A photo of an antique tiara made from many metal findings.

THE TIARA

By Maria Teresa Canizzaro 
Translation by Elena Mennella Bellu

The revival of the tiara had begun in the 1880s and continues to the present . The continued popularity today can be credited in large measure to Princess Diana, renewing the symbolism of eternal feminity. She wore a tiara atop her bridal veil, with youthful grace and refined elegance. Inherited from her ancestor, the Viscountess Montegue, the tiara, designed in 1767, had at its center, a diamond encrusted heart, encircled by a spiral of more diamonds. At other times, Princess Diana wore a more delicate, but no less beautiful tiara, once belonging to Queen Mary, which was graced with a knot of diamonds adorned with pendant pearls. Diana’s rival, Camilla Parker Bowles, had to be content with a suggestion of a tiara worn on the occasion of the blessing of her proposed marriage to Prince Charles. 

It was a simple spray of wheat fronds suggesting the sacred crown of Demetra, goddess of fertility. According to Sappho, Greek poetess, who lived seven centuries before the birth of Christ, the ‘ancestor’ of the tiara was the favorite of the ancient Greek brides.

A close up photo of the center piece of a pearl and rhinestone tiara.

The story of the tiara, symbol of distinction and nobility, had been lost through the centuries, yet tiaras have been found on mummies of pharaohs of ancient Egypt. Greek artisans fashioned beautiful ones to adorn the statues of their gods: laurel leaves for Apollo, myrtle leaves for Venus. In Rome they connoted imperial power and in successive centuries, were always displayed on the garments of Byzantine, medieval and Renaissance sovereigns.

And how can we forget Napoleon and his fascinating Creole wife, Josephine who loved wearing her tiara low on her forehead? Were they not fantastic collectors?

During the period of time, called La Belle Epoche, there sat on the thrones of Europe splendid queens: Alexandra of England, Margherita and Elena of Italy, Nancy Leeds, widow of the American steel magnate and who later became Anastasia of Greece, exalted the tiara in creations of Cartier, Chaumet and Tiffany. Because of their wealth, they had free reign of creativity, using ancient themes, using many colored magnificent, precious stones then discovered in South Africa, in quantity and variety never seen before.

In the beginning of the 20 century, immense fortunes were made by the likes of the Goulds, the Vanderbilts and the Morgans. In many cases, titled nobility, with precious little left save their titles and their blueblood lines, married the nouveau riche and wore fabulous jewelry in order to keep up appearances of wealth.

In Paris, Monday and Friday nights at the opera, became "Soirees de Diademe," because the tiaras in the audience stole the show from the artists on stage.

A photo of a lovely rhinestone and pearl tiara.

Rene Lalique made tiaras of glass, horn and ivory in Art Nouveau style: butterflies, fireflies, cyclamen, nymphs and beautiful women’s visages with long flowing hair. Robert, Baron of Rothchild, chose a bridal tiara for his daughter, convinced that such a work of art would be worth more than the value of the materials used and would indeed be a fine investment.

We collectors of vintage costume jewelry know it is not just the materials used that create the beauty of a piece, but the imagination, creativity and talent of the designer together with the panache with which the wearer of the piece displays it.

And so a tiara made of simple rhinestones and modest white metal worn by Audrey Hepburn in Roman Holiday, which is housed in the Tiffany Collection, can stand up to the Van Cleef and Arpels creations destined for Barbara Hutton or Grace of Monaco. This explains the enormous success of the tiaras designed by Pell Jewelry made from the 1950s to the present which have adorned the most beautiful women in America as well as brides of all social strata.

 

So anyone for tiaras at the convention???

Reprinted with permission from 
Vintage Fashion & Costume Jewelry
P.O Box 265
Glen Oaks, NY 11004
VCFJ@aol.com
and the author

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