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Antique Tiaras: Powerful Crowning Pieces

Since ancient times, tiaras have been symbols of power, grandeur, and wealth. The word 'tiara' comes from the Persian word for the headdresses of Persian kings, and their association with sovereignty bled through to ancient Rome and Greece where tiaras and wreaths were worn on the heads of emperors, their wives, and the social elite. This, in turn, meant that tiaras appealed enormously to Napoleon Bonaparte and George III as a symbol of imperial authority. Although tiaras had been falling out of fashion for some time before the turn of the century, Napoleon brought them firmly back into the spotlight, with his sisters and both his wives (Empress Joséphine and Empress Marie Louise) seen wearing magnificent examples. The fashion for tiaras soon took off across Europe, amongst royalty and wealthy socialites alike.

Early Victorian tiara set with cut glass gemstones. The frame is formed into wonderfully intricate foliate leaf motifs, and each stone rests in a foiled closed back mount, c.1850s - From Butter Lane Antiques

Tiaras of the French Empire

A fragment of "The Coronation of the Emperor Napoléon I and Coronation of Empress Joséphine in Notre-Dame de Paris, 2 December 1804" by Jacques-Louis David, showing Joséphine's tiara in detail

© Musée du Louvre

Left: Empress Joséphine wearing an emerald tiara as part of a parure. Right: Empress Joséphine in another elaborate parure - both ©RMN-Grand Palais (musée des châteaux de Malmaison et de Bois-Préau)

A diamond tiara believed to have belonged to Pauline Bonaparte, with seven oval-shaped diamond clusters as flowerheads amid a profusion of foliate scrolls. Via Pinterest

The tiara/diadem of Marie-Louise of Austria, Empress of the French. It was likely a wedding gift from Napoleon I, in 1810. The diadem was originally part of an emerald and diamond parure made by French jeweler Etienne Nitot et Fils of Paris, but the emeralds were later removed and sold off individually, leaving Van Cleef & Arpels to mount turquoise as a replacement. The tiara is made up of 1,006 old mine-cut diamonds and 79 Persian turquoise stones - via Wikimedia Commons

The Duchess of Angoulême (daughter of Queen Marie Antoinette and King Louix XVI)'s emerald-and-diamond tiara, c.1820. In 1819, a cache of fourteen emeralds from the crown jewels was used to construct a brand-new tiara for the duchess. The tiara, which features diamond scroll elements hugging the green stones, was made by jewelers from Maison Bapst, the firm that served as the court jeweler to the Bourbons during this period. - Louvre via Wikimedia Commons

Stéphanie de Beauharnais, Grand Duchess of Baden's pearl-and-diamond tiara, c.1830, now in the Museum at Mannheim Palace - Photo: Staatsanzeiger Baden-Württemberg via epochtimes

Empress Eugénie's pearl tiara, a wedding gift from her husband Napoleon III, made by Alexandre-Gabriel Lemonnier using stones that were once worn by Empress Marie Louise and the Duchess of Angoulême. The silver tiara holds more than 200 pearls and nearly 2000 diamonds - via Wikimedia Commons (1 | 2)

Cameo Tiaras

With Napoleon Bonaparte's desire to channel the Roman Emperors and Greek classicism during his reign, and with the discoveries being made at the archeological sites of Herculaneum and Pompeii, cameo-laden tiaras and pieces with classical or mythological motifs became extremely popular, in France and beyond.

This prestigious pearl and cameo tiara has quite a history. Reportedly first made for Empress Joséphine, it is worn in the portrait on the left by her daughter Hortense de Beauharnais (via Wikimedia Commons). It was then gifted to Empress Joséphine's granddaughter - Josephine of Leuchtenberg - through her son Eugène upon her death. The portraits on the right show Josephine of Leuchtenberg wearing the tiara while Princess of Sweden (through marriage), and then later as Queen of Sweden (via Pinterest). The tiara has remained in the Swedish Bernadotte family ever since, and it has become a tradition for Bernadotte brides to wear the tiara on their wedding day.

Empress Joséphine's shell cameo diadem, presented to her by her brother-in-law, Joachim Murat. Gold, shell, mother-of-pearl, cameos, pearls, precious and semi-precious stones.

Photo via jewellermagazine.

Empress Joséphine's malachite cameo parure including a malachite cameo tiara, c.1810

From Chaumet - Chaumet in Majesty

This Tiara or diadem is part of a Neo-classical parure or set of jewelry, made of ancient Roman engraved gems. Gold diadem, decorated with enamel and mounted with carnelian intaglios, mostly Roman, 100 BC -200 AD, with some 18th-century stones probably carved in Italy. It is said to have been given to the Empress Joséphine of France by Napoleon’s sister Caroline Murat

© Victoria and Albert Museum, London.

A 'Spartan tiara' in two parts, made of gilded metal, set with white glass cameos of classical heads mounted on the front on carnelian, and on the back on chalcedony, France, c.1810

©Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Georgian Berlin Iron neoclassical cameo tiara, comprising 5 neoclassical cameo links, c.1810-1815 Via Worthpoint

Berlin Iron Tiara c.1810 - From Lang Antiques

By tradition, this piece is believed to have belonged to Caroline Murat, Queen of Naples and sister to Napoleon Bonaparte. Gold tiara set with four lapis lazuli plaques inset with shells and pearls in a pietre dure mosaic, it is part of a micromosaic parure - ©Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Set of Micromosaic jewelry, c.1811 - © The Museum of Decorative Arts in Prague via Chaumet

Other Georgian-Era Tiaras

An antique Georgian tiara, c.1815, featuring three stars embellished with various rococo-style foliate motifs and set with vibrant green and white paste gemstones - From Butter Lane Antiques

A pink spinel and mine-cut diamond on gold tiara, which is part of the Bagration Parure, c.1810, attributed to the jeweler Fossin & Fils. The parure originally belonged to Princess Ekatarina Pavlovna Bagration, (née Skavronskaia), wife of Prince Pyotr Ivanovic Bagration (a Russian army general and a descendant of the Bagration Kings of Georgia). The sixth Duke of Westminster presented this parure to Natasha Phillips prior to their wedding in 1978 - Via tiarasandtrianon.com

Diamond tiara, c.1820 - From @martindudaffoy via Instagram

Georgian gold and amethyst parure, featuring a tiara - From @gioielleriapennisi via Instagram

Georgian Flowers & Foliage

Tiaras made from wreaths of flowers and foliage were very fashionable throughout the 19th century. In the early years of the century, Romantic poets like Wordsworth created a widespread interest in botany and nature, influencing the designs of jewelry. Until around the 1830s, this resulted in many Rococo-revival, stylized, and delicate floral and foliate motifs in jewelry, particularly in tiaras. However, not many examples survive, as floral tiaras were often broken down into individual sprays and worn as brooches.

Georgian tiara, c.1800, designed as a spray of myrtle, each pair of leaves pavé-set with cushion-shaped and old brilliant-cut diamonds, the flowerheads collet-set with similarly cut stones. The tiara belonged to Georgiana Eliza Stuart (1821-1904), 3rd daughter of the 11th Lord Blantyre, and 2nd wife of the 19th-century diplomat, Sir Andrew Buchanan. Myrtle was an attribute of Venus and her handmaidens, the Three Graces, and was used to symbolize everlasting love and marital fidelity - via Bonhams

Three-colour gold tiara with swags of leaves and flowers surmounted by a row of large flowers formed by clusters of turquoises surrounded by cannetille work with a small diamond in the center, France, c.1805-30

© The Trustees of the British Museum

Tiaras of the Victorian Era

The key difference between a crown and tiara - apart from the distinction that crowns were only really worn by royalty while tiaras were worn by royalty and wealthy 'commoners' alike - is that crowns are circular and sit on top of the head, while tiaras are semi-circular and can be worn on the head in a variety of ways.

Queen Victoria's diamond and emerald tiara designed for her by Prince Albert, and a portrait of Queen Victoria wearing the tiara with her full diamond and emerald parure, c.1843

© Historic Royal Palaces via The Court Jeweller

Queen Victoria's sapphire and diamond coronet/tiara, designed for her in their wedding year by Prince Albert, made by Joseph Kitching, London, c.1840-2. Standing as the symbol of her royal status, the tiara was worn around her chignon on the back of her head, as painted in the first official portrait of the young Queen by Winterhalter (pictured on the right). In 1866, just over four years after Albert’s death, she wore the coronet on top of her head at the first Opening of Parliament she felt able to attend since her loss.

©Victoria and Albert Museum & Royal Collection Trust / © Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2021

The grand Fife Tiara - designed by Oscar Massin and given as a wedding present to Princess Louise of Wales, daughter of King Edward VII and Queen Alexandra, by her new husband, the Duke of Fife, c.1889 © Historic Royal Palaces via The Court Jeweller

Another tiara belonging to Princess Louise of Wales, Duchess of Fife (1867-1931). This classic diamond fringe, which can be worn either as a tiara or a necklace, was given to Louise as a wedding present by her parents, King Edward VII and Queen Alexandra. It is composed of fine brilliants in alternating and graduating rays, varying from nearly two inches long in the center to half an inch at the extreme ends © Historic Royal Palaces via The Court Jeweller

An antique diamond and silver-topped gold tiara, c.1880, designed as an old European and old mine-cut diamond garland surmounted by six graduated diamond florets - via Bonhams

Tiara with a gilded metal frame in the design of graduated scallops, set with rhinestones and a central pearl in each scallop, French, 19th century - Museum of Fine Arts Boston

A carved conch shell parure, including a tiara, carved with marine motifs incorporating sea-horses, dolphins, mermaids, and scallop shells. The larger elements are riveted to a gold wireframe, from which the smaller elements are suspended, Naples, c.1850-1870 - © The Trustees of the British Museum

Bloomed and chased two-color gold tiara set with round and leaf-shaped cabochon garnets in the form of a half circlet of flowers and leaves. England, c.1850 - © The Trustees of the British Museum

A diamond tiara, c.1880-90, the trio of graduated starbursts atop a row of undulating scrolls and arcs, set throughout with old brilliant, single, rose-cut, and cushion-shaped diamonds. The tiara was reportedly worn at important balls and functions, most notably for the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II at Westminster Abbey by The Lady Balfour of Burleigh, wife of The Lord Balfour of Burleigh - Via Bonhams

A diamond and ruby graduated ball tiara, c.1895, of coronet style, the graduating row of up scroll 'U' shapes each topped by a ball, pierced and set with diamonds and principal ruby in a flowerhead and fleur-de-lys design, the diamonds are of cushion and rose-cut, the balls each detachable via screw fittings and accompanied by a bracelet and brooch mounts, the bracelet articulated and with diamond and ruby oblong clusters dividing the eleven ball motifs - From @s_j_phillips via Instagram

Victorian Flowers & Foliage

As the 19th century continued, the floral and foliate motifs in jewelry became ever-more precise and complex. Flowers like roses, lilies, chrysanthemums, and fuscias were particularly popular, and other elements like fruit and insects began to creep into compositions.

At Queen Victoria’s coronation, her attendants wore wreaths/tiaras of silver corn-ears. Wheat or corn-ears were a historical symbol of Empire used by Napoleon Bonaparte and in ancient Rome and Greece. Napoleon's second wife, Empress Marie Louise of France, had a tiara made of one hundred and fifty diamond ears of wheat in 1811.

Left: Wheat Sheaf Tiara created using nine of the one hundred and fifty diamond ears made by Marie-Étienne Nitot for Empress Marie Louise. Right: A diamond-set aigrette in the form of a ribbon-tied sheaf of wheat-ears, silver, and gold, early 19th century. On close inspection, you can see that each wheat-ear could be pulled out and these would then have been slotted into a tiara

Via Chaumet & © The Trustees of the British Museum

Tiara wreath of brilliant-cut diamond flowers and foliage set in silver, with ruby stamens set in gold, in a gold frame. For wearing on the head or around the neck using a fitting to convert the piece into a necklace, Western Europe, c.1830-40 - ©Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Chaumet Pansy flower tiara, c.1850 - From Chaumet

Tiara in the form of a wreath, brilliant-cut diamonds, and a few rose-cut in three attached units, set in silver and backed with gold. The basic structure is a wreath of Neoclassical design. The honeysuckle palmette on a trembler a later addition of 1860–80, replacing a damaged flower. England, c.1850

©Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Early Victorian tiara set with cut glass gemstones. The frame is formed into wonderfully intricate foliate leaf motifs, and each stone rests in a foiled closed back mount, c.1850s - From Butter Lane Antiques

Tiara in three pieces in the form of branches of oak leaves and acorns. Silver and gold, open-back, set with diamonds and convertible to a brooch or to use as comb-mounts. England, c.1855

© The Trustees of the British Museum

Duchess of Genoa's diamond floral tiara, made by Musy Padre e Figli, c.1860. The flowers can be removed to be worn as other separate pieces of jewelry - Via Tiara Mania

Victorian-era pearl and diamond tiara, once the property of the Dukes of Alcudia and Sueca. Designed as a scrolled bandeau, the tiara is encrusted with no less than 775 old mine-cut diamonds and features raised swags supporting a series of drop-shaped pearls, alternating with five, graduated, strawberry-leaf motifs, each of which is detachable, with separate brooch fittings, mounted in silver and gold, c.1860. The tiara was recently brought to public awareness when it was worn by Kendall Jenner - via 1stdibs

Victorian tiara set with European cut and rose-cut diamonds in Belle Époque style floral motifs, c.1890

From Bentley & Skinner, via @thepiccadillydispatch on Instagram

A tiara designed as a laurel wreath, pierced and millegrain-set with circular, step, and mixed-cut emeralds, interspersed with pearl 'berries' and rose-cut diamond stems, c.1900 - via Bonhams

Cut steel tiara, English or French, late 19th century - Museum of Fine Arts Boston

Mourning Tiaras

Tiaras made from dark materials like Jet or Jet substitutes became popular around the mid-19th century, suiting the heavy, dark clothing of the time, but also being used particularly during periods of mourning. Mourning fashion was strongly encouraged by Queen Victoria and her own prolonged mourning period following the death of Prince Albert in 1861. By around 1900 the Whitby Jet boom in England had ended and supplies became more scarce, leading to wider use of cheaper substitutes. This ultimately affected the reputation of the industry negatively, and Jet jewelry fell out of fashion.

A 'French jet' tiara of cast glass mounted on metal, c.1880-90. This tiara shows that jet or its substitutes were worn at the highest level of society: only those above a certain social class would have had the occasion to wear a tiara - ©Victoria & Albert Museum, London

'The Manchester Tiara', made by Cartier, Paris, c.1903, to the order of Consuelo, Dowager Duchess of Manchester. She supplied over a thousand brilliant-cut diamonds and more than 400 rose-cut diamonds herself, while Cartier supplied further rose-cut diamonds and paste stones. The tiara is composed of seven graduated heart-shaped openwork motifs with 'C' scroll ends, with detachable collet and scroll surmounts, each center suspending three diamond drops. The smallest heart motif and the 'C' scrolls at each end are set with paste, except the three collet diamonds at the center of each heart and their two outer borders

©Victoria and Albert Museum, London/Cartier

Transforming Tiaras

Not only did tiaras often have detachable parts that could be worn as bracelets, brooches, or individual aigrette sprays, but some tiaras - particularly in the late 19th century - could even be entirely converted into necklaces...

A late 19th-century pearl and diamond transforming tiara of the House of Savoy (the ruling house of Italy from 1861 to 1946), made by Musy Padre e Figli. It was probably given to Maria Vittoria dal Pozzo as a wedding gift on the occasion of her marriage to Amadeo I of Savoy, Duke of Aosta, in 1867. The jewel is composed of spiral patterns of cushion, circular, and simple-cut diamonds, framing 11 natural pear drops

From Sotheby's, via gioiellis.com

Mid-19th-century tiara/necklace. The tiara is formed of a graduating series of scrolling volutes, set throughout with cushion-shaped and old brilliant-cut diamonds, culminating at the center in a similarly set floral and foliate cartouche, with a central pear-shaped diamond. It can be converted to a necklace, and the centerpiece can be detached to form a brooch - via Bonhams

A Victorian tiara/necklace, to the center, are 3 large old European-cut diamonds, vertically set in a foliate design, to further openwork scroll design sections set throughout with old-cut diamonds. The tiara converts to a necklace with detachable diamond-set back section, c.1880, - From Bentley & Skinner

Victorian diamond and pearl fringe tiara that converts to a necklace. Traditionally diamonds symbolized the enduring nature of love and marriage whilst pearls were linked to purity and fertility

From @hancocks_london via Instagram

A Victorian diamond and pearl tiara/necklace with 23 floral design stems graduated from the centre, encrusted with 177 old European and rose-cut diamonds and flanked with 34 natural pearls. With a detachable yellow gold frame, it can be converted to a necklace with a diamond-set scrolling back-section set with 46 rose-cut diamonds, c.1880 - From Bentley & Skinner

The Kokoshnik Tiara (left) was inspired by the Russian fringe tiaras of the 19th century. This tiara was made for Alexandra, Princess of Wales, sister of Empress Maria Feodorovna (pictured to the right in her own fringe tiara) who was the consort of Tsar Alexander III of Russia. The tiara was presented to Alexandra for her 25th wedding anniversary in 1888 by the ‘Ladies of Society’, and was made by R & S Garrard & Co. Each bar is pavé-set with brilliant-cut diamonds, set in white and yellow gold. Like tiaras of a similar design, it could also be worn as a necklace - Royal Collection Trust / © Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2021 (1 | 2)

A late Victorian pearl and diamond tiara consisting of 5 graduated clusters of diamond and pearl-set openwork scroll styling with pearl tops, and diamond and pearl-set floral motifs in between each. When removed from the gold frame and attached to a necklet chain of graduated pearl and diamond links with diamond drops, it can be converted into a necklace, c.1890. - From Bentley & Skinner

Victorian Anglesey Tiara which has a detachable rivière necklace. It has been worn to a Coronation and photographed for Vogue by Cecil Beaton - From @hancocks_london via Instagram

The Kerouartz Tiara - c.1897, set with natural saltwater pearls. It is transformable into a necklace

Chaumet in Majesty - Chaumet - From @oteoodesign via Instagram

A late Victorian pearl and diamond tiara/necklace, to the center a cluster in the form of a flowerhead, set with 7 pearls and 42 old European and rose-cut diamonds, to two graduated openwork, slides each slide set with 11 pearls graduating in size, surrounded by 105 old European and rose-cut diamonds. The tiara converts to a necklace with a detachable back section when taken off the yellow gold frame, c.1890

From Bentley & Skinner

Victorian tiara set with old mine-cut diamonds in silver on gold. It converts into a gorgeous necklace with a few turn of the screws and some minor adjustments, c.880 - From @fableandwindsor via Instagram

A late Victorian diamond-set tiara of floral design, consisting of 5 diamond-set flowers with openwork folate design decorations graduating from the center, connected with 4 openwork arches with foliate decorations, with 329 old European and rose-cut diamonds. It can be converted to a necklace with a detachable back-section encrusted with 11 rose-cut diamonds, c.1890 - From Bentley & Skinner

Tiaras are still very popular today, seen adorning the heads of Queens and brides alike. We have the European jewelry trendsetters of the Georgian and Victorian eras to thank for that.

For more rare Georgian and Victorian jewelry and transforming pieces, follow Antique Animal Jewelry on Instagram