16 June 2018

The Howe Diamond Fringe Tiara

(National Portrait Gallery, London)

I'm an unabashed lover of fringe tiaras, but their simplicity often leads jewelers to join them with other, more elaborate pieces of jewelry to form larger, grander diadems. Today's sparkler, the Howe Diamond Fringe Tiara, is just one of those pieces.

J. Wilds/Keystone/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

The two parts of the tiara may have been created a century apart. Diana Scarisbrick writes that the base of the piece consists of "a continuous line of close-set diamonds supporting an open-work band of navette-shaped links enclosing three collet-set stones between verticals also of three collet-set stones." She notes that the base "[dates] to the late eighteenth century." She doesn't provide a creation date for the graduated fringe portion of the tiara, but she says that the "two elements were combined for the wife of the fourth Earl Howe, presumably at the time of her marriage" in June 1883.

Georgiana Curzon, Viscountess Curzon (later Countess Howe) as Maria Leszczynska at the Devonshire House Ball in 1897 (National Portrait Gallery, London)

The Lady Howe in question was none other than Lady Georgiana Spencer-Churchill, daughter of the 7th Duke of Marlborough. Scarisbrick imagines Georgiana in "full dress, long diamond earrings, her grandest diamond necklace, and with this tiara on her head" as she circulated in the upper realms of Victorian society. She was one of the grandly-attired aristocrats who attended the famous Devonshire House Ball in 1897, dressed as Maria Leszczynska, the wife of King Louis XV of France.

Georgiana's appearance at the ball demonstrated that, even after the two parts of the tiara were combined, they could be detached and worn separately. The fringe she wears as a necklace in the photographs from the ball appears to be the top portion of this tiara. (The appearance also demonstrated that Georgiana had access to two fringe tiaras -- there's a smaller diamond fringe perched atop her hair in the photograph.)

Mary Curzon, Viscountess Curzon wears the tiara in a portrait, ca. 1928 (National Portrait Gallery, London)

The next wearer of the tiara was Georgiana's daughter-in-law, Mary, the first wife of the 5th Earl Howe. She was famously photographed wearing the tiara by Madame Yevonde in 1930; two years earlier, she posed in the tiara for a portrait taken in the Bassano Studios in London.

Lady Sarah Curzon wears the tiara at her wedding to racing driver Piers Courage in London, 29 March 1966 (J. Wilds/Keystone/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

One of the more recent public appearances for the tiara came in 1966, when Lady Sarah Curzon, daughter of the 5th Earl, married Piers Courage in London. (Courage and the 5th Earl were both drivers on the racing circuit; Courage sadly died during the Dutch Grand Prix in 1970.)

I've heard rumblings that the tiara may have been sold at some point in the ensuing decades, but I don't have solid evidence on that point. For a while, many were hoping that the tiara might make a surprise re-appearance at a royal wedding: one of the granddaughters of the 6th Earl Howe is none other than Cressida Bonas, former girlfriend of the Duke of Sussex. Obviously those hopes have now been firmly dashed -- so we may have to wait for another occasion to learn whether this tiara is still with the family or not!