09 February 2012

Tiara Thursday: The Westminster Collection

The Duke of Westminster
Somehow, somewhere along the line - I think it was at some point during our countdown of your Top 15 tiaras - our conversation swayed to the tiara collection of the Duke of Westminster and his family. Many requests poured in for a rundown of just what this collection entails (and oh, collection is the right word here, trust). Well, you know me, I'm always happy to assist with the tiara addictions.

First of all: who? The current Duke of Westminster is the 6th Duke, and his name is Gerald Grosvenor. He's a billionaire, one of the richest men in Britain. Property is his game, and he owns large estates plus big chunks of Mayfair and Belgravia in London. There are several royal connections; the duke is one of the select few chosen to be Knight Companions of the Order of the Garter, and his wife Natalia is one of Prince William's godparents. The couple has four children.

The duke and duchess have assembled through inheritance and purchase an interesting collection of tiaras, many of which are quite unique. It is a private collection, and the Westminsters have been more generous in allowing it to be exhibited and photographed than most private tiara owners are. Of course, it is still a private matter, and isn't worn often (publicly, at least) and can fluctuate easily. We should be very thankful they allow us magpies a glimpse at all, I say, as we take a look at some of the tiaras attributed (then and now) to the Westminster collection.

 Princess Mary's Fringe Tiara
If you ask me, any good collection requires a nice, basic tiara to start - and there's no better thing to fulfill that need than a classic fringe. Like many of its fellow fringes, it can be removed from its frame and used as a necklace. This one was a wedding gift to Princess Mary, daughter of the King George V and Queen Mary. As the Countess of Harewood, Mary commanded an impressive jewel collection, but after her death in 1965 much of it was auctioned off by her family. This tiara was one of the auction victims, but it found a home in the Westminster collection.

The Bagration Parure
Next, we have a parure (a set of jewels) consisting of a tiara, necklace, earrings, and hair comb which once belonged to a Russian princess, Catherine Bagration. The combination of pinkish spinels and diamonds is unique and makes this one instantly memorable. It was purchased by the current duke for his bride, and she wore it at their 1978 wedding.

Blue Enamel Kokoshnik
Continuing on with unforgettable pieces, the Westminsters have this intriguing tiara from Chaumet. As we've discussed in the past, kokoshnik is often used to refer to a tiara that takes the shape of the traditional fabric Russian headdresses. This one, however, is an unusually literal translation in which blue enamel serves to mimic the fabric kokoshniks were made of and diamond flowers translate to the ornamentation kokoshniks often featured. This one was originally bought by the 2nd Duke of Westminster; it left the family for a time before the current duke reacquired it.

Fabergé Myrtle Wreath Tiara
Here we have another classic diamond tiara, this time in wreath shape. There are many wreath tiaras out there; this one happens to be myrtle leaves and berries, and was manufactured by Fabergé. It entered the family for the wedding of one of the 1st Duke's sons. In 2004 Lady Tamara Grosvenor, the duke and duchess' oldest child, wore it for her wedding to Edward van Cutsem.

Fabergé Cyclamen Tiara
Fabergé made many things - wonderful eggs being the most famous - including tiaras. To have a collection with not one but two of these masterpieces is rare indeed. This one, made of diamonds depicting cyclamen flowers tied with a ribbon, dates from 1903 and can also be worn as a necklace. The delicate workmanship here is a perfect example of the mastery of Fabergé's jewel workshop.

There are also a couple well-known tiaras that no longer have a home in the Westminster collection.
Rosebery Tiara
This spikey convertible diadem of diamonds and huge natural pearls belonged to the Countess of Rosebery - a Rothschild heiress who was once Britain's richest lady and whose husband was one of Queen Victoria's prime ministers. After her death this tiara went to her son, who married a Grosvenor lady. It passed down through the family until 2011, when it was sold by Christie's for £1,161,250 ($1,905,611) to an unidentified bidder. The name of the owner who sold it was left anonymous, but it was thought to have been one of the Duke and Duchess of Westminster's tiaras.

Westminster Halo Tiara
One of the most famous Westminster tiaras hasn't been in the family collection for some decades. It was commissioned in a style reminiscent of Chinese headdresses from Lacloche in 1930 for the third wife of the 2nd Duke of Westminster, and was designed to house three large diamonds: Arcot diamonds on either side and what was thought to be the Hastings diamond in the center. That is the Duchess wearing it in its original form on the left above. It was sold by the family in 1959 and purchased by jeweler Harry Winston, who removed the large diamonds. It was later worn by Rose Movious Palmer with turquoise stones in place of the large diamonds (right, above) and now has smaller diamonds in place of the removed large ones (center, above).

Which one's your favorite?

Photos: Daylife/Geoffrey Munn/Christie's/Life