One of the coolest aspects of the recent Platinum Jubilee tiara exhibition at Sotheby’s was the ability to see the jewels from lots of different angles, showing off the way that the tiaras are constructed. I’ve got a treat for you today, thanks to one of our lovely readers, Raymond: a unique look at the front and back of some of the tiaras on display! He has so kindly offered to share some of his incredible photographs from the exhibition with us for this article. Enjoy!
We’ll start off with two diamond tiaras that come from the collection of the Cavendish family. The Duke and Duchess of Devonshire loaned some of their most iconic jewels to the exhibition, including this dazzling diamond tiara. The Devonshire Tiara, as it is generally known, dates to 1865. It was made for Lady Louisa Cavendish, the only daughter of the 7th Duke of Devonshire, to wear for her wedding to Francis Egerton, an aristocratic naval officer who was also an aide-de-camp to Queen Victoria.
The tiara has remained with the Cavendish family ever since, and it has been worn by some of the most recognizable women from the family. Above, Deborah Mitford, wife of the 11th Duke and one of the six famous Mitford sisters, wears the tiara at the Dorchester Hotel in 1961. The current Duchess of Devonshire, Amanda Heywood-Lonsdale, wore it for her wedding to the 12th Duke in 1967. Their daughter, Lady Celina Cavendish, also wore the tiara for her wedding in 1995.
Here, Raymond shows us a view of the back of the tiara, showing how various parts of the jewel are affixed to the frame. The tiara is convertible. It can be removed from the frame and worn as a necklace, and different sections can also be taken apart and worn as brooches.
The Duke and Duchess of Devonshire also loaned the Devonshire Diadem to the exhibition. The jewel, which is also sometimes called the Devonshire Palmette Tiara, is an imposing jewel made in 1893 by A.E. Skinner in London. It was commissioned by Louisa von Alten, the wife of the 8th Duke of Devonshire, who was known as the “Double Duchess.” (Her first husband was the 7th Duke of Manchester.) Diamonds were taken from numerous Cavendish family treasures, including the unique Devonshire Parure, to make the diadem.
Louise loved to wear the extravagantly large diamond tiara. She made an important early appearance in the jewel in 1896, when she wore it for the wedding of Prince Carl of Denmark (later King Haakon VII of Norway) and Princess Maud of Wales. After her death, Louise made a will that ensured that future Duchesses of Devonshire would also wear the diadem. It’s been worn subsequently by her successors for events like coronations and state banquets. Above, Lady Evelyn Petty-Fitzmaurice, wife of the 9th Duke of Devonshire, wears the tiara for a photographic portrait taken in 1920.
One of the unique features of the diadem is its shape. The piece is actually a closed circlet, as shown in Raymond’s photograph above, almost like a small crown. The design of the tiara also isn’t entirely unique. The Earl and Countess of Derby have a similar palmette tiara in their collection. That slightly smaller tiara was also part of the Sotheby’s exhibition in June 2022.
One of the highlight jewels from the Sotheby’s exhibition was the grand emerald and diamond tiara made in 1845 for Queen Victoria. The tiara was designed by her husband, Prince Albert, and made by Joseph Kitching. Nineteen pear-shaped cabochon emeralds catch light beautifully at the top of the tiara, and more emeralds are scattered throughout the rest of the diamond-studded piece.
Queen Victoria wore the emerald and diamond tiara, plus the parure of jewels made to match, in several portraits, including some famous paintings by Franz Xaver Winterhalter. The portrait above, which is part of the Royal Collection, is a copy made by George Koberwein of one of those famous Winterhalters.
Raymond’s photograph of the back of the tiara shows the elastic piece that helps the tiara to maintain tension in its circlet form. The emeralds passed down through the family to the descendants of one of Victoria’s granddaughters, Princess Louise, Duchess of Fife. Since 2018, the emeralds have been on display at Kensington Palace with other Fife jewels. The emeralds are on long-term loan from the estate of the late 3rd Duke of Fife, who passed away in 2015.
Several generations later, Lady Diana Spencer wore one of the family’s elegant diamond tiaras to marry Queen Victoria’s great-great-great-grandson, the Prince of Wales (now King Charles III). The Spencer family loaned the tiara to the Sotheby’s exhibition, allowing the public to get another glimpse of the beloved jewel.
The tiara, in its present design, was first worn by Diana’s grandmother, Lady Cynthia Hamilton, who was the wife of the 7th Earl Spencer. It was worn by all three of Cynthia’s Spencer granddaughters—Lady Jane, Lady Sarah, and Lady Diana—as a bridal tiara, and more recently, a great-granddaughter, Celia McCorquodale, has also worn the tiara on her wedding day.
But the tiara will probably forever be associated with Diana, who wore the piece frequently during her tenure as Princess of Wales. Though the tiara never belonged to her personally, she borrowed it regularly from her father (and later from her brother, the present Earl Spencer) to wear for events like state banquets and royal receptions.
The tiara was made by Garrard in the 1930s, reportedly using various diamond elements that had been in the Spencer family for generations. The back of the tiara, photographed here by Raymond, shows the tiara to be surprisingly uniform in its construction, suggesting that the remodel of the existing pieces must have been significant to produce a jewel with such a harmonious design.
When you hear the name Fabergé, you probably think of Easter eggs rather than tiaras. The famed jewelry firm didn’t produce a whole lot of tiaras in its heyday, but the ones it did make are fascinating. One of the most interesting examples attributed to the company is this diamond kokoshnik tiara, which was made for Duchess Cecilie of Mecklenburg-Schwerin when she married Crown Prince Wilhelm, son of Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany, in June 1905.
The tiara was later worn by Wilhelm and Cecilie’s daughter, who was named Princess Cecilie after her mother, as a bridal diadem. She married an American designer, Clyde Harris, at Hohenzollern Castle in 1949. The couple met when Harris was working as one of the famed “Monuments Men,” the experts sent to recover priceless works of art that had gone missing during World War II. Harris had been tasked with investigating the disappearance of the royal jewels from the Hesse family in Germany.
The tiara made a previous appearance at Sotheby’s in 2019, when it was sold at auction in Geneva. The lot notes from that auction confirmed that the central element from the tiara is removable, and in Raymond’s photograph of the back of the piece, you can see the places where that element can be attached (and detached) from the larger jewel.
Finally, we’ve got one more royal tiara to enjoy: the diamond and pearl fringe tiara from the collection of the Duke and Duchess of Kent. For many years, royal jewelry lovers have guessed that the tiara was made by remodeling a diamond bandeau inherited from Queen Mary, and the notes from the 2022 exhibition seem to align with that notion. The tiara is described as a “bandeau-style fringed diamond tiara with an Art Deco diamond and dot base between two continuous bands of diamonds, surmounted by a late 19th-century row of round pearl-topper spikes.”
Here’s a closer view of the Duchess of Kent wearing the tiara, plus other diamond and pearl jewels, for a gala event in 1978. She wore the original bandeau version of the tiara for her royal wedding in 1961.
The Duke and Duchess’s daughter, Lady Helen Windsor, wore the tiara for her wedding to Timothy Taylor at St. George’s Chapel, Windsor in June 1992. The tiara’s fringes inspired some of the embellishments on Lady Helen’s wedding gown, which was made by Catherine Walker.
Here’s a closer look at the back of the fringe tiara, which is topped by round cultured pearls. It’s interesting that the velvet-wrapped base of the tiara is significantly longer than the tiara itself—a deliberate choice made to make the tiara more wearable and comfortable (and easier to secure in various hairstyles).
Huge thanks again to Raymond Janis for sharing his excellent photographs of these tiaras with us today! Raymond owns a photography studio in Los Angeles with his partner. You can see the work they do with pet photography on their website and their Instagram account. (I think you’ll recognize lots of famous faces posing with their animal friends!)