05 June 2014

Jewel History: Coronation Tiaras on Show (1911)

"Coronation Tiaras on Show"
(originally appeared in the Marlborough Express on 1 Jun 1911)

At Cartier’s, the well-known jewellers in Bond Street, London, there is to be seen one of the finest collections of gems ever got together. The exhibits are the tiaras and crowns to be worn by princesses and peeresses at the Coronation, and the proceeds (the charge for admission is a guinea) are to be devoted to the Prince Francis of Teck’s Memorial Fund [1] for the endowment of Middlesex Hospital.

The jewels are housed in a small room, but they are valued at the minimum at £250,000. They make a dazzling collection. Elaborate precautions against theft have been taken. Uniformed officers at the door closely scrutinise each visitor, and among those who walk around the room gazing at the glittering gems are several immaculately-attired men who never seem to tire of the show. They are Scotland Yard men.

At night the whole of the jewels are moved to the vaults in the basement and placed in iron safes fitted with quintuple steel walls. As a further protection against burglars the safes are embedded in cement walls. The safes are not fitted with keys, but are opened by means of an intricate combination lock. Of such strength and temper is the steel that a gang of burglars would have to work for nine or ten hours with the most powerful drills and acids before they could penetrate the safe. A small army of men is constantly on guard.

Princess Alice, Countess of Athlone at the 1911 coronation [source]

Naturally the ornaments to be worn by some of the princesses are among those to first attract attention. The small circular crown of Princess Christian [2] is unique; it is the only one in the exhibition with a setting of turquoises, which alternate with very fine diamonds on raised points. The headgear of the Duchess of Albany [2] is made up of a quadruple row of diamonds surmounted in front by a half sun, the rays of which are formed by glittering brilliants. Of unusual design is the tiara of Princess Alexander of Teck (pictured above). It has slanted wheatears formed of diamonds in a curious old setting, and meeting in front. The whole is divisible into corsage ornaments and brooches.

There is nothing finer in the collection than the magnificent crown made for the Duchess of Westminster, which dominates the main wall of the exhibition room, and is valued at £20,000. The design is very quaint. There are looped and inter-laced circles and scrolls of fine diamonds, and in the centre of each of the large front arches are set five immense stones treasured among the Grosvenor heirlooms. The famous Nesca stone, a large flat brilliant, is mounted loosely, so as to swing with each movement of the wearer and throw out beams of light.

In the tiara to be worn by the Duchess of Sutherland, one of the four canopy duchesses, large pearls intersect the compact lines of diamonds which form a geometric design of semi-circles, lying against a band of diamonds. Pear-shaped pearls are introduced to give height to the tiara.

A contrast is formed by the smaller but unique diadem of the Duchess of Newcastle. This consists of a straight band of diamond lace work about one and a half inches in depth. The front of the tiara broadens into flat volutes, all formed of dazzling stones, while rising from one side of the central spike is a feather, the drooping fronds of which are cleverly simulated in diamonds.

The Duchess of Norfolk will wear a crown entirely composed of a high garland of diamond oak leaves and acorns, the badge of the Howards. The acorns are formed of single stones of great beauty.

Emeralds make a perfect ensemble with diamonds in the crowns of Lady Plymouth, Lady Gerard, Lady Carnarvon, and Lady Newborough.

Two splendid head ornaments worth a vast fortune are to be worn by a beautiful mother and daughter, Lady Ripon and Lady Juliet Duff.

Lady Clementine Waring has a wide Marie Stuart headdress of fine stones, cleverly conveying the idea of the lace cap belonging to Marie Stuart, from which it was designed. The delicate pattern of lace is suggested by intricate scrolls of diamonds held on platinum wires. A large heart-shaped diamond falls upon the forehead.

Lady Tweeddale’s crown is in the form of a wide band of diamonds, with a splendid single ruby giving a gleam of color as it swings lightly in the central arch. Lady Antrim has had all the family diamonds set in a crown of interlocking wreaths, in which are set large pearls.

Eighteen thousand pounds is the assessed value of the crown of diamonds topped with eight emerald spikes which Lady Newborough will wear, while a larger amount will be represented by the precious stones on her corsage, the pearls on her neck, and the immense emerald pear which she will wear as a pendant.

Lady Decies, the most recent of trans-Atlantic brides, will wear the Cartier crown of diamonds which her father, Mr. George Gould, gave her on the occasion of her marriage.

Lady Denman, wife of the Governor-Designate of Australia, has a lovely crown of leaves in fine diamonds. Lady Sandhurst has family gems set into triple roses, which stand high in her tiara. An exquisite chaplet of laurels formed of stones of rare brilliance and purity will be worn by Lady Ashby St. Ledgers. Lady Tennant’s Russian diadem of pearls and diamonds is another perfect example of the jeweller’s craft. Somewhat similar in shape is the wide band of pearls and diamonds to be worn by Lady Lytton, while Lady Granard’s crown of matchless stones will be one of the finest in the Abbey.

1. Prince Francis, brother of Queen Mary, died unexpectedly in October 1910; we've discussed before that he left the Cambridge emeralds to his mistress in his will, and that Mary had to negotiate them back into the family jewel collection.
2. Both Princess Christian and the Duchess of Albany are visible in this photograph of the gallery at the 1911 coronation.
3. In the images of the peers and peeresses leaving the Abbey, the individuals in the photographs are not identified by Getty. Any help in figuring out who they are would be much appreciated!