30 August 2016

Tiara Timeline: Queen Victoria's Sapphire Coronet

Detail, Winterhalter's 1842 portrait of Queen Victoria (Image: Wikimedia Commons)

Tiara Timeline: Queen Victoria's Sapphire Coronet

With this weekend's stunning news about the small diamond and sapphire coronet owned by Queen Victoria, I thought it was time for us to dust off the old tiara timelines. Let's have a look at the history of this remarkable piece, shall we?

The Albert Brooch (Photo: Chris Jackson/Getty Images)

1840: Queen Victoria marries her cousin, Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha. Albert presents her with a large sapphire and diamond cluster brooch (usually now simply called the "Albert Brooch") on the night before their wedding. She wears the brooch on her wedding day. (The brooch is still in the royal family's collection today, and it is worn frequently by the Queen.)

1842: Two years after their wedding, Albert commissions another sapphire and diamond jewel for his wife: a diamond and sapphire coronet. Albert designed the coronet himself; it was made by Joseph Kitching for the price of £415. In Tiaras: A History of Splendour, Geoffrey Munn describes the piece as follows: "set with kite- and cushion-shaped sapphires and diamonds. The sapphires are set in gold and the diamonds in silver."

Detail, Winterhalter's 1842 portrait of Queen Victoria (Image: Wikimedia Commons)

1842: Queen Victoria sits for a portrait painted by Franz Xavier Winterhalter. She wears the Albert Brooch pinned to her dress and the new sapphire and diamond coronet nestled in her hair. The coronet is placed, rather unusually, at the back of her head. Munn's Tiaras: Past and Present posits that Albert himself dictated the placement of the jewels, perhaps "to evoke the portrait of Queen Henrietta Maria" painted by Van Dyck.

1861: Prince Albert dies; Queen Victoria retreats into seclusion. Most of her major jewels with colored gemstones are not worn again during her lifetime.

The Illustrated London News's engraving of Victoria opening parliament in 1866 (Image: Wikimedia Commons/Wellcome Trust)

1866: The Prince of Wales (later King Edward VII) convinces Victoria to come out of her self-imposed exile to open parliament. The small size of the sapphire coronet makes it an appropriate jewel for her to wear on the occasion. The piece is glittering enough for her social status but still subdued enough to fit with her desired image of public mourning. (The fact that it was personally designed by her beloved Albert also likely helped to make it seem particularly appropriate, colored gemstones aside.) She placed the small coronet atop her white widow's cap for the state opening.

Detail, Henry Richard Graves's 1874 portrait of Queen Victoria

1874: Victoria is painted for a second time in the sapphire and diamond coronet, this time by Henry Richard Graves. She continues to wear the coronet over her widow's cap. Victoria declared the portrait to be a "very nice picture" and a "good likeness."

1901: Queen Victoria dies. The sapphire coronet is inherited by her son, who becomes King Edward VII. His wife, Queen Alexandra, never wears the coronet in public.

1910: King Edward VII dies, and the coronet is subsequently inherited by his son, King George V. His wife, Queen Mary, apparently also never wears the coronet in public.

Mary wears the sapphire coronet, ca. 1920s

1922: King George V gives the sapphire coronet to his only daughter, Princess Mary (later the Princess Royal), on her marriage to Viscount Lascelles (later the 6th Earl of Harewood). Mary also receives a coordinating demi-parure of sapphire and diamond jewelry that was also owned by Queen Victoria.

1934: The Princess Royal wears the coronet at the Royal Albert Hall for a concert supporting the Musicians' Benevolent Fund.

1940s-50s: The Princess Royal, pictured with her sister-in-law, the Duchess of Kent, wears the sapphire coronet to a royal function. (The photo above was first published, I believe, in the memoir written by her son, the 7th Earl of Harewood, The Tongs and the Bones.)

1953: Along with other pieces of her jewelry, the Princess Royal loans the sapphire coronet to an exhibition at the Dorchester Hotel, which coincides with the hotel's Jewel Ball. The exhibition, which takes place in May, is also a part of the lead-up to the coronation festivities of Mary's niece, Queen Elizabeth II.

1965: The Princess Royal dies. Although many of her jewels are auctioned after her death, the sapphire coronet is inherited by her elder son, George, the 7th Earl of Harewood.

1992: The coronet is worn by Andrea Kershaw at her wedding to the Hon. Mark Lascelles, son of the 7th Earl of Harewood and his second wife, Patricia. The couple is later divorced.

1997: Lord and Lady Harewood loan the coronet to a tiara exhibition held at Wartski's in London. The show is organized by Wartski's managing director, Geoffrey Munn, who is also an appraiser on Antiques Roadshow in the UK.

2001: Munn organizes a second, larger exhibition of tiaras, this time at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. He also publishes two companion books: Tiaras: A History of Splendour (2001), a major coffee-table-sized tome, and a smaller book, Tiaras: Past and Present (2002), which is released by the Victoria and Albert Museum's in-house press. The exhibition and both books feature the sapphire and diamond coronet prominently. (Note: both books are in my personal collection, and I highly recommend them, especially the larger "tiara bible.")

2011: The 7th Earl of Harewood dies; his eldest son, David, becomes the 8th Earl of Harewood. Following the 7th Earl's death, the coronet is almost certainly privately sold to an anonymous buyer.

2012: The coronet is loaned to a new exhibition by its anonymous owner. Although the name of the owner has still not been made public, the exhibition notes reveal that the person lives in Highgate.

Royal writer Marlene Eilers Koenig has argued that Geoffrey Munn himself may be the current owner of the tiara. She notes that he worked personally with the Lascelles family to show the tiara before the 7th Earl's death; she also points out that the public exhibitions of the coronet since 2011 have all been events related to Munn and Wartski's. Labels for the tiara at this exhibition often attribute the piece to "a private collection by arrangement with Wartski, London." (All of this is still speculation at this point -- neither Munn nor the Lascelles family have commented on the matter.)

2016: The anonymous owner of the coronet decides to sell the piece to an anonymous foreign buyer. The sale makes the news, because the British government decides to step in to attempt to prevent the historic piece of jewelry from leaving the country. The minister of culture, Matt Hancock, imposes a temporary ban on the coronet's sale by deferring the approval of an export license for the piece.

The ban is initially set to end on 27 Dec 2016, though news outlets report that it could be extended until the following June if it looks like financial arrangements -- to the tune of £5 million -- can be made to keep the coronet in the United Kingdom. (Coincidentally, the articles on the export ban coincide with the premiere of ITV's new series on Queen Victoria. How terribly convenient: a call to raise money to buy one of Victoria's tiaras at a time when lots of Britons will be watching a new adaptation of her life on TV. Imagine that!)

2017: Major news! The tiara has been acquired by the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, and it will go on display to the public in 2019.