This tiara was commissioned for Lady Allan by her husband, Sir Hugh Allan from Cartier in 1909. Sir Allan was a Canadian banker, ship owner and an avid sportsman who donated the Allan Cup for Canadian amateur ice hockey. He rose to chairman of The Allan Line, a family business, known as the Montreal Ocean Steam Ship Company, which operated from Glasgow and Liverpool carrying immigrants to Canada during the early 20th century, until it was taken over by the Canadian Pacific shipping Company in 1909. In 1906 he was created a knight bachelor by King Edward VII and in the following year was decorated Commander of the Royal Victorian Order.
In 1915 Lady Allan booked passage on the RMS Lusitania travelling from New York to Liverpool. The purpose of her trip was to organise and open a hospital for Canadian servicemen in Great Britain. She was accompanied by two of her three daughters Anna Marjory and Gwendolyn Evelyn and two maids: Emily Davis and Annie Walker. Among the jewels she included in her suite of luggage was this Cartier diamond tiara. At the time the Lusitania was the largest, and one of the fastest ocean liners in service on this route, and widely thought to be immune from attack. Although it was considered for requisition at the outbreak of war, it was ruled out due to her size, and her transatlantic crossings were reduced but allowed to continue.
On 4 February 1915, Germany declared the seas around the British Isles a war zone; any allied ships entering British waters risked attack from German U boats without prior warning. On the day the Allans departed, 1 May 1915, the Imperial German Embassy of Washington had placed a warning next to a newspaper advert for the Lusitania return voyage, but in spite of all risks the Lusitania set sail. Many were convinced that the sheer speed of the ship made her safe – she could achieve 21 knots, a total of ten knots faster that the German U boats.
At 2:10 pm, within sight of the coast of Ireland, the Lusitania crossed, by sheer misfortune, in front of German U boat, U20. Low on fuel and with only three torpedoes left she was, ironically, preparing to return home. Captain Schwieger gave the order to fire and in spite of his quartermaster’s refusal to attack women and children (an action which resulted in his court-martial and imprisonment) a single torpedo was launched.
As water flooded into the starboard compartments, the Lusitania sped on at 18 knots, forcing water into her hull. Chaos ensued as only six of the 48 lifeboats on board were safely lowered. The Lusitania sank in only 18 minutes with the loss of 1,198, of the 1,989 passengers on board, including almost 100 children, and among them the two daughters of Sir Hugh and Lady Allan. Lady Allan, though severely injured, survived the disaster along with her two maids, one of whom had kept the tiara with her when she was rescued.
Two years later, in 1917 the couple suffered further misfortune when their son, Hugh Allan died in the war on his first patrol with the Royal Navy Air Service in Belgium. Their surviving daughter Marguerite Martha, went on to found the Montreal Repertory Theatre, although Lady Allan would outlive her only surviving child by 15 years.