On Monday evening, the stars of the fashion world gathered at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York for the annual Met Gala. This year’s theme, “Gilded Glamour and White Tie,” promised tiaras, and we did get a few excellent vintage diadems on guests. Today, we’re taking a closer look at three of them, all of which have vintage provenance.
Anna Wintour, the famed editor-in-chief of American Vogue, is a chairperson of the gala, and she helps pick the theme for each year’s celebration. Her “gilded glamour” ensemble was made by Virginie Viard for Chanel, accessorized with some of the antique jewelry she wears often.
Anna loves to layer antique necklaces, and this time she stacked two diamond necklaces together. I sometimes like the way that her combinations look, but this time I felt the details of both necklaces were lost a bit in the jumble. The star of the show, though, was another piece of jewelry: her heirloom tiara. The jewel features floral, festoon, and ribbon designs, and it appears to be set with diamonds and peridots.
Anna wore the tiara pitched far backward, like a headband, rather than in a more traditional tiara position. I’m not someone who needs tiaras to be worn the same way all the time, but this positioning didn’t do the jewel a whole lot of favors. For one, the velvet-wrapped base of the tiara is too visible at this angle. The tiara’s design also gets lost a bit when it’s looking more at the sky than at the viewer.
Shifting the tiara forward an inch or two, and anchoring it in her hair instead of behind her ears, would have solved the issue, I think. Regardless, it was fun to see Anna try out a tiara. And it’s a special one, too. Fashion journalist Laurie Brookins shared that the tiara is reportedly a family heirloom, made in America around 1910. (Anna was born in England, but her mother was American.)
Anna wasn’t the only guest on the red carpet wearing an antique tiara. Emma Chamberlain, an American influencer who has nurtured a following on YouTube, also wore a major tiara for the occasion. She used diamonds from Cartier to accessorize her Louis Vuitton dress. The gown wouldn’t be a personal choice of mine, but we’re really here to talk about the jewelry.
Cartier loaned major diamonds to Emma for the evening, including a tiara, earrings, and a necklace. The tiara is part of the jewelry house’s archival collection, and you’ll sometimes see it included in museum exhibits of Cartier jewelry.
Here’s a look at the tiara, displayed as part of a Cartier exhibition at the Museum Thyssen Bornemisza in Madrid in October 2012. The platinum and diamond tiara was made in 1911, and it features laurel wreath and scroll elements in its modified kokoshnik design.
The tiara doesn’t appear to have a traditional base, and so it was secured to Emma’s hair with some sort of elastic or cord. You can see the ends of the cording looped around the side of the tiara here. When it was originally made in 1911, you can imagine that the wearer might have had a more substantial hairstyle to nestle the piece against.
Worn this way, sadly, the tiara tipped back so far that it was almost flat against Emma’s head, making it really difficult to enjoy the details of the piece. These moments give you extra appreciation for the royal hairstylists in countries like Sweden, who are able to innovate with hair design and placement to show off a tiara to its greatest effect.
One more jewelry detail from Emma’s ensemble: the diamond circle choker necklace. Check out those incredible yellow diamonds! The choker was made by Cartier for the Maharaja of Patiala.
There were additional tiaras on ladies walking the red carpet (including Blake Lively in an unusual Art Deco tribute tiara made by Lorraine Schwartz), but my third choice for this article had to be the vintage Verdura tiara worn with humor and panache by Hamish Bowles, the European editor-at-large of American Vogue.
Hamish went all out with the “white tie” theme of the gala, and he added some gilded glamour with his jewelry: a gold and diamond tiara and a witty brooch. (I think it depicts a trapeze artist? Someone correct me in the comments if you know for sure.)
Here’s a closer look at the unique midcentury tiara, which features upright gold feathers, flecked with diamonds and attached to a slender gold base.
The tiara originally belonged to a great American jewel collector: Betsey Cushing Whitney. One of the famed Cushing sisters, she was first married to Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s eldest son, James Roosevelt II. Her second husband was the wealthy venture capitalist and diplomat John Hay Whitney. When he was appointed Ambassador to the United Kingdom in 1957 by President Eisenhower, Betsey suddenly found herself in need of a tiara. She turned to one of her favorite jewelry firms, Verdura, to make her something special. They produced this feather tiara, which she wore at Buckingham Palace when her husband presented his credentials to the Queen.
The Buckingham Palace presentation was reportedly the only time Betsey wore the tiara in public. In an interview with Sotheby’s, Verdura president Nico Landrigan reveals that, in the 1980s, Betsey brought the tiara back to the jewelry house and gave it back to them, saying, “It belongs here.”
Verdura maintains the tiara in their archival collection today, and they loaned it to Hamish for his playful red carpet appearance on Monday night.