21 May 2015

Tiara Thursday: The Roxburghe Tiaras

A while ago I mentioned a Sotheby's sale including pieces from the estate of Mary, Duchess of Roxburghe, which included three tiaras. The sale was on May 12. Today, we're taking a closer look at those diadems. Buckle up, you're in for a triple tiara treat...
Our three tiaras in action, modeled before the sale
Born in 1915, Mary was the daughter of the Marquess of Crewe and his second wife, Lady Peggy Primrose. She was named after her godmother, Queen Mary. In 1935, she married George "Bobo" Innes-Ker, the 9th Duke of Roxburghe. Society life rolled on as usual for the couple, including a role for the Duchess as a trainbearer to Queen Elizabeth at the 1937 coronation, until 1953. Eighteen years after their marriage, her husband abruptly (and apparently without stated reason) tried to have Mary evicted from Floors Castle, his ducal seat. Thus began a marital feud that lasted six long weeks, Mary refusing to leave the castle while the Duke shut her out of as many amenities as he could, including telephone, electricity, and gas. She survived with the help of sympathetic neighbors including the Earl of Home, future prime minister, who stepped in to negotiate an end to the standoff. The Duchess of Roxburghe was granted a divorce in London. The couple had no children. (The Duke swiftly remarried and had two sons by his second wife.)

Video: On Mary and some of her auctioned jewels, including unrelated jewels at the sale. For a video showing West Horsley Place, click here.
Mary made her life in London after the divorce and eventually inherited a country estate, West Horsley Place, when her mother passed away. She did not remarry and did not have children of her own. When she died in 2014 at the age of 99, her estate passed to her nephew, television presenter Bamber Gascoigne. West Horsley Place is in desperate need of extensive repairs, and she assumed he would end up selling the mansion and estate. Mr. Gascoigne, however, decided to go the opposite route. The Sotheby's auction was designed to raise funds to keep the house and make the necessary repairs. It reminds me of the strategy Princess Gloria of Thurn and Taxis used to keep the family fortune afloat in the 1990s, selling things that can reasonably be bought again (such as jewels) and keeping those that can't (such as historic estates), which seems quite smart to me. As an added bonus for those that love jewels, this brings several wonderful pieces to our attention.

Among other gems, the auction included three tiaras:

The premiere piece in the collection is a unique diamond tiara by Cartier that dates from the 1930s. An Art Deco geometric treasure, it is set with circular-cut diamonds and topped by a series of 31 collet-set diamonds. The case from Cartier is stamped with the monogram and coronet of Mary, Duchess of Roxburghe. This is the most expensive of the three tiaras, selling for more than $2.5 million.

A more imposing diamond tiara went for nearly $850,000, a piece that dates from the last quarter of the 19th century. The design features 20 swinging pear-shaped diamonds dangling amidst rose and cushion-shaped diamonds forming scroll and fleur de lys motifs and a base with lozenge and trefoil motifs. It feels like a cross between the Girls of Great Britain and Ireland Tiara, with its lozenge base, and the Fife Tiara, with its dangling pear drops, which is a very good thing by my book. And this one has added flexibility: the tiara detaches from the bandeau base to become a necklace, while the bandeau itself breaks down into two separate sections.

The last of the three tiaras is a ruby and diamond diadem of a similar age to the older diamond tiara, dating from the later half of the 19th century. The tall piece features rose, cushion, and circular-cut diamonds in foliate motifs over ruby baselines, with a central lyre design set with diamonds and rubies. The older pieces in the collection, including this ruby tiara and the diamond tiara above, possibly belonged to Mary's maternal grandmother, Hannah Primrose, Countess of Rosebery (you may remember her from our recent discussion on the Rosebery Pearl and Diamond Tiara). A matching ruby and diamond bracelet is inscribed on the back with a memorial to "my beloved grandmother Sara Cohen." This tiara brought in the lowest price at auction, just over $100,000. (See? You don't need a house. Or part of a house. You could have a tiara instead. Your loss.)

Which of these three would you most like to take home?

Photos: via Getty Images and Sotheby's video