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So, for those of you who like fancy tiaras and/or heists, here is a fascinating story from Karlsruhe, a city in southwest Germany. At the end of April, a thief (or multiple thieves?) entered the Badisches Landesmuesum, a Baroque Palace which contains historical artifacts from many different eras of German history and brazenly jimmied open a display case containing the tiara of Grand Duchess Hilda of Baden. The diamond crown was apparently stolen during museum hours by a deft thief with the furtiveness and dexterity to defeat the 21stCentury security apparatus of the museum (although the police have precious few leads, so maybe it was more of an inside job than it sounds like).

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The tiara was made in 1906/1907 out of white gold, platinum, and 367 diamonds. It isn’t my favorite tiara, but it has a certain elegance, and it is valuable. I wouldn’t turn up my nose if some archduke gave it to me (though I don’t covet it enough to walk into a museum full of people with a slim jim and wiggle it out of its case while I pretended to look at velvet gloves and fancy hood ornaments). I guess I am impressed that somebody can still do such things though.
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Kings and Queens wear crowns.  Great Lords wear coronets.  Emperors wear diadems.  Princesses, of course, wear tiaras.  Ferrebeekeeper could not let princess week pass without featuring a beautiful historical head-dress worn by a princess. The Iranian crown jewels (which are too-my eyes the most stylish) did not quite suit the theme and so I chose to look to Great Britain. Princess Margaret, late sister to the Queen of England was simultaneously a classic princess and a scandalous modern one.     This is her signature tiara, which she wore on her wedding to a photographer, or in the bathtub (to impress on people that she was a classical princess and a scandalous modern one too).

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Although the Poltimore tiara is emblematic of the nineteen sixties because of princess Margaret and her jet-setting (but slightly sad) lifestyle, the Poltimore tiara is actually Victorian crown.  It was originally made by Garrard for Florence for Lady Poltimore, wife of Baron Poltimore, in the 1870s.  Because of the jeweler’s ingenuity, it can be broken apart into brooches and a necklace, and the full tiara set also includes a little screwdriver.  Aside from the screwdriver, which I perhaps should not have mentioned first, the tiara is all diamonds set in gold and silver floral scrollwork patterns.

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Of course this history doesn’t really get us closer to answering the question of why princesses wear tiaras to begin with.  Since the dawn of time, a glistening hat has betokened status, but why?  The ancients believed that the form of a crown—rays emanating from the head denoted celestial importance—divinity and the Christians likewise elided the form with the halo of saints and angels, however it is possible there is an earthlier answer.

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After her death, Princess Margaret’s heirs auctioned off the Poltimore tiara for more than a million pounds.  Nothing shows off status like being able to wear decades worth of a person’s income to a party, and aside from its obvious prettiness (and the fame of its most famous owner), the Poltimore tiara wasn’t even really a valuable tiara….

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OK…for a second Valentine’s Day post, I wanted to post a beautiful crown with a heart at the center, however, although that concept certainly exists in cartoons and illustrations…and as endless rhinestone costume crowns (see example above), the actual item proved difficult to find.   Yet, in the end, I did find such a crown.  This is the Milford Haven Ruby Tiara, a real golden tiara with a real heart shaped ruby.  It has found its way to the United Kingdom, but its history starts in Russia and runs through European nobility.

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Here is a quote which describes the head spinning history of the piece: “A gold tiara in kokoshnik form, set with faceted and cabochon rubies and diamonds in the form of stars and crescents, fleurs-de-lys, trefoils and a central radiant heart.  Several of the motifs can be detached and worn as brooches.  Made by Bolin, for the Grand Duke Michael Michaelovitch, grandson of Tsar Nicholas I, for his bride Sophie de Merenberg, Countess Torby.  It passed to his daughter, Countess Nadejda of Torby, who married Prince George of Battenberg (later the second Marquess of Milford Haven).”

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Whatever the provenance, it is a splendiferous headdress! The ruby heart is beautiful, but the overall balance of the composition is the real treat.  It looks like a magical spirit garden in heaven.  Who knew something so ostentatious could be so subtle?

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Ok, a while back Ferrebeekeeper poked some fun at the royal crown of Holland.  Thriftiness is a famous national characteristic of the Dutch and the coronation crown, made of fish paste and thinly gilded metal certainly encapsulates that dubious virtue. However, the Dutch had a globe spanning empire for a long time and do they have some exceedingly nice things.  Here is the Dutch Sapphire tiara, an 1881 love gift from King Willem III of the Netherlands to his wife, Queen Emma.  The magnificent tiara features 33 blue sapphires and 655 diamonds set in platinum.  The shape is meant to evoke the great Gothic cathedrals of the Middle Ages, but the workmanship is the finest the 19th century had to offer. A number of the stones are mounted “en tremblant”, which means they are attached to subtle springs which vibrate slightly with movement causing them to scintillate and glisten even more dazzlingly!

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Here it is being worn by Queen Maxima of Holland.  Maxima is a great name for a queen!

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This is the Cameo Tiara, a delicate and lovely miniature crown of pearls and feminine cameos which is owned by…King Carl Gustaf of Sweden! However the Swedish king doesn’t wear it, but rather lends it out to women in his family when they are being married. The cameos were carved separately and gathered into a crown in the first decade of the nineteenth century when cameos were all the rage. The crown was a gift from Napoleon to Josephine (or at least it is assumed that that is how she obtained it). Since the fall of the First French Empire, the little crown passed through surprisingly few hands. Orders of Splendor, a blog dedicated to such things describes its history succinctly:

Josephine left it to her daughter Princess Eugénie, who left it to her nephew Prince Eugén. Eugen loaned it to his niece by marriage, Crown Princess Margaret, and eventually gave it to Princess Sibylla of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha when she married Prince Gustaf Adolf in 1932. Sibylla lent it to her sister-in-law, the future Queen Ingrid of Denmark, for a costume ball and ultimately left it to her son, King Carl Gustaf.

The pretty crown seems ideally suited to weddings because of the central cameo—but that cameo is itself the subject of minor controversy. To me it appears to be Venus teasing her son Cupid by holding some cherished object just out of his reach (archery equipment maybe…or a girdle or even a crown). Others. However, see it as a Psyche and Cupid—although frankly I enjoy Psyche and Cupid art when the two are more evenly matched in age (and when Psyche is not unwisely tormenting her spouse). Maybe the question adds charm and interest to the piece.

CameoTiaraWearersWhatever the case it is a beautiful little crown. I just wish we could see what is on the other four cameos on the back! The next time a Swedish princess invites me to her wedding I will be sure to ask (in a polite and cautious manner of course, the last thing I need is to be stabbed by some rich beefy Scandinavian nobleman).

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Noor-ul-Ain Tiara

Noor-ul-Ain Tiara

The Noor-ul-Ain is a giant pink diamond which is mounted in a tiara of the same name currently in the possession of the Islamic Republic of Iran. It is believed that the Noor-ul-Ain diamond was once part of a vast Indian diamond named “the Great Table” which was embedded in the throne of the greatest Mughal emperor Shah Jahan, who ruled India in the middle of the seventeenth century. When the Mughal dynasty withered and came apart a century later, the Persian shah Nāder Shāh Afshār looted and ransacked Dehli. Evidence strongly suggests that the Shah took the Great Table diamond and it was subsequently cut into two giant pink diamonds which became part of the Iranian treasury.

In 1958, the diamond was selected to be made into a wedding tiara for Farah Pahlavi (who became empress of Iran when she was wed to Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, the famous shah of Iran). The great American jeweler Harry Winston designed this ornate tiara.

Peridot Tiara

Peridot Tiara

Peridot is the birthstone of fiery August so I thought it would be fitting to feature a crown made from the yellow-green stones. Unfortunately chartreuse does not seem to be the go-to color for royal headwear, but with some searching I found the splendid tiara pictured above. The piece was apparently made for Princess Henrietta of Nassau-Weilburg by Kochert, the court jeweler to the Habsburg family, sometime in the 1820s. It is most associated with Princess Isabella of Croÿ (1856-1931), who married Archduke Friedrich, grandson of Henrietta.

Peridot Parure Set

Peridot Parure Set

The tiara is a transformer—it has a matching peridot necklace which can be disassembled and attached to little crown as standing pendants. There is also a large peridot brooch for anyone bold enough to wear it. This sort of matching morphing jewelry set is known as a parure and was especially popular in the nineteenth century. Of course times change and tastes shift. In 1937, the peridot parure was sold to another noble, Count Johannes Coudenhove-Kalergi (1893-1965). The counts daughter chose to live in the United States and dispense with the trappings of nobility—so the tiara set in a safety deposit box until her death in 2000, when a Hollywood jeweler purchased it from her estate. They loaned it to celebrities until they could find a private buyer. Here is a picture of Joan Rivers wearing the peridot necklace at the 2004 Golden Globes ceremony… _peridot4Good grief!

 

Crown and Etruscan gold jewelry discovered in the necropolis of Vulci Camposcola - Gregorian Etruscan Museum

Crown and Etruscan gold jewelry discovered in the necropolis of Vulci Camposcola – Gregorian Etruscan Museum

Thanks to metal mines which provided iron and copper to buyers all around the Mediterranean, the Etruscans were very wealthy. The murals from Etruscan tombs make it abundantly clear that they also liked to enjoy all the luxuries which wealth makes possible. This love of opulence combined with their mastery of art in an unrivaled tradition of goldsmithing. The Etruscans were master jewelers (and the unique beauty of their pieces regularly spawns modern Etruscan jewelry revivals).

Crown from the Chiusi Museum of Etruscan Archaeology

Crown from the Chiusi Museum of Etruscan Archaeology

Among the pieces frequently discovered are beautiful gold crowns and diadems in the shape of leaves, berries, acorns, waves, and geometric patterns. The Romans were well known for their love of crowns and golden wreaths–which marked various triumphs, victories, or successes. It seems likely that the Romans took this trait from the Etruscans (although the Etruscans may have copied these crowns from Greek or Middle Eastern antecedents). I found these photos of beautiful gold headdresses around the internet. Since the pieces are in such fine repair (and so numerous) I suspect they are from Etruscan tombs. Look at how subtle and elegant the goldsmithing is on some of these crowns. Etruscan craftsmen were famous for their mastery of various stamping, hammering, molding, and filigree techniques (which are very much in evidence here).

Ancient Etruscan Gold Wreath and Ring circa 4th Century BC

Ancient Etruscan Gold Wreath and Ring circa 4th Century BC

Three Gold Wreathes  from the Gregorian Etruscan Museum at the Vatican ca. 4th century BC (http://irenebrination.typepad.com)

Three Gold Wreathes from the Gregorian Etruscan Museum at the Vatican ca. 4th century BC (http://irenebrination.typepad.com)

Gold crown in the shape of acorns and oak leaves (National Etruscan Museum at Villa Giulia)

Gold crown in the shape of acorns and oak leaves (National Etruscan Museum at Villa Giulia)

Golden crown of laurel leaves. Vulcan, Montalto di Castro ca. 350 BC

Golden crown of laurel leaves. Vulcan, Montalto di Castro ca. 350 BC

In the years after the Etruscan tribes developed into sophisticated states (but before they became crude republics) political power fell into the hands of various kings and tyrants. These strongmen may have marked their political ascendency with crowns and tiaras. It also seems likely that Etruscan nobles wore such adornments for sacred occasions…and to show off their wealth and status.

British Museum: Etruscan Gold Wreath

British Museum: Etruscan Gold Wreath

 

Aquamarine Gemstone

Aquamarine Gemstone


One of my favorite precious stones in terms of pure beauty is the aquamarine. Like emerald, morganite, and heliodor, aquamarine is a type of beryl (beryllium aluminium cyclosilicate). Aquamarine gemstones are blue or bluish green. The name is Latin for “water of the sea” and there is a beautiful pale blue-green color which is also called aquamarine.
Aquamarine Tiara belonging to Queen Elizabeth II

Aquamarine Tiara belonging to Queen Elizabeth II


I was hoping to find a beautiful crown crafted out of aquamarine gemstones and it turns out that the Queen of England and the United Kingdom happens to have a lovely tiara made of Brazilian aquamarines (she has lots of nice things). It was commissioned from the jeweler Garrard in 1957 and apparently includes several aquamarines which the people of Brazil gave her as gifts (they never give me anything, but maybe I am not being patient enough). Queen Elizabeth II seems very fond of her lovely pale blue tiara and there are several photos of her wearing it.
The color aquamarine

The color aquamarine

Mikimoto Pearl Crown

In the classical Roman world, crowns did not represent monarchy in the same way they later came to during the Middle Ages.  Instead crown and wreathes were granted as an award to individuals who had distinguished themselves–much like a trophy or a medal.  Strangely, this ancient tradition continues today in the world of beauty pageants.  Contests like the Miss America contest, the Miss Universe pageant, and numerous other beauty pageants invariably present a crown to the victor (although the Roman custom has been sadly watered down and winners don’t keep their crown but give it to their successor).

Ex-General Alfred Gruenther presents the pageant crown to Jean Marie Lee of Alaska, the 1957 U.S. Cherry Blossom Queen.

The crowns for the Miss America, Miss USA, and Miss World pageant are gaudy affairs made of crystal and synthetic gemstones, however Mikimoto the world’s great manufacturer of cultured pearls also makes pageant crowns and promotional crowns out of their peerless cultured pearls, and some of these headdresses are strangely lovely and striking.

Pearls are formed when the internal mantle tissues of certain shelled mollusks are injured by a predator attack, a parasite incursion, or some other event. In response, the mollusk secretes nacre into the hollow space formed around the injury. The nacre is composed of calcium carbonate and a fibrous protein known as conchiolin.  In the past pearls were very expensive and rare (so much so that the real crown of the Netherlands is made with fake pearls manufactured of fishskin and paste).  However in the beginning of the twentieth century Japanese entrepreneurs mastered a technique for culturing perfect pearls.  The Mikimoto company has been a pearl culturing company and a fine jeweler ever since.

The Cherry Blossom Festival Crown

For the last century, Mikimoto has created many beautiful crowns in order to show off its wares. In 1957, Mikimoto created the elaborate Cherry Blossom crown for the U.S. Cherry Blossom Queen of the National Cherry Blossom Festival held in Washington DC, which has celebrated Japanese-American friendship since 1912 (except for a few periods, when the festival was canceled for sundry reasons). Mikimoto also made two demonstration crowns which do not have any purpose other than to show off their art.   The crown pictured at the top of this post was crafted by Mikimoto in 1978 to commemorate the 85th anniversary of the discovery of their method of culturing pearls.  Another spectacular demonstration crown was made by Mikimo in 1979 based on Byzantine models and designs.

Mikimoto Pearl Crown II

In 2002 Mikimoto constructed the so-called “Phoenix crown” for the Miss Universe pageant out of 500 diamonds and 120 large South Sea and Akoya pearls.  The crown was presented to pageant winners between 2002 and 2007 when it was sold to a private owner.  Although I object to Miss Universe for false advertising (only denizens of Earth are represented), the large pearls of the pageant crown are certainly very striking.

The Phoenix Tiara used to crown Miss Universe between 2002 and 2007

Here the crown is worn by Riyo Mori, the 2007 Miss Universe pageant winner

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