16 December 2011

Readers' Top 15 Tiaras: #8. The Portland Sapphire Tiara

Our countdown of your favorite tiaras continues with...

#8. The Portland Sapphire Tiara

Here’s a surprise entry to the list, and our first tiara without a royal wearer in its history. If you’re feeling wordy, you can call this baby the Portland Antique Sapphire, Diamond and Natural Pearl Tiara, but for heaven’s sakes I think a simple “Portland Sapphire Tiara” name will do for our purposes.
The Portland Sapphire Tiara
Your eyes will fill in the rest for you: it is indeed composed of sapphires (Burma and Ceylon), diamonds, and pearls (natural saltwater). Specifically, there are twelve clusters of cushion-shaped sapphires and old-cut diamonds set in a circlet of diamond husks and swags. The tiara is bordered with diamonds with pearl finials and sapphire accents, and the whole thing is mounted in silver and gold. Its inner circumference measures 54 centimeters (go ahead, measure your head and see if the glass slipper fits, I’ll wait here).
The tiara worn by a Christie's employee. In related news, I think I just found my dream job.
Our "Portland" name comes from the tiara's family, of course: the tiara was created by E. Wolff & Co. for Garrard shortly after William Cavendish-Bentinck, the 6th Duke of Portland, married Winnifred Dallas-Yorke in 1889. In the true tradition of owning jewels for use and wear instead of museum-like adoration, this tiara is a composite of other family jewels that were broken down to create it. A matching stomacher predates the tiara and may have served as a design inspiration.
Left: Winifred, Duchess of Portland, wearing a different Portland tiara for the coronation of King Edward VII (she was a canopy bearer at the ceremony for Queen Alexandra). Right: the stomacher at auction.
About the only representation publicly known of a family member wearing the Portland Sapphire Tiara is a miniature of Ivy Cavendish-Bentinck, wife of the 7th Duke, and Winifred's daughter-in-law. Ivy and her husband William had two daughters but no sons to inherit the dukedom. The title passed to William's third cousin (and has since died out due to lack of male heirs; the earldom of Portland lives on instead), but he made sure that the family fortune (including jewels) stayed with his eldest daughter, Lady Anne Cavendish-Bentinck.
Ivy Cavendish-Bentinck, when she was Marchioness of Titchfield
Lady Anne died in 2008, and her wealth was inherited by her nephew, William Parente. In 2010, a selection of the family's best jewels, including your 8th favorite tiara, was auctioned by Christie's. (The timeline seems to indicate an understandable sale to pay inheritance taxes.) The Portland Sapphire Tiara was initially valued between £250,000 and £300,000 but sold for £763,650 ($1,188,239). In fact, though it garnered plenty of publicity, the tiara wasn't even the most valuable jewel for sale. The collection included some very high quality diamonds and pearls; a 9.2 carat Burmese ruby ring fetched £2,169,250 ($3,375,353). As tends to be the way with auctions, the bidding was anonymous, so we don't know where these jewels are today.
Other Portland jewels from the same auction, and the ruby ring which garnered the highest price  
It’s always a bit sad to see pieces auctioned, but I doubt this tiara would have made our list without the auction publicity. Surely we wouldn’t have this many photos or details about it, so there’s that. And for the rest, we’ll just have to hope that someone is giving it a good home.

Does this make your personal favorites list?

P.S.: The countdown resumes Monday!

Photos: Christie's/Getty Images