A s one of the most regal items of adornment short of a monarch’s crown, the tiara is symbolic of social standing and elegance. Yet, while the format is grand in character, charmingly, many of the finest examples throughout history have been inspired by the humblest natural elements – sprigs of flowers, ears of wheat, clusters of leaves, shells and waves.
From the floral tiaras and golden laurel wreaths of classical Greece, which served as inspiration for the diadems worn by Napoleon in emulation of Roman emperors, to blooms rendered in platinum and diamonds by Cartier and Garrard, these jewels are made softer, more human and more compelling by their earthy connections.
"Passed down through families, they look as much towards future generations as the chapters of their own illustrious past"
An enduring tradition of handmade craft connects the crowns of foliage used to worship ancient gods to the glittering headpieces worn by modern monarchs. Queen Victoria received a series of tiaras lovingly designed by Prince Albert most of which passed into the custody of Queen Elizabeth II, owner of the largest collection of tiaras in the world.
Today, whether naturalistic replicas or stylised Art Deco geometries, tiaras, coronets, circlets and bandeaus represent the embodiment of intimate artistry for the wearer and their legatees. Passed down through families, they look as much towards future generations as the chapters of their own illustrious past.
The Westminster Diamond Halo Tiara
This majestic tiara, twice sold at Sotheby’s, was originally designed around three historical diamonds by the French jeweller Lacloche Frères in the early 1930s. The two pear-shaped Arcot diamonds, given to Queen Charlotte by the Nawab of Arcot, were set to either side, flanking what was believed to be the Hastings diamond, a circular-cut stone given as a gift to King George III from Nizam Ali Khan in 1785. This impressive trio was acquired by the Marquess of Westminster, and used by the family in various jewels over the decades. The tiara was later sold to Harry Winston who reconfigured the tiara to include clusters of smaller diamonds in place of the three larger stones.
"Rocker Alice Cooper wore the tiara in its necklace form whilst posing with Salvador Dalí..."
Of a halo design reminiscent of a Chinese headdress, the diamonds are set in an openwork and somewhat geometric figuration, the entire diadem with an undulating and beautifully balanced silhouette. Famously photographed by Cecil Beaton for the Duke of Westminster’s third wife, Loelia’s, portrait, the halo-style diadem has continued to enchant over the years and has been seen on many public figures including, and perhaps unexpectedly, rocker Alice Cooper who wore the tiara in its necklace form whilst posing with Salvador Dalí.
The Spencer Tiara
As with so many precious pieces of jewellery, the Spencer Tiara is a combination of earlier jewels brought together into a delicate and harmonious series of running scrolls, interspersed with star and trumpet-shaped flowers. Most famously worn by Diana, Princess of Wales, on her wedding day in 1981, its origins can in fact be traced back to a diamond tiara created in 1767 for the Viscountess Montagu.
"Its flowing garland design is utterly timeless, making this a piece that transcends its famous outings"
There remains something of the characteristic classical foliate motifs of that era, but it remains difficult to determine which elements originate from this period, as it was later combined with various parts of Lady Sarah Spencer’s collection and, in 1937, turned into the Spencer Tiara by the royal jeweller Garrard. The tiara’s symbolism speaks for itself – heart-shaped scrolls and flowers can only mean love – and its flowing garland design is utterly timeless, making this a piece that transcends its famous outings.
The Cartier Diamond Tiara
This extraordinary tiara is testament to the craftsmanship of early 20th century jewellers. Created in 1904, Cartier was still being lauded across Europe for their 18th century-inspired garland style, which went on to become the very height of fashion during the Belle Epoque period. This was a moment of exploration for the Cartier family’s most creative scion, Louis, not least because his innovations in platinum, formerly an industrial metal, now allowed his jewellers to design pieces that were at once strong, flexible and light as air in style and construction.
"The fine, floating fronds of this tiara are clean of line, evoking sprays of foliage that sweep up and around the head of the wearer as if floating through water."
He described it as the ‘embroidery’ of jewellery, rather than the ‘armour’ of gold and silver. The fine, floating fronds of this tiara are clean of line, evoking sprays of foliage that sweep up and around the head of the wearer as if floating through water. The circular-cut diamonds set throughout are afforded their full glory in the minimal settings, and further brought to life by suspending the largest so they tremble with the smallest movement. The effect is remarkable, anticipating an Art Deco heyday that was still 20 years away.
The Rosebery Tiara
Centred on two magnificent diamonds, the impressive design of the Rosebery Tiara speaks of a moment of social and artistic shift. Created by a French jeweller in 1878 for the wedding of Hannah de Rothschild to the Earl of Rosebery, the tall diadem’s leaves and curlicues have the spiky symmetry of the Gothic revival encapsulated in Pugin’s recently completed Houses of Parliament.
"There is a new swell and grace in the structure, an early taste, perhaps, of the Arts & Crafts movement that would dominate the next 30 years of design..."
Yet there is a new swell and grace in their structure – an early taste, perhaps, of the Arts & Crafts movement that would dominate the next 30 years of design. The gently articulated silver and gold frame cedes all the glory to the judiciously selected diamonds, collet-set to show off their remarkable clarity and brilliance. The Illustrated London News report of the wedding gifts described it as ‘a lustrous court diadem with some unusually large stones’.