Last month ball season began in earnest in Vienna, and if that sounds pretentious, know that there are some 400 balls staged during Vienna’s traditional winter-into-spring gala season, as rapturous balls are in the souls of the Viennese. Beyond the splendor of the frocks and the general pageantry, it appears de rigueur for a woman to sport an updo … and a tiara! Perhaps there are vestiges of the Hapsburg dynasty in the nation’s collective DNA?
Nobility among ancient peoples — Greeks, Romans, Eastern Civilizations — all sported tiaras or crowns, men included (even the Papal jewel collection contains a tiara that was worn for particular occasions). These ornamental accessories might have been delicately formed with filigreed, golden wires and precious stones, or could just as readily have been crafted from weighty metal, awash with lavish jewels. Not surprisingly, men tended to wear more ornate head gear, but when the Roman Emperor Diocletian was reported, by Gibbon, to have “ventured to the diadem,” it was a simple white cloth, embellished with pearls, that he was supposedly sporting.
Indeed, royalty have worn tiaras more than the hoi polloi citizenry, and among that rarefied group of gods and blue bloods, there are countless tiaras that have reigned supreme among the jewels of royalty.
Queen Elizabeth II With Her Maids Of Honour On Her Coronation Day. Photo: Getty Images
Did you know?
– The British royal family has, arguably, the most outstanding collection of tiaras:
– The George IV State Diadem, simply called the Diamond Diadem, was made in 1820, and worn for the king’s coronation the following year. The 325-carat tiara was worn by both Victoria and Elizabeth for their respective coronations in 1838 and 1953.
– The Grand Duchess Vladimir Tiara, resplendent with diamonds and pearls when it was crafted in 1890, was originally owned by Tsar Nicholas’ aunt, the Grand Duchess of Vladimir. After the Bolshevik Revolution, when she fled to the Caucasus Mountains, the tiara remained hidden in the palace in St. Petersburg, ultimately rescued by a British Secret Intelligence Service agent. Years later, it was obtained by the British Crown.
– The Girls of Great Britain and Ireland Tiara, crafted by Garrard Jewelers, was purchased by the committee of the Girls of Great Britain and Ireland and sports scrolls and swirls. The tiara was given to Princess Elizabeth by Queen Mary, when Elizabeth married Prince Philip, and it is perhaps for that reason that it is said that this is Elizabeth’s favorite.
– The Cambridge Lovers Knot Tiara was commissioned by Queen Mary, who wanted something akin to a tiara owned by Princess Augusta of Hesse, the Duchess of Cambridge. Subsequently, the Lovers Knot was presented to Diana, Princess of Wales, who wore it often.
– While Downton Abbey-besotted Americans bid goodbye to the Crawleys recently, it’s worth noting that the marriage of Cora and Robert would have been considered a “buccaneer marriage” in another century in Europe … that is to say, a wealthy American heiress’ fortune would become the bulkhead needed to support a titled nobleman’s manor and estate in need of restoration. Thus it was with Consuelo Vanderbilt, daughter of William Kissam Vanderbilt, who had the Marlborough Boucheron Tiara (fashioned by the House of Boucheron) created for his daughter, as a wedding gift upon her marriage to Charles Spencer-Churchill. Unlike Robert and Cora, Consuelo and her titled Brit, the 9th Duke of Marlborough, did not have a happy union, it is said, and in her autobiography, she complained that the tiara gave her “violent headaches.”
– Occasionally, even Hollywood royalty sported a tiara: Movie star Elizabeth Taylor owned a “modest” tiara, a gift from third husband Mike Todd, who said, “You’re my queen, and I think you should have a tiara.” In her book, “A Life in Jewelry,” Taylor wrote ” … It wasn’t fashionable to wear tiaras then (in 1957, when she wore it to the Academy Awards, the year Todd’s “Around the World in 80 Days” garnered the top prizes), but I wore it anyway, because he was my king.” After her death, it sold at auction for $4.2 million.
– And it isn’t always humans who don tiaras: In 2009, Thai jewelry designer Riwin Jirapolsek created a $4.2 million tiara … for his 15-year-old Maltese dog Kunane! The tiara had a whopping 250 carats of emeralds and diamonds.
Ruth J. Katz