07 February 2013

Tiara Thursday: The Delhi Durbar Tiara

Hey, guess what?! Today marks our 100th tiara feature on the blog!! Tiara Thursdays started as a magpie chat about some potential tiaras for Kate Middleton in the run up to her wedding, and just kept going from there. And now we've reached 100 tiaras (actually, if you count every tiara that's appeared here, it would be a lot more, but these are our in depth features). Obviously the only appropriate celebration is to go big or go home, right? So I looked through my long list of tiaras you guys have requested and picked some of the most-requested big guns for our Thursday treats this month. Today we start with perhaps the largest tiara in Windsor collection (dimensionally, at least): the Delhi Durbar Tiara. Get comfy, this baby has a long story.
The Delhi Durbar Tiara
Following his 1910 accession to the throne, George V began preparing for both his Westminster Abbey coronation and a celebration of his new position in India. The Delhi Durbar (a "ceremonial gathering to pay homage") was designed as a fitting celebration of his new status as King and Emperor. After it was determined that the crown jewels were not allowed to leave the United Kingdom, a new crown was ordered for George and a new tiara was designed for his queen, Mary. (Never mind that Mary had paid for her own new consort crown for the coronation, and so it was not yet a part of the crown jewels. We all know she wasn't one to decline a new jewel.) And so Garrard created a new tiara, on a new scale of grandeur, in 1911. Writing to his mother Queen Alexandra about the Indian festivities, George V noted that May (Mary) had worn her "best tiara".
Mary wearing the dismantled tiara
The new tiara was created with the remnants of another tiara and a few smaller jewels - a typical Queen Mary move. In this case, the dismantled tiara was a large looped diadem made for Mary by Boucheron following a 1901 visit to South Africa, where she'd been given a present of diamonds from the De Beers Mine. The new Delhi Durbar Tiara was set in platinum and gold, with diamonds forming lyres and s-scrolls, overlapped by diamond festoons. The tall piece is a complete circlet, wrapping entirely around the head.
Queen Mary, in the tiara with emeralds on top
The tiara was originally set with 10 cabochon emerald drops on top. These are part of the famous set of Cambridge emeralds once belonging to Queen Mary's grandmother, and acquired by Mary after they'd been scandalously left to her late brother's mistress. The full set of emeralds were used to create a complete and magnificent parure for the Durbar. (The story of the emeralds and the rest of the parure will be featured next week, starting Monday, at the Jewel Vault.) These 10 emeralds were permanently removed from the Delhi Durbar Tiara by 1922, and were repurposed for use as dangling drops in the Grand Duchess Vladimir Tiara, where we see them in use today, or as uprights on a small diamond bandeau left to the Duchess of Kent.
Queen Mary, with Cullinans III and IV installed in the tiara
In another classic Mary move, she had Garrard alter the tiara to accommodate some jewel swapping. The Cullinan III and IV stones were made to act as temporary centerpieces; the 94.4 carat pear-shaped III stone acted as an upright in the top center, while the square 63.6 carat IV stone could be placed in the front center. Either or both could be worn, and another centerpiece exists for use without either (no one has used the Cullinans in the tiara since Mary). There were other minor changes too, made prior to Mary loaning the diadem to Queen Elizabeth (the future Queen Mother) in 1946. Elizabeth took the tiara with her on a visit to South Africa in 1947.
Queen Elizabeth
The South African appearance is thought to be the Queen Mother's only public appearance in the Delhi Durbar Tiara, but it remained in her possession until her death in 2002, when it passed with the rest of her jewels to the Queen. (She did allow it to be exhibited, so there was evidence that it was still in existence.) And then, after nearly 60 years in the vault, it made a surprise reappearance: the Queen loaned it to the Duchess of Cornwall for her first tiara appearance as a member of the royal family, at a banquet during a visit from the Norwegian royal family.
The Duchess of Cornwall
Naturally, this caused quite a fuss - and not just from jewel watchers agape at the reappearance of this elusive diamond whale. Queen Mary made the Delhi Durbar Tiara seem almost medium-sized, but Camilla's appearance showed us that it is in fact enormous. (It appeared much more open on Camilla, prompting some to believe that she'd had it altered to open the back. This was not true, the back is still closed to create a full circlet.) Many tried to pull an important meaning or message out of the appearance of Camilla in such a queenly tiara, but if whether or not that was truly the intent of the Queen - who loaned the tiara, and thus approved its use, despite the fact that she herself doesn't wear any tiaras this size - or the Duchess, we will never know. All we know is that Camilla has yet to wear it again.
I never used to be a big fan of this tiara, to tell you the truth. I found it a little too open, a little too beauty queen-esque. But then I saw it on display at Buckingham Palace this past summer, and a new appreciation was born. There's a layered effect created by the festoons on top of the scrolls which is really quite lovely - and luxurious, diamonds on top of diamonds and all. But given the sort of kerfuffle it caused the first time around, exhibitions might be our best bet to see it in the near future.

What say you: too large, or too lovely?

Photos: Royal Collection/Geoffrey Munn/Polfoto/Getty Images