31 March 2016

Tiara Thursday: The Portland Tiara

There's nothing like a coronation to prompt a grand tiara purchase. The dates suggest that was the case here: Cartier was commissioned in 1902 by the 6th Duke of Portland to create this tiara for his wife, Winifred, who then wore it to the 1902 coronation of King Edward VII. The Duchess was a canopy bearer for Queen Alexandra during the ceremony, and later served as her Mistress of the Robes.
The Portland Tiara
The Portland Collection/The Harley Gallery
The Duke provided the diamonds for the gold-mounted tiara, which took the form of scrolls with briolette and cushion-cut diamonds suspended in the middle. The grand diadem was well suited to perch on a throne of tall hair in the Edwardian fashion, and Duchess Winifred was also able to wear it in a bandeau style across her forehead when the fashions changed. When Winifred's daughter-in-law, Ivy, wore the tiara as Duchess of Portland to the 1953 coronation of Queen Elizabeth II, it looked a good deal larger worn open with the hairstyle of the time.
The Anointing of Queen Alexandra at the Coronation of Edward VII, by Laurits Tuxen
Detail of the Duchess of Portland at left
The tiara was apparently the survivor of a rare incident (hopefully a rare incident) recounted in the Duke's own words (via Geoffrey Munn's Tiaras: A History of Splendor): "While my wife was dressing for dinner... I threw myself into an armchair. Both she and her maid gave a scream and so did I, for I had sat down upon the very sharp points of the diamond tiara. Naturally the tiara was broken to bits, while the lower part of my poor person resembled the diamond mines of Golconda, so full was it of precious stones." Ouch.
Duchess Winifred (left, for the 1902 coronation)
and Duchess Ivy (right, for the 1953 coronation)
While the title ultimately passed out of this branch of the family, the tiara and other treasures of the Portland collection stayed. The Portland Tiara was not among the jewels sold at auction in 2010 (including another tiara associated with the family name, the Portland Sapphire Tiara).

Here's the good news: You now have a chance to see the Portland Tiara for yourself in the newly opened Harley Gallery at Welbeck, Nottinghamshire. The gallery will show a changing selection of treasures from The Portland Collection, assembled over centuries by the Dukes of Portland. Items on display include this tiara, a pearl earring worn by Charles I at his 1649 execution, a rare work by Michelangelo, and more. Click here for the Harley Gallery's website, or here for a BBC article on the gallery.