This week’s Magnificent Jewels auction at Christie’s featured numerous treasures, including this spectacular Victorian tiara worn by generations of a British aristocratic family.
The jewel in question is a gorgeous convertible piece from the Victorian period, able to be worn as a tiara or a necklace. It dates to around 1890 and is set with old-cut and rose-cut diamonds in gold and silver.
The base of the piece is detachable and can be worn separately as a choker necklace as well.
Here’s a look at the top portion of the jewel in its necklace setting.
According to Christie’s, the jewel has extensive aristocratic provenance. The lot notes for the auction state that the tiara originally belonged to Lady Margaret Primrose, who became Countess of Crewe in 1899 through her marriage to Robert Crewe-Milnes (who was later upgraded to the 1st Marquess of Crewe in 1911). Lady Margaret (who was nicknamed “Peggy”) was a daughter of the 5th Earl of Rosebery, who briefly served as prime minister during the reign of Queen Victoria, and his wife, Hannah de Rothschild.
Lady Margaret’s tiara was inherited by her only daughter, Lady Mary Crewe-Milnes. Like her mother, Lady Mary (who was described in on 1930s article as “vividly beautiful”) also made a brilliant marriage. She married George Innes-Ker, the 9th Duke of Roxburghe, in a sparkling ceremony at Westminster Abbey in October 1935 that was attended by Queen Mary (for whom she was named) and the Duke of Kent.
A year and a half after her wedding, the new Duchess of Roxburghe served as one of the canopy bearers at the coronation of King George VI and Queen Elizabeth on May 12, 1937. In this illustration, which depicts the anointing of Queen Elizabeth, she is positioned at the back of the canopy on the Queen’s left side. The Duchesses of Rutland, Norfolk, and Buccleuch hold the other three corners of the canopy.
Sadly, by the time of the next coronation, the Roxburghe marriage was in the midst of a rather scandalous public end. In 1953, the Duke decided to evict the Duchess from their ancestral mansion, Floors Castle in Scotland. He turned off the electricity, gas, and telephone, and even attempted to have water cut off to the house. Mary Roxburghe dug in, enduring what some have described as a “siege” for six weeks, as sympathetic neighbors smuggled candles and food to her. The Duke pursued several legal options to evict his wife, but eventually the matter was settled out of court, and Mary moved to London permanently. They were granted a divorce in December 1953, with the Duke’s adultery cited as the reason for the dissolution. (He married his second wife, Margaret McConnel, a few weeks later.)
Mary Roxburghe kept her jewels in her personal collection for the rest of her long life. She lived for another sixty years after her divorce, passing away in Surrey in 2014 at the age of 99. Her estate was inherited by a great-nephew, the television presenter Bamber Gascoigne. He decided to auction off many of her possessions to fund renovations to West Horsley Place, the country home where she had spent her later years.
Sotheby’s was entrusted with the sale, which featured a trio of tiaras, including the Victorian diamond tiara/necklace. The tiara was sold on May 12, 2015, for $850,000, doubling its auction estimate. (You can read more about the other two tiaras from the 2015 auction here.)
Now, the tiara has been sold at auction for a second time. Christie’s offered the convertible jewel as part of their auction in Geneva on May 17. This time, the auction estimate for the jewel was set at 700,000-1,000,000 Swiss francs (or around $779,000-$1.1 million USD). When the hammer fell, the tiara sold for 932,400 Swiss francs, or $1,037,426 USD.
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