25 October 2013

Tiara Thursday (on a Friday): The Londonderry Tiara

A day late, because BABIES, but here nevertheless is your weekly dose of sparkle:
The Londonderry Tiara
The Londonderry Tiara, you'll not be surprised to learn, is the headline jewel in the rather magnificent collection of the Londonderry family, headed by the Marquess of Londonderry. Several members of the family have played significant roles in politics and British high society throughout history, and as the family gems have been worn by one Marchioness after another to one important event after another, the jewels have gained a fame of their own.
Marchioness Frances Anne (left) and Marchioness Theresa (right, wearing the tiara)
The first influential Lady Londonderry to play a role in this tiara's story is Frances Anne (1800-1865), wife of the third Marquess. In 1854, she commissioned Garrard to dismantle existing Londonderry pieces (a waistband or belt, some of the insignia of the Order of the Garter that belonged to the second Marquess, plus more) and create a new parure. This tiara was part of that new set. It is made from 1,141 diamonds, including some fine Golconda and Brazilian stones, in silver settings mounted in gold. The diamonds – 482.5 carats in all - form a tiara that makes a near complete circle and takes the shape of swags connecting a series of palm motifs. The original estimate from Garrard, which is quoted in Diana Scarisbrick’s Ancestral Jewels, notes that the tiara is to “divide as comb and brooches”, but the diadem has been changed plenty over the years. Initially, the centers of the tiara motifs were pearls; the family has an impressive set of pearls to their name, some of which could be mounted on top of the tiara for a taller look. The centers of the tiara motifs are now diamonds and are mounted to tremble on springs for maximum sparkle.
Marchioness Theresa. On the left, she attends the Devonshire House Ball in 1897 decked out as Empress Maria Theresa of Austria with a gown copied from a portrait and covered in her own jewels, including a crown of real diamonds specially made up for the occasion behind the tiara. On the right, she adds the pearls to the tiara for the coronation of Edward VII in 1902.
Both versions of the tiara - with and without pearls on top - were worn to great effect by Theresa (1856-1919), wife of the sixth Marquess. She had a forceful personality and plenty of influence to exert; she was a renowned society hostess and used the full force of the family jewel collection to get the job done (part of E.F. Benson’s description of her, as quoted in Geoffrey Munn’s Tiaras: A History of Splendour: “She reveled in personal splendor, she frankly and unmitigatedly enjoyed standing at the head of her stairs… with the ‘family fender’ as she called that nice diamond crown on her most comely head.”). Her use of that family fender at many important occasions is well recorded, including the time it slipped off her head and fell in the toilet at the coronation of Edward VII (a predicament that came to light when her extended time in the loo became conspicuous and she had to call for assistance; the tiara was rescued by a pair of forceps).
Marchioness Edith with the tiara in portrait (left) and for the 1937 coronation (center). Note the other family jewelry shown here and above, including the diamond Latin cross on Theresa, plus the famous Londonderry pearls and the enormous diamond stomacher on both Edith and Theresa. Right: the tiara on display at the V&A.
This collection became so well known that when Edith (1878-1959), wife of the seventh Marquess and another influential Lady Londonderry, was criticized for bringing the gems out again after World War I, the Illustrated London News jumped to her defense. The publication named the “superb and plenteous” Londonderry jewels “a heritage, and one in which Britishers all round take a vicarious pride.” This tiara, along with other treasures, is still with the family. In recent years they've shared the bounty by allowing the tiara (as well as their fantastic amethysts) to be exhibited at the Victoria & Albert Museum in London. I've seen it there, and it is enchanting; it's one that I forget I love until I see it again, and then I feel the sudden need to rework my list of favorites.

Is it a favorite for you?

Photos: Geoffrey Munn/Londonderry family/Wikipedia/NPG/Lafayette/V&A