15 October 2015

Tiara Thursday: Queen Nazli's Van Cleef & Arpels Tiara

When we looked at Princess Fawzia's Van Cleef & Arpels Tiara last year, many of you made note of its large size, classifying it firmly in the "big gun" category. Amusingly, though, Fawzia's tiara was actually not the big gun tiara in that particular jewelry order.
Queen Nazli's Van Cleef & Arpels Tiara (sketch)
Princess Fawzia's tiara was ordered from Van Cleef & Arpels in 1938, in advance of the wedding of the Egyptian princess to the future Shah of Iran, but it was part of a larger commission from the esteemed French jeweler. Fawzia's mother, Queen Nazli (1894-1978), took the opportunity to order a parure for herself, a set even more elaborate than the one created for the bride. Van Cleef & Arpels: Treasures and Legends by Vincent Meylan details the set of a tiara with more than 700 diamonds in platinum and a matching necklace with well over 600 additional diamonds, each item boasting between 200 and 300 carats. The tiara could also be worn as a necklace itself, and features bursts of baguette diamonds topped with rolling rows of brilliants. This design has always reminded me of the marquees topping old Art Deco movie theaters - with a sign screaming QUEEN instead of a list of coming attractions. There's no way not to make an impression in pieces like these.
Queen Nazli's story is not a happy one, but it is intertwined with the tale of her tiara. She was born Nazli Sabri, the daughter of a politically-inclined Egyptian family. She was 25 years younger than Fuad I, who married her 1919 after spotting her at the opera. It was the second marriage for both of them, and an unhappy one, but it did last until he died in 1936. Nazli was Queen Mother by the time this tiara was created. She left Egypt for the United States in the 1940s and settled in the Los Angeles area. With an unhappy marriage and a divorce in her own past, the Queen Mother supported her daughter Princess Fathia's desire to marry Riyad Ghali, a commoner and a Christian, in 1950. The marriage was against the wishes of Nazli's son, King Farouk, and he reacted by stripping his mother and sister of their royal titles and allowances and banning them from Egypt.
Financial trouble was not far off for the banished royal women. The former queen still had her valuable jewel collection, and they had to put it to use. In 1975 these pieces were among jewels placed for auction at Sotheby's, the tiara and necklace selling for $127,500 and $140,000 respectively (per Jewels du Jour), but Nazli and Fathia still ended up in bankruptcy court. The worst was yet to come: Fathia was murdered in 1976 by the man she had fought to marry (and had later divorced) just as she and her mother regained their passports and were able to return to Egypt. Nazli died two years later.
The necklace (sketch and actual)
As for the jewels, the tiara has not been seen since. The necklace, however, just reappeared: Sotheby's will auction it again in the Magnificent Jewels sale on December 9, 2015. The overwhelming opulence of rows upon rows of brilliants is even more stunning in current pictures, and I can't help but wish we'd get another look at that tiara - if it even still exists.

What do you think: too much, or never enough?

Psst: It's a two post day! Keep scrolling.

Photos: Van Cleef & Arpels, Public Domain/Wikimedia Commons, Sotheby's