19 December 2011

Readers' Top 15 Tiaras: #7. The Poltimore Tiara

Our countdown of your favorite tiaras continues with...

#7. The Poltimore Tiara

If your eyes are good enough to make out what’s depicted in the avatar I use when commenting here or on Twitter, then you will know that I wholeheartedly support your selection of the Poltimore Tiara as your seventh favorite gem.
The Poltimore Tiara
On the advice of Deputy Master of the Household Patrick Plunkett, this tiara was acquired for Princess Margaret prior to the official announcement of her engagement to Antony Armstrong-Jones. This is how you see it termed, “acquired for Princess Margaret”; some say it was selected by Margaret and purchased by the Queen or the Queen Mother as Margaret’s wedding gift and others say Margaret bought it for herself. The tiara was originally made by Garrard for Florence, Lady Poltimore, wife of the second Baron Poltimore, in the 1870s. It was auctioned by the fourth Baron Poltimore in 1959 and was purchased for £5,500 at the time.
Lady Poltimore
The tiara is an all-diamond affair set in gold and silver in which clusters of cushion-shaped and old-cut diamonds are set amongst scroll motifs topped with diamonds. It has a maximum diameter of 19.2 centimeters, should you wish to get an idea of its size for yourself. And it is a convertible piece, breaking down into a necklace and a set of 11 brooches (brooch fittings and screwdriver included within the tiara’s blue leather case, naturally). In the close up view of the tiara, you can just see the fittings at the back of the tiara which release to allow it to come off of its frame.
A tiara close up; a look at the necklace and some of the brooches; Princess Margaret wearing the necklace and a brooch from the tiara
Margaret wore the necklace and brooch forms of the tiara prior to her wedding and wore the tiara in 1959, but the tiara's grandest debut was on her wedding day. It certainly was a strategically chosen accessory; the height added to the princess’ own tiny frame, and the opulence of the full circlet was well countered by the divine simplicity of her wedding ensemble. It’s really a very grand piece for the sister of a queen and probably among the most grand tiaras worn by any of the British royal ladies, but Margaret’s forceful personality pulled it off with aplomb. So much so, in fact, that the smaller tiaras she had almost look disproportionately tiny in the absence of the Mighty Poltimore.
Princess Margaret, the bride
Most of you know the sad fate of this gem: it was sold. Faced with inheritance taxes in the £3 million range after her 2002 death, her children Viscount Linley and Lady Sarah Chatto put a selection of her jewels and other precious objects on the auction block at Christie’s in 2006. It was a controversial sale; rumor has it that it caused quite a row between David Linley and his father, Lord Snowdon. But it certainly did make some serious bank: the original estimation for the tiara’s price was £150,000 - £200,000, but the combination of royal provenance and sale publicity pushed the final price all the way up to £926,400 ($1,704,576).
Princess Margaret
I suppose, if you wanted to be logical about it (blech, how un-fun of you), you could make a case that it was reasonable to sell this particular tiara. It’s not like Viscountess Linley or Lady Sarah have many tiara-wearing occasions in either of their futures. And positioning this as the auction centerpiece surely contributed to the profits they were able to make in the long run.
The tiara at auction, in its case
Sometimes people cry out that the Queen should have bought it to keep it in the family, but really, that was never going to happen. She - most certainly not a magpie herself - has plenty of tiaras she’s already not wearing, and it’s not like this one had a huge royal history. And so we are left to weep that we might never see it again.

Christie’s said at the time that the auction was won by a private Asian buyer. It seems a little farcical to pay such an inflated price to break it apart for the diamonds, so I sincerely hope it is still in existence.
And for heaven’s sake, I hope the new owner is at least giving the old girl a spin in the bathtub every now and then.

Where does this rank among your favorite diadems?

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