04 September 2019

Tiaras of Mary, Duchess of Roxburghe


With the recent death of the 10th Duke of Roxburghe, it seems like an appropriate time to turn our attention to some of the jewels once worn by members of the Innes-Ker family. Today, we're looking at a selection of jewels owned by a well-connected Roxburghe duchess: Lady Mary Crewe-Milnes, the first wife of the 9th Duke.

Mary, Duchess of Roxburghe at Floors Castle, January 1953 (Keystone/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

Born in 1915, Lady Mary was a daughter of the 1st Marquess of Crewe; she was also a granddaughter of the 5th Earl of Rosebery and, therefore, a descendant of the wealthy Rothschild family. (King George V and Queen Mary were her godparents.) In 1935, Lady Mary climbed the aristocratic social ladder to even greater heights when she married the 9th Duke of Roxburghe at Westminster Abbey in the most fashionable society wedding of the year. Mary, only twenty, became the youngest duchess in the nation. Two years later, she was one of Queen Elizabeth's attendants at her coronation. Eventually, though, the marriage fell apart. In early 1953, the Duke made headlines around the world when he tried to have Mary evicted from the family's ancestral Scottish home, Floors Castle. She dug in, refusing to leave for months, even when he had the electricity and telephone disconnected. Eventually, she fled the castle and filed for divorce, citing adultery.

The 9th Duke of Roxburghe and his second wife, Margaret, with their infant son, Guy, at his christening in 1955. Guy, who later became the 10th Duke of Roxburghe, died in August 2019 at the age of 64 (Keystone/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

The divorce was finalized at the end of 1953. The Duke remarried less than a month later, producing a pair of sons with his second wife, Margaret McConnel. (The 10th Duke, who recently passed away, was their elder son.) Mary, however, remained unmarried for the rest of her life, settling in a 16th-century estate in Surrey that she inherited from her mother.


The house and lands weren't the only things Lady Mary inherited. The country house, West Horsley Place, was packed with treasures, including rare works of literature, paintings, furniture, and jewelry. In 2009, she auctioned a gorgeous set of ruby and diamond jewelry at Sotheby's that came from her mother's family. The diamond and ruby necklace and the coordinating earrings were made by Garrard in 1884 and purchased by Lady Mary's grandfather, Lord Rosebery, for his wife, Hannah. The pale turquoise case that accompanied the rubies is emblazoned with Rosebery's monogram under the coronet of an earl.

Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images

The jewels were inherited by Lady Mary's mother, the Marchioness of Crewe, who then presumably passed them along to Mary. When Mary sold the jewels in Geneva in November 2009, the necklace fetched nearly $4.3 million USD, while the earrings commanded more than $1.4 million USD.


When Lady Mary died in 2014 (at the remarkable age of 99), the lion's share of her estate was left to her great-nephew, the writer and television presenter Bamber Gascoigne. He decided to auction many of his late great-aunt's possessions to fund much-needed renovations for West Horsley Place. Several remarkable pieces of jewelry were included in the sale, including a trio of gorgeous, fascinating tiaras.


The earliest tiara included in the sale is this unusual diamond and ruby diadem, made during the second half of the nineteenth century. Sotheby's describes the airy, delicate piece as "a series of foliate sprays set with circular-cut, cushion-shaped and rose diamonds, later embellished with circular-cut rubies centred on a similarly set lyre motif." The rubies photograph with a distinctly pinkish hue.


The auction estimate for the tiara was set between around $80,000 to $100,000. When the piece sold in May 2015 in Geneva, those estimates turned out to be right on the money: the tiara sold for a little over $107,000 USD.


The auction also included a pair of all-diamond tiaras. The first, this convertible tiara/necklace, was made in the last quarter of the nineteenth century. Sotheby's describes the piece as "composed of fleurs de lys and confronting scroll motifs, swing-set with a graduated row of twenty pear-shaped diamond, on a band composed of lozenge and trefoil motifs, set throughout with cushion-shaped and rose diamonds." The maker's identity is not included in the notes, but given the design (especially of the detachable "diamond and dot" bandeau base), my money's on Garrard. The construction date -- and the possibility that Garrard may have been involved -- suggests to me that this tiara may have also been part of the Rosebery legacy.


The tiara brought a handsome sum at auction, doubling its estimate to fetch just under $850,000.


The second all-diamond tiara, though, was the showstopper of the sale. The stunning Art Deco-era tiara was made by Cartier in the 1930s, right around the time that Lady Mary married the 9th Duke of Roxburghe. The tiara was described in the lot notes as having a "geometric design, set throughout with circular-cut diamonds surmounted by a graduated series of thirty-one collet-set diamonds." (The notes don't include this, but I wouldn't be at all surprised if the central element at least was detachable for wear as a clip brooch, and perhaps some of the side elements, too.) The tiara was accompanied by a fitted case featuring the Roxburghe monogram and ducal coronet.


The tiara was estimated to fetch between around $300,000 to $550,000, but when the hammer fell, it blew those estimates out of the water, commanding an astonishing $2.5 million USD.

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