25 May 2017

Tiara Thursday: The Manchester Tiara

Wealthy Cuban-American Consuelo Yznaga (1853-1909) married George Montagu, the future 8th Duke of Manchester, in New York City in 1876. She was one of the first of the so-called Dollar Princesses, the eligible American heiresses who married fortune-seeking aristocrats in matches designed to provide titles for the women and funds for the men. The Duchess of Manchester's goddaughter and namesake was Consuelo Vanderbilt, whose marriage to the Duke of Marlborough was among the most famous of these Gilded Age arrangements. Consuelo Montagu was also good friends with Edith Wharton, who chronicled matches like hers in The Buccaneers.

The Manchester Tiara
Victoria & Albert Museum, London
The tiara Consuelo, then the Dowager Duchess of Manchester, commissioned from Cartier in 1903 is as much a symbol of her era as her marriage was. The Belle Epoque design features seven graduated flaming heart motifs of diamonds set in gold and silver. Each heart has three dangling diamonds at the center and is topped by a detachable scroll motif and single collet diamond. The Dowager Duchess provided over 1,000 brilliant-cut diamonds and over 400 rose-cut diamonds for the tiara; Cartier provided additional rose-cut diamonds to make up the design as well as a few paste (glass) stones for the C-scrolls at the ends.

Helena, Duchess of Manchester
The motif is shared with others made around the same time, such as Princess Thyra's Sapphire Tiara, which is now worn by Princess Elisabeth of Denmark, and the Edward VII Ruby Tiara, now worn by Queen Silvia of Sweden. The massive scale of the tiara was definitely set up for the large hairstyles of the time. It was overwhelming even for Consuelo's daughter-in-law Helena, a fellow American who wore the tiara to the 1911 coronation of King George V and Queen Mary. In his book Tiaras: A History of Splendour, Geoffrey Munn notes that Helena "was said to have supported this enormous jewel with an air of permanent misgiving."

The back side of the tiara
Victoria & Albert Museum, London
The family's wealth and estates were basically gone by the time the 12th Duke, who spent some time in prison for fraud, took the title. The Manchester Tiara was accepted by the British government in 2007 in lieu of inheritance taxes following his death, and the diadem was allocated to the Victoria & Albert Museum in London. It's on display in the jewelry gallery, which is excellent news because you can visit it anytime you like. And such a beautiful and grand piece deserves to be examined up close and personal.

Which flaming heart tiara is the one for you?