12 December 2011

Readers' Top 15 Tiaras: #15. Queen Victoria's Sapphire Coronet

Our countdown of your favorite tiaras begins with...

#15. Queen Victoria's Sapphire Coronet

My request for your favorite tiaras sparked a right royal campaign for one piece in particular: commenter Faerieeva dutifully promoted a wee sapphire gem from Queen Victoria’s stash. Well, Your Faerieness, you win. (Hey, I told you this wasn't a scientific poll.)

Design was among the many progressive interests of Prince Albert, Queen Victoria’s husband, and that interest extended right into his wife’s jewelry collection. As the Queen herself wrote, “Albert has such taste and arranges everything for me about my jewels.” He designed several pieces of jewelry for her over the years, including this petite sapphire and diamond tiara that I will dub Queen Victoria’s Sapphire Coronet.
Likely inspired by a diadem from a portrait of Queen Henrietta Maria, the tiara was probably commissioned from Joseph Kitching in 1842 at a cost of £415. The sapphires - both cushion- and kite-shaped - are set in gold, and the diamonds are set in silver. I'm calling it a coronet because Queen Victoria referred to it as such in her own records, and because it does bear a resemblance to the base of those mini-crowns we associate with coronations.
Queen Victoria
This was one of the pieces that was small enough for Victoria to deem appropriate for use during her subdued widowhood. But after she passed away, this flexible Gothic design went unseen as Queen Alexandra and Queen Mary focused on larger tiaras. It finally surfaced again in 1922 when Princess Mary, the only daughter of King George V and Queen Mary, married Viscount Lascelles. Henry Lascelles would eventually become the Earl of Harewood, and Mary the Countess. The King gave his grandmother’s tiara, along with a matching parure, to his daughter as a wedding gift.
Princess Mary's wedding gift
Popular consensus seems to be that 24-year-old Mary was forced to marry her 39-year-old groom in an arranged marriage, though the oldest of their two sons, George, would refute claims their marriage was unhappy in his memoirs. George became the Earl of Harewood upon his father’s death in 1947.
Princess Mary, the Princess Royal and Countess of Harewood
Mary died in 1965, and the years following her death saw her family auction off quite a chunk of her jewel collection. This tiara, however, managed to stay in the family. At the least, it has been worn by Patricia, Countess of Harewood (George’s second wife) and by Andrea Lascelles at her wedding to the Earl’s fourth son, Mark, in 1992.
The Countess of Harewood and Andrea Lascelles
Without a royal wearer, though, the tiara fell out of the public eye. While putting together an exhibition for Wartski’s in 1997, Geoffrey Munn wrote to the Earl wondering if he had any pieces with royal provenance. His inquiry prompted what must have been an amusing call from the Countess, telling him that they had just one and it was “so small you probably will not want it.” Naturally, he did want it, and it was exhibited in 1997 and again at the Victoria and Albert Museum (appropriately!) in 2002.
Unless it has been sold very quietly, we can assume that the family still has the tiara today. It must be noted here, however, that George Lascelles passed away in July 2011, and his son David has now inherited the title. As we know, inheritance taxes are usually a prime culprit in making families sell off their jewels. There is no doubt this piece and its significant history would fetch an absolutely enormous sum at auction.

Is this on  your personal list of favorites?

Photos: V&A/Illustrated London News/Majesty/Geoffrey Munn