The tiara has been riding a wondrous wave of popularity recently fueled by royal weddings and official state dinners, or any time Princess Kate dons a sparkling topper. Earlier this year, Sotheby’s sold five breathtaking tiaras in its May Magnificent Jewels & Noble Jewels sale in Geneva, including the Duchess of Roxburghe’s spectacular Cartier diamond tiara that sold for a staggering $2.6 million – nearly five times its high estimate.
Luckily, the fall Geneva jewelry auctions will offer four magnificent tiaras with equally impressive provenance in a couple of weeks. Each is markedly different from the next in their design, exhibiting a fascinating array of tiara styles and the breadth of creativity during the tiara’s height of popularity. Arguably the most characteristic jewel of the early twentieth century, the tiara was worn by the moneyed elite and European nobility for formal and festive occasions, much as it is worn today.
The first tiara to shine is a Belle Époque enamel and diamond tiara, by Chaumet, and referred to as The Chaumet Westminster Tiara (not to be confused with the Westminster Tiara). Of classic kokoshnik design, the tiara is composed of a series of translucent royal blue plique-à-jour enamel curved panels each overlaid with trailing diamond forget-me-not floral motifs. This sumptuous tiara was created in Paris in 1911 by Joseph Chaumet for the wife of the 2nd Duke of Westminster to be worn during the grand festivities celebrating the coronation of George V and Queen Mary that year. The elegant halo-shaped kokoshnik style coupled with the delicacy of the diamond-set plique-à-jour enamel panels render the Chaumet Westminster tiara a unique and historic masterpiece. Estimated to achieve $370,000-530,000, the tiara is one of the many highlights of Christie’s Magnificent Jewels sale in Geneva on November 10.
Over at Sotheby’s, a trio of tiaras will no doubt dazzle bidders in Geneva on November 11th at the auction house’s Magnficient Jewels and Noble Jewels sale. Two are by renowned jewelry firm Cartier, and they could not be more different in design. The first is an important seed pearl and diamond tiara, circa 1909, of meander design featuring an open work Greek key band millegrain-set with diamonds within an outer border of seed pearls. At it’s center is a detachable glistens old mine-cut diamond. The tiara’s itself is splendid, however the story behind is even more remarkable.
Commissioned by Canadian banker and ship owner Sir Hugh Allan for his wife Marguerite in 1909, the tiara was among Lady Allan’s jewels when she boarded the Liverpool-bound RMS Lusitania in New York in May 1915. The seas around the British Isles had been declared a war zone by Germany just a few months earlier, however many passengers trusted the Lusitania’s speed could elude the slower German U-boats. However, as the Lusitania came within sight of the coast of Ireland, she crossed in front of U-boat U-20 which ruthlessly fired a torpedo on the passenger ship of 1,989 men, women and children. The ensuing chaos and the ship’s speed resulted in 42 lifeboats overturning while attempting to lower them, rendering them useless. Only six lifeboats were successfully lowered. The Lusitania sank within 18 minutes of being struck and a total of 1,198 lives were lost. Tragically, Lady Allan’s two daughters who had accompanied her on the voyage were among the 100 children who perished. Lady Allan miraculously survived the sinking, though severely injured with a broken collar bone, along with her two maids, one of whom had kept the tiara with her when she was rescued.
The second Cartier tiara is an unusual tiara composed of blackened steel of scalloped design with diamond borders and palmette motifs. Created in 1912, this unique tiara is one of roughly five blackened steel and diamond diadems the Parisian workshop Henri Picq made for Cartier between 1912 and 1915.
Two other notable blackened steel tiaras by Cartier are the Ivy Leaf tiara, the fifth blackened steel tiara by order from Sir Philip Sassoon in 1914, and another design completed the same year: ‘it is steel inset with rubies in a platinum setting, with a blackened steel band at the top and bottom with an inner line of calibre-cut rubies and an outer line of diamonds, reaching a peak at the front. Nine large pear-shaped diamonds bordered with calibre-cut rubies are set into the steel band. Complete in April 1914’.
The final tiara for sale in November is an exquisite natural pearl and diamond tiara from the second half of the 19th century. Originally owned by Mary Ray, Viscountess de Courval through her marriage to Arthur Dubois, Viscount de Courval, the tiara features eleven slightly baroque drop shaped natural pearls of extraordinary size and fine pearl luster. Assembling such rare specimens in their size, luster, color and slightly baroque shape was and still is exceptionally difficult, if not impossible. The historic tiara is estimated to fetch $2 to 4 million.