26 October 2019

The Essex Tiara


Tiara designs often fall into two categories: either they stand as a specific example of design from their era, or they manage to transcend that time period. Today's sparkler, the Essex Tiara, definitely falls into the "timeless" category.

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The diamond scroll tiara was made in 1902 by Cartier. It was made with a specific event in mind: the upcoming coronation of King Edward VII. The original wearer of the tiara was as elegant and rich as the tiara's design: Adele Beach Grant, the American railway heiress who married the 7th Earl of Essex in 1893. The earl bought the tiara for Adele just before the coronation, and she wore it in Westminster Abbey on Coronation Day in August 1902.

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American newspapers declared that Adele was "the belle of the coronation," envied by other peeresses for her "grace and discretion" -- as well as her tiara and hairstyle, which featured one long curl carefully resting on her shoulder. She remained a glittering light in London's aristocratic social world until 1916, when her husband was struck by a taxi and died. The ensuing death duties on the estate forced her to sell off the family's grand country house and many of its contents, including numerous pieces of fine art. The strain was such that she died of a heart attack in the summer of 1922, shortly after the auction was held.

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Adele's gorgeous coronation tiara, however, found itself brought back to life again and again by subsequent wearers. The piece even witnessed a second British royal coronation. In 1953, the tiara was borrowed by Clementine Churchill, wife of Sir Winston, who wore it in Westminster Abbey for the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II. (We don't know precisely who owned the tiara at this point, but clearly they were quite happy to lend the piece to such an important British figure for the event!)

In 1990, the piece was auctioned at Christie's and bought by a diamond dealer. (Unfortunately, this transaction too is a little shrouded in mystery -- we don't seem to know the name of the purchaser.) The dealer quickly resold the tiara, and to an important buyer: the director of the Cartier Collection. The jewelry firm that made the tiara has owned it every since, and they were happy to loan it out for another important royal occasion. In 1996, Crown Princess Margareta, daughter of the last King of Romania, borrowed the tiara from Cartier for her wedding in Lausanne. An exhibition of Cartier Collection jewels was conveniently mounted in Lausanne in the same year.

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Today, the tiara remains a prominent part of the Cartier Collection, and it is often featured in promotional materials about Cartier's legacy jewels. In November 2004, to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the Cartier Holiday Bow tradition at the Cartier Mansion on Fifth Avenue, an enormous replica of the tiara was placed above the building's door.

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For a party at the Cartier mansion during the same holiday season, the tiara itself was an honored guest, featuring in photos with Santa Claus (!) and actress Julianne Moore. (Santa, if you're listening, the tiara would be a perfect gift for me this Christmas...)


As it has become such a beloved part of the Cartier Collection, it should come as no surprise that the tiara is often loaned to exhibits around the world. Above, it's displayed at a museum in Portugal in February 2007, and it has also been included in prominent exhibitions in France and Australia. It was even worn by Rihanna for a photo shoot in 2016!