12 December 2011

Readers' Top 15 Tiaras: #15. Queen Victoria's Sapphire Coronet

Our countdown of your favorite tiaras begins with...

#15. Queen Victoria's Sapphire Coronet

Design was among the many progressive interests of Prince Albert, Queen Victoria’s husband, and that interest extended right into his wife’s jewelry collection. As the Queen herself wrote, “Albert has such taste and arranges everything for me about my jewels.” He designed several pieces of jewelry for her over the years, including this petite sapphire and diamond tiara.

Queen Victoria's Sapphire Coronet
Likely inspired by a diadem from a portrait of Queen Henrietta Maria, the tiara was probably commissioned from Joseph Kitching in 1842 at a cost of £415. The sapphires - both cushion- and kite-shaped - are set in gold, and the diamonds are set in silver. I'm calling it a coronet because Queen Victoria referred to it as such in her own records, and because it does bear a resemblance to the base of those mini-crowns we associate with coronations.

Queen Victoria
This was one of the pieces that was small enough for Victoria to deem appropriate for use during her subdued widowhood. But after she passed away, this flexible Gothic design went unseen as Queen Alexandra and Queen Mary focused on larger tiaras. It finally surfaced again in 1922 when Princess Mary, the only daughter of King George V and Queen Mary, married Viscount Lascelles. Henry Lascelles would eventually become the Earl of Harewood, and Mary the Countess. The King gave his grandmother’s tiara, along with a matching parure, to his daughter as a wedding gift.

Princess Mary's wedding gift
Popular consensus seems to be that 24-year-old Mary was forced to marry her 39-year-old groom in an arranged marriage, though the oldest of their two sons, George, would refute claims their marriage was unhappy in his memoirs. George became the Earl of Harewood upon his father’s death in 1947.

Princess Mary, the Princess Royal and Countess of Harewood
Mary died in 1965, and the years following her death saw her family auction off quite a chunk of her jewel collection, including the parure that went along with Queen Victoria's Sapphire Coronet. The tiara, however, managed to stay in the family for many more years. At the least, it was worn by Patricia, Countess of Harewood (George’s second wife) and by Andrea Lascelles at her wedding to the Earl’s fourth son, Mark, in 1992.

The Countess of Harewood and Andrea Lascelles
Without a royal wearer, though, the tiara fell out of the public eye. While putting together an exhibition for Wartski’s in 1997, Geoffrey Munn wrote to the Earl wondering if he had any pieces with royal provenance. His inquiry prompted what must have been an amusing call from the Countess, telling him that they had just one and it was “so small you probably will not want it.” Naturally, he did want it, and it was exhibited in 1997 and again at the Victoria and Albert Museum (appropriately!) in 2002.

 Department for Culture, Media & Sport
At some point in time after that, the Lascelles family sold the tiara to a London dealer. (Perhaps Wartski, as the tiara appeared in 2012 and after with Wartski's Geoffrey Munn. George Lascelles passed away in July 2011 and his son David inherited the title, so it is possible inheritance taxes again played a role.) This information came to light in August 2016, when it was revealed that the London dealer had sold the tiara to an overseas buyer. The sale was stopped by the Culture Minister when the buyer applied for an export license. Because the coronet is a highly important piece with great historical significance, a temporary export ban was put in place to allow more time to find a buyer that could match the requested price of £5 million and keep it in the United Kingdom.

 Department for Culture, Media & Sport
The temporary export ban succeeded in its goal. Hedge fund tycoon William Bollinger purchased the tiara and gifted it to London's Victoria & Albert Museum. Bollinger was already a significant donor and the museum's stunning gem gallery, home to other treasures like the Manchester Tiara and the Londonderry Tiara, bears the name of the benefactor and his wife.

 Department for Culture, Media & Sport
The coronet will go on display at the V&A in 2019, the bicentenary year of the birth of both Victoria and Albert, as the centerpiece of the William and Judith Bollinger Jewellery Gallery.

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