08 March 2012

Tiara Thursday: The Rundell Tiara

Today, a popular request for one of the biggest mysteries (the biggest mystery? I might say so) among those that follow royal jewels for kicks: the Rundell Tiara, a massive diamond piece that has been missing in action for...oh...maybe a century or so.
The Rundell Tiara
Queen Victoria's son, the Prince of Wales (known in the family as Bertie), married Princess Alexandra of Denmark in 1863. The future King Edward VII gave his wife an impressive start to her jewel collection: a parure of a diamond tiara with a pearl and diamond necklace, brooch, and earrings.
Bertie's wedding gift parure
Somehow, the tiara has become popularly known as the Rundell Tiara. Rundell, Bridge and Rundell was a London jewelry company; this tiara, however, was made by Garrard, as was the rest of the set. This is confirmed by Garrard's own ledger as well as contemporary descriptions of the gift, plus Rundell jewelers were disbanded and ceased to hold a Royal Warrant after 1843. Really, I couldn't tell you how Rundell came to be wrapped up in the thing - but it's such a universal descriptor for this piece, we'll just roll with it.
Alexandra in the full version of the tiara
The tiara is in the style of a coronet. The base consists of two rows of diamonds with ten large brilliants in between and smaller diamonds connecting the ten larger stones. Scroll motifs, each featuring a large pear-shaped diamond, extend up from the base, and a rather Greek motif connects each one. The tiara is designed to be flexible; the elements break down to brooches and the base can be worn with just the scrolls. Alexandra also wore the base with diamond stars on top instead of the scroll motifs.
With just the scrolls (left) and with stars (right)
Queen Alexandra died intestate - without a will - in 1925. When the family gathered to divide up her possessions, Queen Mary was supposed to have received all the wedding gifts, which would include this whole set with tiara. Queen Mary wears something that could be the Rundell with scrolls below - but you have to allow for artistic representation (ladies could be portrayed with jewels they didn't own if they, or the artist, wanted it so - it's the original Photoshop). She may never have worn it.
Queen Mary
What we do know is that the rest of the parure - the earrings, necklace, and brooch - all remained in use. The earrings, each featuring a large pearl surrounded by diamonds, are worn by Queen Elizabeth; the brooch, with three large pearls surrounded by diamonds and three detachable drop pearls, was worn by Queen Mary and now belongs to the queen; the necklace, featuring eight large pearls surrounded by diamonds and connected by diamond festoons with drop pearls hanging from the central clusters, was a favorite of the Queen Mother.
Left to Right: the portion of the parure in question, Queen Elizabeth in the earrings, Queen Mary with the brooch, Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother wearing the necklace
But the tiara has disappeared. What happened to it? Has it been broken up, by Mary or Elizabeth or Alexandra herself? Or is it just sitting by its lonesome in a vault somewhere, neglected for decades because of comfort or personal taste or whatever other reason you want to think up, waiting for someone to make it shine once again? A bejeweled mystery if there ever was one.

What do you think happened to the Rundell Tiara?

UPDATE: The Rundell Tiara is no longer in existence. In The Queen's Diamonds by Hugh Roberts, it is noted that this was left to Alexandra's daughter Princess Victoria and was "disposed of by her". It is also clarified that, contrary to what was popularly believed in the past, Alexandra left specific instructions as to how her jewels should be divided up on her death.

Photos: Suzy Menkes/Leslie Field/Daylife/Getty Images