Our series on the grand jewels of the Gilded Age continues today with a look at a spectacular tiara worn by Lady Curzon, the American wife of an important Edwardian statesman. Let’s look closer at the Curzon Boucheron Tiara, shall we?
The tiara belonged to yet another wealthy American heiress who married into the British upper class. Mary Victoria Leiter was born in Chicago, Illinois, in 1870. Her father was one of the founders of the business that became the famous Marshall Field department store. In the 1880s, the Leiters moved to Washington, D.C., where Mary was educated and grew into a true beauty. The portrait above, painted by Alexandre Cabanel in 1887, was finished shortly before her society debut the following year.
A beautiful, wealthy, educated young American woman was catnip for aristocratic British bachelors hunting for a bride. Mary’s hand was won by George Curzon, a Conservative politician who was also the heir to a noble title. Mary was interested in George’s talents and his career prospects, and George was largely interested in her finances—at least at the start. They were married in Washington, D.C. in 1895, when he was 36 and she was 24.
Mary was a strong supporter of her husband’s political career throughout their marriage, and her investment certainly paid off. In January 1899, not quite four years after their marriage, Curzon was appointed Viceroy of India. The appointment also came with a new title, Baron Curzon of Kedleston. Mary, now Lady Curzon, became vicereine. Her new position required lavish clothing and jewels. She ordered numerous dresses from Worth, including the famous peacock dress that she wears in the portrait above.
Mary wore the dress in 1903 for the Delhi Durbar, a celebration of the coronation of King Edward VII and Queen Alexandra. Because the royal couple did not travel to India for the celebrations, George and Mary essentially stood in for them. Mary put her lavish jewelry collection to work, wearing pieces that included a diamond fleur-de-lis tiara from Boucheron.
Here’s a closer look at the Boucheron tiara from the time of the durbar. The tiara, made in 1898, featured diamonds set in platinum. It was part of the grand jewelry collection she had amassed just before departing for India. In his book on the history of Cartier, Hans Nadelhoffer describes the jewel collection taken by Mary to India as a “state trousseau.”
The combination of the Boucheron tiara and the Worth dress was so striking that an official portrait of Mary wearing the ensemble was commissioned. Sadly, the artist, William Logsdail, did not finish the painting until 1909, several years after Mary’s untimely death in 1906. After her death, her jewelry, including the tiara, was dispersed according to the terms of a will she’d made on the journey from Britain to India in 1898. The tiara was bequeathed to George, with remainder to their three daughters, Irene, Cynthia, and Alexandra (all of whom lived lives that were interesting, to say the least).