Property of a British Noblewoman
Designed as a halo to be worn over the crown of the wearer's head and extending outwards in the manner of a traditional Chinese headdress, originally set with the Hastings and Arcot diamonds, now replaced with smaller diamonds, set with approximately 1,400 diamonds in total, set throughout with pear-, cushion-shaped, baguette-, marquise-, circular- and rose-cut diamonds, converts as a necklace, inscribed 'Westminster Tiara' on the reverse, signed Winston, inner length approximately 352mm.
Loelia Ponsonby, third wife of the 2nd Duke of Westminster
Sotheby's London, June 1959, bought by Harry Winston who removed, cut, re-set and sold the three principal diamonds
Sotheby's London, October 1988
Exhibition catalogue, D. Scarisbrick, Tiara, Chronicle Books, San Francisco, 2000, p.6, illustrated
G. Munn, Tiaras: A History of Splendour, Antique Collectors Club, 2001, pp.258-259, illustrated
In the late 17th century, European fascination with the Far East began to be reflected in art and design. The trend continued into the next century but fell out of fashion in the 19th century. However, the rise in Art Deco design saw a return in vogue of the Eastern style and a blending of Chinoiserie motifs and design elements in this new modern aesthetic.
Exemplary of this is the Westminster Halo Tiara. The tiara takes inspiration from the traditional Chinese Fengguan and Kuitou headdresses but infuses it with modern, angular motifs and sleek baguette- and marquise-cut diamonds. It was most notably worn by the 3rd Duke’s wife Loelia Ponsonby, whom Cecil Beaton photographed wearing the tiara. The Duke’s second wife, Anne Sullivan, later wore the tiara to the coronation of Elizabeth II in 1952.
The tiara was originally created to showcase three exceptional diamonds: the Hastings diamond, gifted to King George III by Nizam Ali Kahn in 1785 via an intermediary, Warren Hastings; and the two pear-shaped Arcot diamonds which were originally a gift for Queen Charlotte from the Nawab of Arcot, Azim-Ud Daula. These three diamonds came into the hands of the Duke of Westminster after the deaths of the King and Queen when they were sold to the crown jeweller Rundell, Bridge & Rundell. They had previously been set in many of the Westminster family’s jewellery pieces before Lacloche was finally asked to incorporate them into the tiara design in 1930. The original tiara design featured the three impressive diamonds alongside some 1,400 smaller diamonds.
In June 1959, the tiara was bought by Harry Winston at Sotheby’s for £110,000 – a price that broke the world record at the time for a piece of jewellery sold at auction. He removed the Arcot and Hastings diamonds, recut them and sold them each as solitaire rings. (The tiara is now struck on the reverse with Harry Winston’s maker’s mark beside the setting). At one point, cabochon turquoise stones were set in the diamonds’ place – the tiara in this version was worn by Rose Movius Palmer, an American artist. The tiara can even be taken off its frame and worn as a necklace, as was demonstrated by Rockstar Alice Cooper in 1973 in an iconic photograph with Salvador Dalí. In October 1988, Sotheby’s once again sold the tiara, and the Arcot and Hastings diamonds continued to be sold and re-set into various forms such as a pendant created by jeweller Van Cleef & Arpels.
In its present form, the tiara has been redesigned to feature clusters of circular-, baguette-, marquise-cut, cushion- and pear-shaped diamonds in place of the original historic diamonds.