20 September 2014

Saturday Sparkler: The Napoleonic Cut-Steel Tiara

Some tiaras are made of gold, some of silver, some of platinum. But regardless of the material, they all generally have one thing in common: they're set with sparkling precious gems. Today's tiara, however, is a horse of a different color: a tiara made of a different metal -- steel, to be precise -- that has not a single gem set in its frame. And yet, thanks to its innovative design, it manages to sparkle with the best of them.

Crown Princess Victoria, Nobel Ceremony 2004

The tiara, which belongs to the Swedish royal family, is generally called the "Napoleonic Cut-Steel Tiara." As the name suggests, this is a tiara with links to the court of Napoleon Bonaparte. But this sparkler didn’t belong to Empress Joséphine or Empress Marie Louise; instead, it’s said to have been made for Joséphine's daughter, Hortense de Beauharnais.

Hortense de Beauharnais, Queen of Holland

Hortense was briefly a queen herself — she married her stepfather’s younger brother, Louis Bonaparte, who was king of Holland from 1806 to 1810. (Their son, who became Emperor Napoleon III of France, was married to Empress Eugénie, whose tiaras we’ve seen a time or two.)

Hortense de Beauharnais's steel tiara is something of a marvel. There are no gemstones used anywhere in its construction — no diamonds, no pearls, nada. Instead, it is made of steel that has been cut, polished, and set in gold. But when this piece catches the light, the floral and feather elements of the piece glitter almost as if they were inlaid with diamonds. (Even its storage box is unusual!) The piece also has coordinating earrings and a choker necklace.

Crown Princess Victoria, Nobel Ceremony 2010

Hortense had no daughters, and it’s generally believed that she gave her steel jewelry to her niece, Joséphine of Leuchtenberg. (Joséphine had a truly, truly impressive tiara collection -- hands up if you'd like a post just on her collection one of these days?) When Joséphine married the future King Oscar I of Sweden in 1823, the steel sparkler apparently traveled with her to her new home in Stockholm.

Queen Silvia, King Harald and Queen Sonja's 60th Birthday, 1997

And then, the tiara apparently disappeared for more than a century. The story goes like this: in 1976, the Swedes had a new queen, Silvia, who was very interested in the family’s historical jewel collection. One day, while poking about in the cabinets at the palace, she found a velvet box; inside was this tiara, forgotten and neglected for years. She had it restored and wore it, along with the earrings and choker, for the first time at a state visit in 1979.

Princess Désirée, Princess Madeleine's wedding, 2013 (source)

Since Silvia’s rediscovery of this unique sparkler, it has appeared on many of the royal women, including several of the king’s sisters and the late Princess Lilian. Today, Crown Princess Victoria is the one who wears this tiara most often, though her aunt, Princess Désirée, also wore the tiara at a recent high-profile royal event: Princess Madeleine's 2013 wedding.

Crown Princess Victoria, Turkish State Visit 2013

Victoria is apparently a big fan of steel tiaras; at the wedding of Hereditary Grand Duke Guillaume of Luxembourg in 2012, Victoria debuted a second, smaller steel tiara (pictured above). This smaller tiara was apparently also among Queen Hortense’s collection of steel jewels.

Crown Princess Victoria, Nobel Gala 2005

I just love that the Swedes can “introduce” their hidden heirlooms to the public. Here’s hoping there are more tiaras languishing in their palaces, just waiting to be discovered and donned by intrepid princesses!