Happily Trapped In Tiffany's Dazzling Domain

December 23, 1990|By Joan Cook | Joan Cook,New York Times News Service

For months I have lived in a secret world, wedded to a Tiffany credit of $112 and change. Catalog follows catalog in the mail, and I savor the options each page presents, browsing among jewels, household accessories and other gewgaws, trying to decide on my secret, selfish Christmas gift.

The windfall is the aftermath of a visit by friends from abroad. In parting, they thoughtfully presented me with a stylish stamp box, unaware that I already had one that had belonged to my grandmother and that I treasure. Thus the return and the credit, which I assumed could only be reclaimed on the premises.

That assumption is crucial, as is the amount of the credit, which establishes boundaries on what might otherwise be a preposterous, larger-than-life fantasy like that of the elderly Englishwoman who went around the world visiting all the exotic places she had longed to see, using credit cards for currency.

By paying off one card with another, she kept her own version of the pyramid scheme afloat until well into her 90s, when she died happy owing a bundle of uncollectable bills.

Each month a creamy white envelope reminds me of my obligation to spend. The bill reads reassuringly: "Your account indicates a credit balance. No remittance is necessary," a subtle way of telling you that the money is burdening the store.

I have toyed with the crystal champagne bucket with scroll handles, which at $50 permits me to add four champagne flutes for $48 for the dining room sideboard. On the other hand, a dinner party for six could be preceded by a holiday nip from the 12-ounce double old fashioned glasses at $13 a pop.

I know, I know, six glasses at $13 apiece comes to $78, so I should order eight. My dinner table only seats six comfortably.

Faced with this dazzling variety of choices, I considered having my ears pierced -- an idea I have entertained off and on over the last 20 years or so -- and filling the spaces with those rosy-white cultured pearls, the ones with posts of 14-karat gold.

A phone call scuttled that one.

Even with a little help from the piggy bank, cultured pearls were clearly beyond the confines of $112.

Paloma Picasso does a heart pin in sterling silver for $95, which, taking into account the 8.25 percent sales tax, would do it. Ditto the silver "Love and Kisses" brooch, also at $95.

The problem is that I am partial to gold, which Ms. Picasso's designs also come in -- but with considerably higher price tags.

Alternately I lingered over the "swirl" ring in sterling silver with 18-karat gold accents for $100, or the "hook and eye" bracelet in the same combination at $110. But would the gold accent be enough to take the See TIFFANY, 2N, Col. 4TIFFANY, from 1N

curse off the sterling silver?

I could impress my friends with the "Ornament With Bow" greeting cards engraved on ecru folders (a box of 25 cards and envelopes is $62), and still have enough left for the sterling silver diamond-textured retractable ball-point purse pen at $32.

On second thought, 25 cards wouldn't be enough for the Christmas list, and as for those friends in need of being impressed, if any there be, the quicker they are winnowed out, the better.

Each time I wandered through the pages, I was stopped by the 3 1/4 -inch-high quartz desk clock in black nickel. The more I studied it, the more ideal it seemed for the empty spot left by the French enamel clock my mother gave me long ago and that I, in turn, passed on to my son and his wife when they fancied it. Moreover the desk clock was a Tiffany exclusive, a clincher if ever I saw one.

It was at that point that my eye fell on the back of the store's monthly missive, where the fine print lies.

Under the heading "credit balances," in small, neat type, the catalog said: "Any balance will be refunded after six months unless used. For an immediate refund write us at the address listed in the 'send inquiries' section on the front of this bill."

Tiffany, how could you? A few, ill-considered words and my Christmas fantasy is forever --ed on the hard rocks of reality.

How can I become the proud owner of an exclusive Tiffany timepiece when the family exchequer shows a raft of bills crying to be settled, ranging from the required-by-law chimney extension to a needed pump replacement?

Dear Santa Claus . . .

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