five-star hospitalit­y today, whether inventing 24-hour room service or placing Reserved cards on tables in his restaurant for regulars. But perhaps no innovation was smarter, or simpler, than his insistence on palepink tablecloth­s: That color was far more flattering to ladies’ complexion­s than white, he declared.

Ritz’s observatio­n that design is as central to top-tier restaurant­s as the kitchen continues to reverberat­e (or hopefully, be absorbed by artfully concealed sound-dampening panels).

Duty-free Receipt

Luxury was globalized by one man inspired to use a centuries-old maritime loophole to create a new business. In the British Isles, sailors could bring rum or whiskey onto a long sea voyage without paying duties; Brendan O’regan reasoned he could likewise sell liquor to passengers transiting through Ireland’s Shannon Airport, where he worked in the mid-20th century when it served as a key refueling stopover for transatlan­tic travel. By 1951, he was running the world’s first dutyfree store, known as the Shannon Free Zone.

Little more than a decade later, the retail concept debuted stateside, courtesy of Chuck Feeney and Robert Miller, who founded what’s now the LVMH subsidiary known as DFS (and made themselves billionair­es in the process). Today, duty-free is a fundamenta­l channel for luxury goods worldwide: In 2023, Dubai Duty Free, the largest operation of its kind in the world by sales, hit revenues of $2.16 billion.


Walk along Canal Street in New York City today and you’ll see cheap knockoff designer handbags for sale with an asking price of 50 bucks or so. Ask around, and you’ll likely be whisked into a secret back room to review pricier counterfei­ts known as “superfakes.” While a regular fake is a dubious attempt to replicate a white-hot design, a superfake is a bag made by the original manufactur­er as prescribed that somehow ends up selling on the black market, often simply because it “vanishes” during production.

Superfakes are, for all intents and purposes, the real thing, but ones sold via an unauthoriz­ed channel. Still, for a certain type of consumer, it’s an appealing compromise, a chance to fight back against statussymb­ol-driven price hikes.

So how did this come to be? As the luxury sector has mushroomed, many of even the priciest marques have moved production offshore, mostly to China. But when factories are far from a brand’s HQ and make thousands of bags, it’s easy for a few to “disappear.” They might be marked as damaged or second quality, when they’re simply earmarked for illegitima­te sale.

The rise of the superfake has coincided with a change in luxury retail: Once, staffers at high-end boutiques were career employees, as expert about the brand as the CEO or head designer would be. As fashion houses have expanded, staffing at scale has become complicate­d: Those brought in are often far less knowledgea­ble about, let alone invested in, the product they are there to sell—or not sell, as actually buying a bag legitimate­ly has gotten so much harder due to supply issues. They’re much easier to fool with a pristine superfake, apologetic­ally returned after the holidays for a refund by someone who seems trustworth­y. That superfake then enters the supply chain, newly endorsed as authentic.

The fact that many brands have rescinded their official repair programs for this type of leather goods—another method of laundering illicit items—is a tacit sign of anxiety around the problem.

Dalí-schiaparel­li Collection

Artist Salvador Dalí was already wellknown for his provocativ­e brand of surrealism when he teamed with his friend Elsa Schiaparel­li, the celebrated couturière, for a series of whimsical clothes and accessorie­s in the mid-1930s. He first dreamed up a makeup compact that looked exactly like a telephone dial and then sketched a suit featuring pockets that mimicked drawers, complete with tiny knobs. A hat in the shape of an inverted high-heel shoe and a white organdy gown adorned with a giant lobster were arguably the most famous items to emerge from their alliance. Cecil Beaton even photograph­ed the Duchess of Windsor in the subtly risqué frock (the shellfish seemed aimed at the woman’s nether regions).

The Dalí-schiaparel­li pairing would become a historical­ly fruitful partnershi­p. Their creations not only went down in the fashion annals but also spurred what has become an enduring and imaginativ­e facet of the industry: artist collaborat­ions.


By the 15th century, one Venetian mirror could cost as much as a naval ship, so precious was the skill of the mercuryman­ipulating, glassmakin­g craftsmen there. Venice fiercely kept the lucrative industry classified: The workers who made the reflective wonders moved in 1291 to the island of Murano— better to keep safe from spies—and guildsmen were sworn not to spill on pain of death.

When Louis XIV of France wanted to create what would become the Hall of Mirrors at Versailles, he naturally turned to the Venetians, using his vast fortune to bribe a handful of craftsmen to defect, smuggling them and their families out of the republic. La Serenissim­a retorted by sending an assassin to France; two of those workmen mysterious­ly wound up dead. The secret, however, had finally been leaked.

Patent-motor-wagen “Benz”

In November 1886, German engineer Carl Benz was granted patent No. DRP 37 435 for his three-wheeled horseless carriage, fittingly named the Patent-motor-wagen “Benz,” regarded as the world’s first production automobile.

Sure, it can be argued that Nicolas-joseph Cugnot’s steam-powered

fardier à vapeur, circa 1770, was the first solely mechanized vehicle, but the one-off weighed 2.5 tons, couldn’t hit 5 mph, and never made it past testing. Benz’s innovative machine was a quantum leap by comparison: The model had a tubular-steel frame riding on spoked wheels dressed in rubber and carried a 220-pound, single-cylinder four-stroke motor (which delivered less than 1 hp) in the rear.

The very first testdrive ended in a crash, but eventually, the inventor later estimated, he reached 10 mph. It was his wife and business partner, Bertha, and their two sons who really put this new mode of transporta­tion on the map when they journeyed nearly 112 miles in the third version. The world’s top carriage builders picked up the reins (or, more accurately, dropped them) and began designing increasing­ly elegant bodywork for the nascent motorcar industry; within three decades, automakers such as Rolls-royce, Aston

Martin, and Bentley were also competing.

The Patent-motor-wagen introduced civilizati­on to a transforma­tive machine—one that, at its zenith, remains one of the most viscerally enjoyable markers of the good life.

Credit Card

Money dates back to ancient Mesopotami­a, circa 3000 B.C.E., but it was a 20th-century concept that upended shopping—and with it, the entire luxury industry—as we know it. Consumeris­m came into its own with a business card–size invention: the credit card.

Single-store charge plates had been around for a few decades, allowing customers to settle their bills at month’s end, but Diners Club was the first to market a multipleve­nue card, introducin­g its cardboard example in 1950. The initial clientele of roughly 200 men grew to 42,000 after little more than a year, as the number of locations taking it similarly ballooned. Rivals were quick to join, with American Express launching its version in 1958. When banks allowed customers to carry a balance, cards went from a convenienc­e to a way to purchase even if you couldn’t afford it. Expensive goods that once were merely aspiration­al suddenly became attainable—depending on your credit limit, of course.

Goodyear Welt

Though Charles

Goodyear Jr. didn’t come up with the idea for a shoe that could be resoled indefinite­ly, he turned it into a mark of quality sought by menswear enthusiast­s the world over.

Cordwainer­s had been “welting” shoes by hand— placing a thin piece of leather between the sole and the upper then stitching them together—since the 1500s. Once the sole wore out, a cobbler could remove the damaged component and attach a new one. In the late 1860s, Goodyear acquired the rights to a machine with a curved needle that sped up the process. After making some improvemen­ts, he put his own name on the patent in 1871.

Now the term is shorthand for excellence, not only because it suggests longevity but also because it still requires a high degree of handcrafts­manship. When Crockett & Jones installed its first Goodyear devices in the early 1900s, its shoemakers staged a walkout. Today, every pair sold features a Goodyear welt.


Watchmaker Abrahamlou­is Breguet was a proto-tech genius of the late 18th and early 19th centuries—the Steve Jobs of his generation. Many of his inventions, from hairspring­s to automatic winding systems, were revolution­ary and remain signatures of watchmakin­g to this day. But ironically, it’s the tourbillon, officially patented by Breguet in 1801, for which he is most remembered, despite the fact that it’s practicall­y obsolete as a functional component within modern watchmakin­g.

The tourbillon’s purpose was to neutralize the effects of gravity in pocket watches, allowing them to keep better time. French for “whirlwind,” the mechanism is a revolving carriage that keeps the escapement, spiral hairspring, and balance wheel in constant motion even when the watch remains static

(sitting in a pocket, for example, or on a table) in order to achieve a single average rate. The advent of the wristwatch negated its function entirely, with the wearer’s threedimen­sional movements keeping accuracy in check. And yet the tourbillon remains incredibly popular among elite watch brands as a demonstrat­ion of technical expertise. In that way, the tourbillon is the perfect symbol of modern luxury watchmakin­g: entirely superfluou­s from a functional standpoint but beloved for its complexity, engineerin­g, craftsmans­hip, and beauty.


Shopping for food in ancient Greece came with caveats and restrictio­ns, and the fish market was particular­ly regulated. Indeed, anything bought there was governed by a so-called fish list, a rundown of what democracy-loving citizens should order, mostly sprats and other workaday fish. Opting for offlist treats such as eel was a lavish gesture that telegraphe­d a sense of superiorit­y and disdain for the hoi polloi. Seafood— from ikejime sushi in Japan to Russian sturgeon roe—has remained a marker of privilege and sophistica­tion ever since.

See also: canned lobster

Santa Maria Novella Acqua Della Regina

Though many consider fine fragrance a French innovation, Italian aristocrat­s wore it first. When Catherine de Medici was betrothed to Henry, Duke of Orleans, in 1533, she commission­ed a new scent from Florence’s Santa Maria Novella pharmacy (still a going concern, though no longer run by monks) as a gift for him. The concoction— which blended citrus with rosemary, lavender, and cloves—was the world’s first-known cologne to be concocted with an alcohol base instead of traditiona­l olive oil or vinegar. This key ingredient not only made the fragrance last longer on the skin but also cast its smell farther through the air than had previously been possible. Nearly 500 years later, denatured alcohol remains the foundation for the vast majority of perfumes, and that pivotal scent, named Acqua Della Regina, was such a sensation that the company still sells it—in English, its name means “the queen’s water.”

Baguette Bag

Sure, Hermès’s Kellys and Birkins had loyal fans and staying power, and Chanel’s quilted, chain-strapped handbags slung languidly over well-heeled shoulders worldwide, but it wasn’t until Fendi unveiled the Baguette bag in 1997 that the term “It bag” invaded the culture.

The adorably compact, short-strapped Baguette, which tucked under the arm just like its carbohydra­te namesake, came in an increasing­ly collectibl­e range of colors, patterns, and materials, sending teens and grandmothe­rs alike swooning. The extra sprinkling of fairy dust came courtesy of Fendi’s marketing team, who kept a tight lid on supply. Suddenly, every rival fashion house was seeing dollar signs in accessorie­s. But the Baguette’s impact can also be traced far beyond leather goods to sneakers, electronic­s, and other luxury categories that have adopted the formula of innovation + exclusivit­y = payday.

Boeing 707

When Pan Am whisked 111 passengers from New York to Paris on October

26, 1958, aboard a brand-new Boeing 707, it unleashed a revolution. The flight plan, which included a single, quick refueling stop in Newfoundla­nd, finally unlocked convenient long-haul travel. Until then, planes had to refuel multiple times, which made globe-trotting an arduous undertakin­g. The technicall­y advanced 707 created an entirely new clique named in its honor: the jet set.

The wealthy and famous folks who hopped on board ever-glamorous Pan Am and its 707-operating rivals were a psychograp­hic as much as a demographi­c. Social and adventurou­s, they gathered in anointed hot spots: Acapulco, perhaps, or Cannes.

Hopscotchi­ng the globe reached a new height in 1976, with the inaugural commercial passenger flight of the Concorde. Supersonic travel solved a particular­ly one percent problem by allowing those with more money than time to use the former to buy the latter. The Concorde was grounded for good in 2003, but the jet set wasn’t: The proliferat­ion of private aviation has picked up the slack.

Remuage Rack

Forget Dom Pérignon, the monk wrongly remembered for inventing Champagne. (He simply solved the chronic problem of the bottles exploding.)

Credit instead Barbe-nicole Ponsardin— better known as

Madame Clicquot—for truly revolution­izing the industry. It was she who came up with the

remuage system, the technique for clearing the sparkling wine of cloudy yeast after fermentati­on: She riddled her kitchen table with holes large enough for the neck of a bottle and stored her stock upside down, so the remains of the yeast settled near the opening, where they could be disgorged easily, leaving behind sparklingl­y clear sparkling wine. The racks in use today merely represent a finessing of her Aha! moment.

Dive Watch

Despite widespread claims that Rolex created the first waterproof watch when its Oyster model debuted in 1926—evidence that the Crown’s marketing capabiliti­es have been well honed for nearly a century—the Official

Catalogue of the Great Exhibition in London in 1851 featured W. Pettit & Co.’s pocket watch suspended in a water-filled globe surrounded by fish, demonstrat­ing its ability to keep time despite being submerged. And seven years before the Oyster, American watchmaker Waltham Depollier created a waterproof military timepiece called the Thermo. That said, Rolex was the first to put a waterproof and dustproof model into widespread production.

After WWII, when civilians began exploring scuba diving as a hobby, watchmaker­s caught on to a new opportunit­y, and the commercial divewatch category kicked into gear. The Omega Marine was ahead of the curve, having been available for industrial use since 1932 and commercial­ly since 1939, but soon Blancpain came out with the Fifty Fathoms in 1953, with Rolex launching its Submariner in 1954. This pair of underwater timekeeper­s set the early standard—and remain two of the most storied models still in production— though many of today’s devotees simply want a waterproof watch they can wear while swimming. Or one that will look cool on their wrist at the beach club.

Travel-guide Ratings

English writer Mariana Starke was a fearless woman ahead of her time. In the early 1800s, she pinballed around France and Italy on a solo journey that few in the literarymi­nded sisterhood would have dared venture. But she was on a mission: Starke wanted to provide guidance to those who followed in her footsteps. She began writing accounts of what she saw and ranked them by importance with exclamatio­n marks, awarding each site between one and five depending on how it impressed her. Earning a coveted five was a rare achievemen­t—the frescoes of the Sistine Chapel, for instance, received that accolade, while the Mona

Lisa scored but one. Her Travels on the Continent was an instant hit.

That instinct to provide a quantifier of quality was spot-on and inspired others, including the better-known Baedeker, to mimic her efforts. That guide, though, used one or two stars; it wasn’t until 1958 that the fivestar system emerged fully formed. That’s the year the first edition of the Mobil

Travel Guide—a handbook to roadside lodgings underwritt­en by Magnolia Oil (now part of Exxon Mobil) and covering the gas-station chain’s territory of Arkansas, Louisiana, Oklahoma, Texas, and New Mexico—was published. Each accommodat­ion was graded by husbandand-wife authors Marion and Alden Stevens on a scale from one to five stars, cementing the shorthand for top quality that’s now recognized around the world.

Aniline Dye

Period dramas set in the high Victorian era often make the same rookie mistake: dressing actors in drab, dun colors, as if the queen’s decades-long dedication to mourning was a society-wide diktat. Walking down the street in the 1870s or 1880s, in fact, wealthy women and men would be dressed in clashing fluorescen­t shades, a nod to the newfound invention that transforme­d fashion design after 1856: aniline dye.

When 18-year-old chemist William Perkin stumbled on an artificial way of coloring cloth while trying to produce malaria-fighting quinine from coal tar, he unlocked an entirely new palette. Gone were the muted natural dyes, replaced by a swirling, eye-popping assortment, starting with his signature mauve. Once Queen Victoria wore the hue to her eldest daughter’s wedding in 1858, it became a sensation—as did magenta and other similar shades.

Chanel No. 5

While vacationin­g in the South of France, Coco Chanel met perfumer Ernest Beaux and asked him to create a fragrance that smelled “like a woman, and not like a rose.” (At the time, shortly after the end of WWI, wealthy ladies typically wore the scent of a single flower.) He developed several options, and the highly superstiti­ous, numerology obsessed designer chose the aroma in the fifth vial he presented: a blend of jasmine, moss, sandalwood, ylangylang, and citrus with a healthy dose of aldehydes.

On May 5, 1921—the fifth day of the fifth month—chanel debuted the scent alongside her new clothes in her boutique on Paris’s Rue Cambon. Though other designers had offered perfumes before, Chanel No. 5 was the first to be eponymousl­y named. Its runaway success paved the way for Calvin Klein’s CK One, Hermès’s H24, Comme des Garçons’s 8 88, and all the rest.

Sable-hair Paintbrush

Artists have used brushes made of feathers or animal hair for millennia, but when they picked up paint-daubing tools equipped with the silky, adaptable bristles of the Siberian weasel, or sable, hundreds of years ago, they unlocked nuance and detail in painting like never before. Without it, the delicacy and precision of so many old masters— whether a softly sexy Raphael Madonna or a disconcert­ingly lifelike Holbein portrait—would be lost, the resulting paintings smudgier and less dazzling.

Louis Vuitton Steamer Trunk

Sure, this trunk might be synonymous with luxury now, the origin story for one of the world’s most enduring high-end brands. But forget all that and consider that the steamer trunk was a symptom of a societal change among the affluent, representi­ng a yen for regular travel.

Young European noblemen had always taken a grand tour, but in the 19th century, frequent, pleasure-seeking travel became a fixture for the upper classes, newly able to gallivant by steam train or cruise liner. These modern modes of transport required a handier way of conveying passengers’ possession­s— hence the steamer trunk, the ultimate convenienc­e for the earliest globetrott­ers and a direct precursor to our era’s ubiquitous fourwheele­d suitcase.

Canned Lobster

Before the mid-19th century, lobsters were staples of working-class dinner tables in New England; a family with shells in its garbage was assumed to be living in poverty. Indentured servants in one household even took their employers to court, winning a ruling that they could be required to eat the shellfish only three times each week. The first attempt to export lobster beyond local regions as a de facto delicacy came when canneries were establishe­d there in 1841. Unfortunat­ely, demand led to overfishin­g, causing that nascent industry to implode. But later in the century, thanks to the railway network and ice-packing, upscale vacationer­s in the area could take the seafood they’d enjoyed back to their mansions in Boston or Philadelph­ia—turning the humble lobster into a dinner-party showstoppe­r and demonstrat­ing the ability to rehabilita­te the reputation of even the lowliest goods. See also: eel

The Theory of the Leisure Class by Thorstein Veblen

Thorstein Veblen’s 1899 magnum opus, The Theory of the Leisure Class, could be considered a forerunner of the behavioral economics so popular now. As he witnessed the Gilded Age’s explosion of consumeris­m, Veblen observed that not all goods behaved equally. Unlike commoditie­s such as flour or coal, luxury status symbols became more desirable as their prices rose; these Veblen goods, as they became known, were immune to changes in supply or demand.

Call it gilt by associatio­n. Indeed, the Achilles’ heel of such items is discountin­g, which chips away at the aura of prestige. Over the past two decades, the prices of many luxury goods have risen far faster than inflation. In 2005, Chanel’s Medium Classic Flap bag cost $1,650; it broke the $10,000 mark in 2023. The steep price tag hasn’t dented demand at all—and it’s easy to gauge the bag’s resilient appeal.

One Stanford University study asked volunteers to try three Cabernet Sauvignons and declare their favorite. Whichever liquid was in the most expensive bottle consistent­ly garnered the greatest plaudits, a reminder that high prices can be reassuring.

Valaze Skin Cream by Helena Rubinstein

Helena Rubinstein swore that the original, secret recipe for her fortune-building moisturize­r was given to her mother by a pharmacist back in her native Poland. Whether that was true is debatable, since Valaze, the product Rubinstein launched in 1902 while living in Australia, was based on an ingredient that was particular­ly plentiful in that sheep-farming hub—lanolin. Her pivotal invention, though, wasn’t the formula, but rather her business model: mass marketing luxury skincare.

Rubinstein opened salons around the world to sell her products and the lifestyle associated with them, offering everything from skin analysis to deportment classes.

She also innovated with research and developmen­t: The first waterproof mascara, for example, was a Rubinstein-propelled leap forward. When she died in New York in 1965 at the age of 94, her net worth was so vast that she stored her jewelry alphabetic­ally in a filing cabinet (D for diamonds and so on). Rubinstein wasn’t alone— Elizabeth Arden, with whom she feuded with particular gusto, adopted a similarly mold-breaking approach, as did Charles Revson of Revlon and Hollywood anointed Max Factor. But it was Rubinstein’s template they, and countless subsequent beauty brands, have followed.

Residentia­l Pool

It wasn’t until the end of the 19th century that swimming shifted from wellness pursuit to recreation­al activity and wealthy homeowners began installing pools. One early adopter was George W. Vanderbilt, who had one of the country’s first private outdoor swimming pools constructe­d at Pointe d’acadie in Bar Harbor, Maine, in 1891.

By then, constructi­on had begun on his famous Biltmore Estate in Asheville, N.C., which, upon completion in 1895, set the bar as the largest private residence in the U.S. Designed by architect Richard Morris Hunt, the elaborate, 175,000-square-foot mansion featured 250 rooms, 65 fireplaces, 42 bathrooms, and a slew of splashy extras including a bowling alley, a gymnasium, and most notably, a heated indoor swimming pool. Located in the basement, it held 70,000 gallons of water and was ablaze with underwater lights—a technologi­cal wonder in the early years of electricit­y. Other wellto-do sorts followed Vanderbilt’s example, including Thomas Edison, who constructe­d an in-ground version at his Florida home in 1910. Between 1924 and 1936, publishing tycoon William Randolph Hearst installed not one but two pools at his famed Hearst Castle in San Simeon, Calif., and by the 1950s, no self-respecting business mogul or Hollywood star could live without one.


In ancient Rome, apartments at the top of the surprising­ly tall buildings known as insulae were the cheapest, mostly thanks to their extra flights of stairs. For centuries thereafter, the uppermost floors remained least desirable (think servants’ quarters and Parisian garrets) until the invention of the commercial passenger elevator in the 1850s. Industrial­ist Elisha Otis accidental­ly upended the prestige of towering structures, his “upstairs omnibus” enabling developers to rechristen those low-rent rooms as penthouses, to be sold or leased at a premium for their unparallel­ed views and cleaner air.

Herringbon­e Brick

Visitors to Florence will be familiar with the sensation of reverse vertigo that occurs when, turning a corner in a dark maze of alleys, you stumble upon the massive marble base of Santa Maria del Fiore and suddenly find yourself squinting up at its famous dome 376 feet above your tiny head.

Yet the true wonder of the dome is much smaller than its towering exterior, and its legacy much greater: the humble brick— or, more specifical­ly, the ingenious bricklayin­g pattern pioneered by its architect, Filippo Brunellesc­hi, whose groundbrea­king designs have underpinne­d dome building ever since.

Brunellesc­hi won a competitio­n in 1420 to create a dome atop the recently erected walls of Florence’s cathedral, known as the Duomo. His brief stipulated that it be 180 feet in diameter, with no internal supporting arches and no external buttresses—or even scaffoldin­g.

Inspired by the concrete cupola of the Roman Pantheon, Brunellesc­hi proposed an imaginativ­e double shell: an outer, decorative dome supported by an inner one built using a herringbon­e pattern (spina pesce in Italian) in which a helix of vertical bricks swirls through the horizontal layers, creating a series of self-supporting arches.

Brunellesc­hi’s dome was the first freestandi­ng example since classical times, and it remains the world’s biggest masonry version to this day. Dome builders ever since have paid homage to Brunellesc­hi’s genius: Michelange­lo used the same technique for

St. Peter’s, as did the architects of the Panthéon in Paris and the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C.

Many major examples also feature Brunellesc­hi’s winding stairwell between the two facades. In Florence, visitors can still see and touch the helix that merged art and science six centuries ago.


While jewelers had occasional­ly used platinum since the 18th century, it was Cartier that gave the precious metal its elite status, with others soon to follow. Inspired at the turn of the century by the garlands of fruit at Versailles’s Petit Trianon as well as the decorative wreath designs found on balconies, Louis Cartier’s “garland style” necessitat­ed a lighter metal: Casting tiaras with the ornate designs in gold or silver simply proved too heavy.

Cartier considered platinum but was vexed by its inability to form settings strong enough to hold diamonds or other stones. According to Francesca Cartier Brickell’s tome The Cartiers: The Untold Story of the Family Behind the Jewelry Empire, it was the bottom of a train carriage that sparked his idea for how to make the metal work—by using springs and trusses, like those supporting a railway car, to keep the gems in place. He sourced the valuable element from Russian mines and turned out beautiful creations that were significan­tly lighter than the gold designs of the time. In the age of the tiara, spanning the Art Nouveau and Art Deco periods, platinum took off with women tired of being weighed down.

Lear Jet

The famed Lear Jet 23 started out as the Swiss P-16 fighter jet, a warbird that never made it into service. But the design was so appealing that William P. Lear, whose inventions included the first car radio and the eight-track tape, immediatel­y grasped its potential to revolution­ize aviation. A handful of other business jets had already come to market, including the Lockheed Jetstar, but none had the ramp appeal of the sleek, futuristic Lear Jet: With its stubby wings and T-tail, the jet resembled the U.S. Air Force’s Mach 2 F-104 Starfighte­r, the hottest aircraft of the 1950s.

Certified in 1964, the six-passenger plane was snapped up by corporatio­ns and wealthy individual­s, among them Frank Sinatra, who used it to transport the Rat Pack between L.A., Las Vegas, and Palm Springs. A symbol of ’60s cool, the 561-mph Lear Jet 23 proved too fast and unpredicta­ble for many pilots, so Lear introduced the more stable 24 and 25 models; the 35 became its bestseller. As the technology has continued to evolve, so has demand. A personal jet is among the surest signifiers of wealth and prestige, whether you’re a tech mogul or a pop star.


Indigenous peoples were the first to use mahogany for oceangoing vessels, building dugout canoes in what is now the Caribbean and Central America. When Spanish explorers arrived, they quickly realized the wood’s value for shipbuildi­ng. Solid, buoyant, and resistant to rot, the trees often grow to heights of 150 feet. An even grain and reddishbro­wn hue also deliver on aesthetics.

In the 1600s, this “red gold” was a commodity harvested by enslaved labor, often leading to local revolts, large-scale conflicts, and supply disruption­s. During the so-called golden age of mahogany, from the 1720s through 1820s, demand hit a peak with boatbuilde­rs as well as with English furniture-makers such as Chippendal­e, Sheraton, and Hepplewhit­e. By the time of recreation­al boating’s rise in the early 20th century, the great mahogany forests of the Caribbean and Central America were seriously depleted, but the wood was still the choice for custom motorboats and other highend products. Marques such as Gar Wood, Hackercraf­t, Chris-craft, and

Riva competed not only with horsepower, but also through the beauty of their varnished hulls. In the early ’60s, the Riva Aquarama became pleasure boating’s new monarch. Venerated by royalty and Hollywood stars alike, the curvy and speedy Aquarama cost more than the most expensive Rollsroyce. Though fiberglass soon became boating’s preferred primary material, mostly thanks to its easy maintenanc­e, mahogany remains the standard of elegance.

Gainsborou­gh’s The Blue Boy

In the early 20th century, Joseph Duveen made a fortune by importing old masters from Europe at a quick clip for his clients—henry Clay Frick foremost among them, but also William Randolph Hearst and J. P. Morgan.

But his role in the acquisitio­n of the most famous portrait in the world at the time—gainsborou­gh’s The Blue Boy, then owned by the Duke of Westminste­r—cemented his reputation. Duveen orchestrat­ed its sale to the Huntington­s, in California, in whose collection (now a museum) it still hangs today. The painting even went on a farewell tour in Britain: More than 90,000 people came to see it at the National Gallery in London before it departed.

Duveen was more than a dealer; he effectivel­y created a new career: art adviser. Few collectors today would consider a major purchase without input from an expert like Duveen, while his ruthlessne­ss helped define a competitiv­eness that is a legacy in itself. When a client once mentioned wanting to buy a 16th-century painting from a rival dealer, Duveen said, “I sniff fresh paint.”

Issey Miyake Turtleneck

What started as an attempt to create a work uniform wound up producing a template for quiet luxury, that understate­d take on everything discreetly upscale. Steve Jobs approached Issey Miyake after seeing the ripstop-nylon uniform the Japanese designer had devised for Sony workers in the early 1980s: Jobs wondered if he could dream up something similar for a certain company based in Cupertino, Calif., that Jobs ran. Miyake was game, but the Apple team members pushed back, their American individual­ism riled.

Still, Jobs befriended Miyake and pursued the idea differentl­y, adopting, in the early 1980s, his own uniform via the designer instead: the black mock turtleneck, reclaimed from the beatniks. It helped define the Apple CEO’S personal brand, making him instantly recognizab­le—so much so that fraudster Elizabeth Holmes of Theranos mimicked Jobs’s wardrobe in her attempt to exude an aura of genius.

Jobs wore little else: His closet was full of the same sweater, enough to wear daily for the rest of his life. (Miyake retired the style in 2011, the year Jobs died, but reintroduc­ed it, slightly modified, six years later as the Semi-dull T.) More symbolical­ly, the garment telegraphs a distinct approach to luxury, one that embraces quality without showy logos or flashy details; it suggests both a studied disinteres­t and a deep engagement with style. It’s a signal and a signifier, one that only those in the know can read.


Mattresses have been around since ancient Egyptian and Roman times, though people weren’t sleeping on anything close to what we’re used to today. Early iterations included raised wooden or metal platforms topped by cushions stuffed with moss, wood shavings, straw—even seaweed. But in

1852, Hästens was founded with the idea of making saddles, upholstery, and, yes, mattresses, all with the same padding know-how. The family-owned Swedish company filled its handcrafte­d wares with high-quality natural materials such as horsetail hair, cotton, wool, and flax and was soon a favorite of the elite; a century later, Sweden’s King Gustaf VI Adolf appointed it royal purveyor. Today, five-figure mattresses are ubiquitous in well-appointed homes and luxury hotels around the world.


Cashmere’s cachet is entangled with the vestiges of empire. The earliest documented use of this goat wool dates back to the 14th century in Central and East Asia, but it took 400 years for it to become a prized luxury trifle: In Britain and France, women wearing fashionabl­e short-sleeved, high-waisted neoclassic­al gowns (fittingly known as Empire dresses) craved a warming shawl for chilly evenings. It was an innovative statement to opt for one made in the regions that Europe was rushing to colonize; the fiber earned its name from Kashmir, then a hub for manufactur­e.

The mills that later appeared in Britain as a result of the industrial revolution became processing centers for wool of all kinds, cashmere included, and Scottish factories remain cashmere specialist­s today—though empire drove that business, too: Wool was needed in mass quantities for the uniforms of Britain’s globetrott­ing soldiers.

Château Haut-brion

Château Haut-brion was the world’s first luxury brand. Yes, it competes with the likes of Latour and Margaux, but it has an accolade those better-known rivals don’t: Its owners saw the value of marketing centuries before that discipline became formalized.

Rather than selling just “red wine,” they chose to brand their bottles so that Haut-brion had name recognitio­n beyond its fellow Bordeaux.

The vineyard has been owned by the family of American banker Clarence Dillon for the past century or so, and they’ve dug deep into its archives in pursuit of bragging rights, unearthing references by the 17th-century British diarist Samuel Pepys boasting of drinking “Ho Bryan” and deeming it “good and most particular.” Perhaps its latest distinctio­n is just as vital: It was Hautbrion that

Connor Roy was spotted sipping at his disastrous rehearsal dinner in that show’s final season.

Light Switch

It’s a fitting invention from someone who believed that we can all access the light within:

John Henry Holmes was the British Quaker who devised the first light switch, in the 1880s, as electricit­y began to displace candles around the world. Almost 150 years later, it has become a metaphor for the simplicity that should be a hallmark of any luxury experience.

By the 2010s, checking into a five-star hotel was a time-sucking process— mostly due to the detailed explanatio­ns required upon entering the room, where every element seemed needlessly tech-loaded (think: an ipad to open the window shades). It was the apogee of overthinki­ng in design, with buttons, screens, and extraneous devices proliferat­ing in a way that interfered with the experience rather than enhancing it. Now, such excesses have mostly receded, largely thanks to the increasing power of the device in our palms, but also because hoteliers have again acknowledg­ed the inherent luxury of simplicity. A single master switch, which dims or brightens the entire room with one click, remains a symbol of smart design in the modern day.

Little Black Dress

In 1926, Gabrielle “Coco” Chanel did more than design a dress; she reclaimed an entire color. Until her long-sleeved day dress in silk crepe de Chine was featured in an issue of American Vogue, black was reserved for mourning and service, worn to express sorrow or to hide the grubby realities of shop work or scrubbing floors. Hers was a quietly radical move that echoes even today in every black gown at a gala, as well as in every chic dress of the same hue waiting in closets worldwide to rescue their owners from the universal “I have nothing to wear” panic. Famously (though possibly apocryphal­ly) Chanel was spotted on the street wearing one of her new LBDS by her archrival Paul Poiret, who acidly asked her for whom she was mourning. “For you, dear Monsieur!” she shot back.

The likely inspiratio­n is often overlooked. Seven years earlier, Chanel’s lover, Arthur “Boy”

Capel, was killed in a car accident, throwing her into unfathomab­le grief. The decision to reclaim funereal black may have been sparked by her determinat­ion to shuck off the shackles of mourning.

Farnsworth House

Any design buff can reel off German-born architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe’s greatest hits: the Barcelona Pavilion, New York’s Seagram Building, and Lafayette Park in Detroit. But it’s the 1,500-square-foot steel-and-glass Edith Farnsworth House that would have the strongest influence on the future of architectu­re.

Commission­ed during a dinner party by Edith Farnsworth (who, as a female physician in the 1940s, was herself something of an iconoclast) as a weekend retreat in Plano, Ill., the residence was designed in the internatio­nal style. Coupled with Mies’s mantra of “less is more,” the rectangula­r form is essentiall­y a glass box: Wall-to-wall, floor-to-ceiling windows connect interiors with the surroundin­g landscape while putting the living spaces, sectioned off like a modern-day loft, on full display—a revolution­ary concept at the time. Even Philip Johnson’s arguably more famous Glass House took its cues from Farnsworth, as Johnson readily acknowledg­ed.

(His New Canaan, Conn., structure was completed first, but he had been privy to the Farnsworth blueprints and had even curated a 1947 exhibition of Mies’s work at the Museum of Modern Art that included the design for the Illinois residence.)

While a protracted and public legal battle between Mies and his client—the two were also rumored to have been lovers—delayed constructi­on and for a time overshadow­ed the house itself, it’s now recognized as having rewritten the American architectu­ral vernacular, popularizi­ng modernism and becoming one of the most important residentia­l works of the

20th century in the process.


In the 1630s, the Dutch were suddenly gripped by tulipomani­a, a Bitcoinlev­el frenzy during which a single bulb could fetch more per ounce than diamonds (at least, until the market crashed almost overnight). Two centuries later, Victorian Britons appeared to suffer from a variant virus called orchidelir­ium, an all-consuming obsession with the fragile exotic plants first propagated commercial­ly in the early 19th century. The blooms became the markers of an elegant, upscale home from the 1830s onward. Both demonstrat­ed the ability of a flower to be the ultimate luxury item—delicate, beautiful, and fleeting.

Image Scanner

Photograph­y had long been seen as painting’s lesser stepchild, rarely if ever given the same respect in the art world as oil-slathered canvases. Over the course of the 20th century, various artists—from Man Ray to Cindy Sherman— gradually changed that attitude, but one invention helped elevate the medium to the level of painting or sculpture: digital image scanners.

Though an image was first digitally scanned into a computer in 1957—a blackand-white photo of a computer engineer’s infant son—it took a few decades before the pixels multiplied exponentia­lly, promising high-resolution images that could be printed at monumental sizes (sometimes seamed together because the paper size hadn’t kept up with the technology). Scanners also enabled photograph­ers to manipulate images digitally, unleashing a wave of creativity among new generation­s of artists, from Jeff Wall to Carrie Mae Weems.


Henry Poole was a menswear pioneer. The British tailor, who made his name in uniforms for the Napoleonic Wars, was the first to open on Savile Row; it was his son, in fact, who turned the back entrance to their workshop into the main door.

Poole created a casual smoking jacket made of silk with matching trousers for the Prince of Wales (later

King Edward VII) to wear at less-formal dinners at his country home in the 1860s. Poole had several customers stateside who likely copied the prince’s lead some years later: When they wore the tail-less eveningwea­r to the Autumn Ball of the Tuxedo

Park Club, north of New

York City, the place deeded its name to the same design for Americans. Tuxedo Park natives like to tell the story in reverse—that fashion-forward clubgoers inspired the royal— but evidence suggests this innovation originated across the pond. Either way, the tux, in all its incarnatio­ns, remains the epitome of masculine sartorial elegance.

Rambo Lambo

The Lamborghin­i LM002, dubbed the Rambo Lambo, was as prescient as it was extreme, foreshadow­ing by decades the rise in luxury high-performanc­e SUVS. Originally intended for military use, the prototype LM series (for Lamborghin­i Militaria), code-named Cheetah, was developed in 1977 to compete in the Jeep market— which at the time meant the armed services and work applicatio­ns. After an underpower­ed, poorhandli­ng version with a 5.9-liter Chrysler V-8 engine mounted in the rear didn’t catch on, Lamborghin­i’s 1982 LMA002 prototype, using the marque’s own Countach V-12 up front, seemed to have gotten things right; a contract with the Saudi military looked promising, though it failed to materializ­e. Undaunted, Lamborghin­i revised the concept as the LM002 and unveiled it at the Brussels Auto Show in 1986.

The Rambo Lambo predicted our current infatuatio­n with not only luxe utility vehicles but also with size: Dwarfing even contempora­ry SUVS, the LM002 clocked in at 6.5 feet wide, almost 16 feet long, over six feet tall, and weighing nearly 6,800 pounds, including the 45-gallon fuel tank.

Only 328 examples were produced between 1986 and 1993, though given how odd it was in its own era, that figure could be considered a ringing success. Fast-forward to 2024, and nearly every luxury marque, from Ferrari to Rolls-royce, has an Suv—the bigger, bolder, blingier, the better. But Lamborghin­i went there first.


Wine has been around since the Stone Age, but it was initially kept in animal skins, which surely didn’t improve the flavor. Around 6000

B.C.E., someone, likely in what is now the country of Georgia, had the idea to put it in clay pots. That region’s

qvevri vessels (which some still use today) opened the door for further fermentati­on, aging, and storage. More importantl­y, they led to the creation of amphorae, which enabled wine to be shipped long distances. Their use spread through the Middle East and the Mediterran­ean, carried across land and sea by the Phoenician­s and Greeks. By the time of Alexander the Great, the Egyptians had perfected amphorae by making the bottoms pointed, enabling them to stand upright in sand in a ship’s hold. (Presaging the 20th century’s influentia­l critics, merchants also inscribed the pots with “wine notes” that included the maker’s name, area of origin, and tasting observatio­ns.) These innovation­s helped spread winemaking culture into western and northern Europe during the Roman Empire, laying the groundwork for vines to be planted in what are now Bordeaux, the Rhône and Mosel valleys, and beyond.


The round opening that has defined oceangoing vessels for more than 500 years began as a means to arm warships. When King Henry VIII commission­ed the Mary

Rose in 1510, the only way to use heavy cannons was by cutting holes in the hull to create gunports. The porthole, as it came to be called, was soon ubiquitous throughout the maritime world— mostly because circular openings have more structural integrity than squares.

The windows let light and air enter dark cabins, while their impervious­ness to external pressure made them suitable for subs and rocket ships. They became popular architectu­ral features in the

1920s with Streamline Moderne and

Art Deco designs, which often referenced ocean liners. But as glass technology has matured, they’ve been replaced by large windows that provide significan­tly better light and views: Some of today’s superyacht­s—such as the 141-foot This Is

It—have hull sides made of as much as 80 percent glass.


One might assume that wearing time on the wrist would be a practicali­ty intended for a bygone generation of men. In fact, the first wristwatch was created for a singular woman. In 1810, the Queen of Naples (a.k.a. Napoléon Bonaparte’s youngest sister, Caroline Murat) put in an order with Abraham-louis Breguet for a rather unusual timekeeper: one to be fastened around her wrist in the form of a bracelet made of hair woven with gold thread. The finished piece featured a complex minute-repeating function as well as a thermomete­r.

Wristwatch­es soon became popular among other royals and nobles— the women, anyway. It wasn’t until the late 19th century that modern warfare made the wristwatch commonplac­e among men; the Cartier Santos-dumont was designed as a pilot’s watch in 1904, while the Cartier Tank was inspired by the Renault FT-17 tank in 1917. By the time World War I ended, the Queen of Naples’s unique request had become standard fare, and today’s entire $101 billion watch market has her to thank. (In fact, Breguet’s Reine de Naples still exists—with straps made of fine leather, steel, or precious metals.)

Power Steering

If you’ve ever driven a Porsche 356, a

Jaguar E-type, or even just an entry-level openwheel race car, you know just how much opulence power steering adds to an automobile. But this invention isn’t just about the ability to forego a full upper-body resistance workout at low speeds or in fast corners; it’s also about where the advancemen­t has led us today. Power steering, introduced on the Chrysler Imperial in 1951, was the first automotive system to meaningful­ly sever the connection between car and driver, adding a hydraulic mechanism that translated, rather than responded directly to, human input. In the decades since, such systems have proliferat­ed and gone electronic, from push-to-park to steer-bywire. In many cars today, it’s the machine that decides exactly how much throttle, steering, or braking you

really need—and when you really need it.

The endgame is a fully autonomous car, a propositio­n that driving enthusiast­s abhor. But though skillful driving is a labor of love, the luxury of being driven is, as it always has been, a love of no labor.

 ?? ??
 ?? ??
 ?? ??
 ?? ??
 ?? ??
 ?? ??
 ?? ??
 ?? ??
 ?? ??
 ?? ??
 ?? ??
 ?? ??
 ?? ??
 ?? ??
 ?? ??
 ?? ??
 ?? ??
 ?? ??
 ?? ??
 ?? ??
 ?? ??
 ?? ??
 ?? ??
 ?? ??
 ?? ??
 ?? ??
 ?? ??
 ?? ??
 ?? ??
 ?? ??
 ?? ??

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from United States