Lady Diana’s Wedding Tiara to Star in Sotheby’s Jubilee Tiara Exhibition
The Spencer Tiara
Worn by Diana, Princess of Wales on Her Wedding Day
To be Exhibited at Sotheby’s London
As Part of the UK’s Largest Tiara Exhibition in Two Decades
– Held to Mark The Queen’s Platinum Jubilee Celebrations this Summer –
With Nearly 50 Royal & Aristocratic Tiaras on View,
Including an Emerald & Diamond Tiara Designed by Prince Albert for Queen Victoria,
A Diadem Reputedly Worn by Joséphine Bonaparte
& Several Pieces Worn by Guests at the 1953 Coronation
“The Queen’s Jubilee celebrations have given us the perfect opportunity to put on public display an outstanding selection of tiaras from noble and royal provenance, many of which haven’t been exhibited in decades.
The sourcing of these jewels has been a labour of love, resulting in an exhibition that showcases the best iterations within the tiara style register, through some of its most famous incarnations – including the much-loved and photographed Spencer Tiara.
This is also a wonderful moment for us to shine a special light on the dazzling craftsmanship delivered by generations of mainly British-based jewellers across several centuries of tiara making.” ~ Kristian Spofforth, Head of Jewellery at Sotheby’s London
As part of its Jubilee Season, a month-long programme of exhibitions, auctions and events celebrating The Queen’s reign, Sotheby’s will open the largest tiara exhibition to be staged in the UK in 20 years – paying homage to one of the most symbolic signifiers of the monarch’s perennial style: the tiara.
The exhibition will feature some 50 tiaras of aristocratic and royal provenance, with some pieces to be exhibited publicly for the first time.
Virtually all of the tiaras in the exhibition were made for and owned by British nobility and together they offer a dazzling and comprehensive review of all major tiara design styles, through some of the genre’s most exemplary exponents.
A number of tiaras in the exhibition were worn for the Queen’s Coronation in 1953, such as the Anglesey Tiara thought to have been made around 1890; the Derby Tiara initially created for the Duchess of Devonshire in 1893 and the Westminster Halo Tiara, commissioned to Paris-based jewellers Lacloche Frères in 1930 by the Duke of Westminster for his bride Loelia Ponsonby. They bring a moving and direct link to this year’s Jubilee celebrations.
Across nearly 50 items on show, the exhibition features the most established design styles within the tiara genre, including Napoleonic Empire, Romantic Naturalism, Belle Epoque, Art Deco, Modern and Contemporary designs.
The Spencer Tiara
Among the most special pieces within the exhibition is the historic Spencer Tiara, worn by one of the most influential members of the Royal Family past and present. Reported to have been initially created in 1767 and passed down the generations within the Spencer family, it was worn by Lady Diana, just over 40 years ago, and turned heads when Lady Diana stepped into St. Paul’s Cathedral in the most highly anticipated Royal wedding of the past century. It will now be exhibited in London for the first time since the 1960s.
Its famous garland style design has a central heart-shaped motif set with diamonds flanked by continuous running scrolls, interspersed with star- and trumpet-shaped flowers – also set with diamonds, mounted in silver and gold.
The heart-shaped piece was particularly sentimental to Lady Diana as her grandmother, Lady Cynthia Hamilton, received it as a wedding present for her 1919 marriage to “Jack”, Viscount Althorp, the future 7th Earl Spencer.
Over nearly 200 years, as is often the case in jewellery of this kind, the Spencer tiara was added to and transformed until crown jeweller Garrard was commissioned in the 1930s to turn the tiara into the final article.
Lady Diana was known to be fond of the Spencer Tiara, often wearing it to white-tie events – sporting the dazzling piece at least seven times between 1983 and 1992 on special occasions during royal tours and high-profile events within and outside the UK.
Queen Victoria’s Emerald and Diamond Tiara
A further highlight is an Emerald and Diamond Tiara designed by Prince Albert in his favoured Gothic Revival style for his wife Queen Victoria in 1845, crafted by crown jeweller Joseph Kitching for the princely sum of £1,150.
One of several the Prince conceived for his wife over the years, this was reportedly her favourite of them all, and is widely seen as one of the most elegant and sumptuous coloured gemstone tiaras ever created anywhere in the world.
Set in gold, it has wonderful symmetry and balance with cushion-shaped diamonds interspersed with step-cut emeralds lined across its base, topped by further diamonds and emeralds shaped in scrolls and surmounted by a graduated row of 19 inverted cabochon pear-shaped emeralds, the largest of which weighs 15 carats.
This tiara is often associated with representations of a younger Queen Victoria with her family – chief among those is the ‘The Royal Family in 1846’ portrait by Franz Xaver Winterhalter, depicting Queen Victoria with Prince Albert surrounded by their children, as well as a number of more intimate portraits by the artist.
Queen Victoria is also known to have worn the tiara on several royal and official engagements, including a state visit to France in 1855.
Joséphine Bonaparte’s Gold, Cameo and Enamel Diadem
Joséphine Bonaparte’s Gold, Cameo and Enamel Diadem encapsulates the rebirth of the tiara as a highly desirable jewellery and fashion trend.
Taking inspiration from ancient Greece’s and Rome’s head ornaments, Joséphine Bonaparte reintroduced tiaras through a Neoclassical style that was unique in mixing decorative items such intaglios and decorated cameos with more precious elements such pearls and diamonds.
This example is a highly rare tiara, exquisitely showcasing the very finest early 19th-century French craftsmanship.
The gold diadem is adorned with five oval hardstone cameos made of layered agate and jasper – initially created between 16th and 18th century – including the head of Medusa and a profile of Zeus, all within a border of blue enamel and connected by two rows of undulating entrelac de ruban motifs, each with a blue enamel lozenge motif at the centre.
The diadem was made in Paris for Joséphine Bonaparte by artist Jacques-Ambroise Oliveras, around 1805. This tiara was sold previously by Sotheby’s London last December as part of a set of two which sold above estimate at £576,600 (est. £300,000-500,000).
Fuelled by a growing appreciation of tiaras as pieces of history and works of art, but perhaps also by the various high-profile royal weddings of recent years, the phenomenons that are Netflix’s The Crown and Bridgerton, and the return of ornamental headpieces to fashion and events such as The Met Gala, demand has markedly increased with tiaras setting landmark prices at auction in recent years.
In May last year, Sotheby’s offered for sale, a magnificent tiara passed down through generations of the Royal family of Italy, steeped in the rich history of the House of Savoy.
The jewel in natural pearls and diamonds was one of the most important tiaras to appear on the market, achieving $1,633,891 (estimate of $1-1.5 million) – one of the highest prices paid for a tiara in the last few years.
The increased interest in tiaras has been particularly notable in Asia. A third of the tiaras offered in Sotheby’s worldwide sales were bought by Asian buyers in the past five years and to address and nurture the local interest, the number of tiaras offered in our Hong Kong flagship sales has quadrupled over the same period. The Savoy tiara mentioned above, was in fact also bought by a private Asian collector.
Tiaras on sale
While the majority of the historic tiaras have been generously loaned to Sotheby’s for this exhibition, and will be returned to their respective collection afterwards, a small number will be available for sale, including exciting new commissions by leading contemporary British jewellers such as Christopher Thompson-Royds and Kiki McDonough.
They are the 1930 gem-set silver bandeau tiara featuring foliage and flowers; the 1900 bandeau-style diamond tiara; a circa 1880s fringe diamond tiara and necklace; a Garrad silver-gilt coronet from a design by the 1st Duke of Wellington.
A late 19th century diamond-set palmette and cluster motif tiara; a late 19th century diamond-set tiara; a cultured pearl fringe tiara; a 1920’s Cartier amethyst, sapphire, onyx and diamond bandeau; an Art Deco platinum and diamond halo tiara from circa 1925-30’s and the Anglesey Tiara and a ‘Diamond Tiara’ formerly in the collection of the late Countess Mountbatten of Burma (prices on request).
Historical overview of the tiara
The earliest tiaras were worn as simple wreaths of branches and leaves, used in religious and funerary ceremonies, most notably in Ancient Greece. The Romans subsequently adopted the gold wreath as the supreme indication of rank and honour for both men and women, and since then, tiaras have undergone many transformations along with periods of neglect and revival, reflecting changing tastes and fashions across centuries.
While the Middle Ages saw garlands of floral motifs worn as bandeaux around the head, Renaissance fashions preferred gem-set ornaments worn directly in the hair.
In the last quarter of the 18th century, inspired by Ancient Greece and the stylistic splendour of the Roman Empire, Napoleon Bonaparte redeployed sumptuous Neoclassical wreath-like crowns for himself and tiaras to elevate those of humble status to royalty – whilst his wife became emblematic of the new Empire fashion inclusive of ubiquitous tiara wearing.
By the 1830s, prompted by Romanticism, naturalistic elements – usually borrowed from the natural world, and focusing on flowers and plants – tiaras gradually returned.
Throughout the Belle Epoque, with the rise of a new class of wealthy individuals, fabulous tiaras by Cartier, Chaumet and Boucheron were de rigueur – not only in royal courts, but at the opera and at formal dinners too.
The Art Deco period provided a radical shift in aesthetics: the bandeaux of the 1920s and 1930s abandoned the decorative motifs of the garland style and adopted the geometric shapes symbolic of the style – representing modernity at its most future-forward.
Following the Second World War, tiaras made a comeback in the 1950s, often complementing sumptuous evening dresses and ballgowns but had been de rigeur for many years for ladies in occasions such as the of the State Opening of Parliament.
With the widely televised coronation of Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II in 1953, and the yearly broadcast of the State Opening of Parliament in 1958, the finest tiaras were witnessed for the first time by a global audience.
In the 1970s, designers such as Vivienne Westwood brought the tiara to the catwalk – and on the street of London by regularly wearing one herself, and today, major houses such as Chaumet and Harry Winston deliver commissions around the world.
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