In honor of Her Majesty the Queen’s platinum jubilee, Sotheby’s London auction house will play host to some of the world’s most famous tiaras, in the biggest tiara exhibit to be curated in twenty years. Honoring the monarchy, the Queen’s 70 years on the throne, and the history of this regal piece of jewelry. This seismic exhibit brings together the history of this royal accessory with its modern-day compatriots, exhibiting not only important pieces from tiara history but also current diadems by some of the world’s leading jewelry designers, the likes of Kiki McDonough, Garrard, and Christopher Thompson Royds.
The Natural Diamond Council had the great privilege of speaking with the head of the jewelry department at Sotheby’s London, Kristian Spofforth. With over 17 years of experience in antique jewelry under his belt, Spofforth had but three months to pull this exhibit together: “It was quite a challenge. The tiaras came in dribs and drabs, one turning up every couple of days. It was only once we had set everything up that we truly knew what we had on our hands. Once the combination of the gallery, the magical floating tiaras, and the rest of the jewels on display came together, we knew that this was going to be a truly special event”.
The word “magic” comes to mind when entering the secret tiara showroom. Right off the main gallery where portraits of British royalty throughout the ages adorn the walls, an inconspicuous door opens up to reveal rows of glittering tiaras and diadems, in all shapes, sizes, and colors, a few of which quite literally levitate in mid-air! The genius behind this remarkable display comes from Belgium, where Sotheby’s commissioned seventeen floating display cases from a company called Levita. How do these tiaras stay in midair? Spofforth kept the mystery alive: “one of the guys who runs the company is a magician, so technically our official line is “it’s magic”.
Now onto the stars themselves – the tiaras. When asked to pick a favorite, Spofforth could not limit himself to a single piece: “It’s like choosing a favorite child!”. After much deliberation, three were chosen as the true showstoppers. The first must-see piece on Spofforth’s list is Queen Victoria’s emerald tiara. Designed for the monarch by her husband Prince Albert in 1845, the provenance of this piece is “spine-tingling”. It was known for being her best-loved piece of jewelry. It is famously portrayed in a painting by Franz Xaver Winterhalter of the Monarch sitting with her husband, children, and a few other of her treasured possessions: “To look at such a famous painting and see the tiara in real life is amazing. We are very lucky to have it”.
Next on Spofforth’s list is perhaps the most historic tiara on display. With a history spanning two hundred-odd years, it is only in the last forty years that it has become famously recognized, and that is because of its royal association. The Spencer tiara features diamonds originally set in 1767, however, its true claim to fame was Princess Diana’s wedding day in 1981. With its original form long lost to history, what is known is that the central heart shape motif was created in 1919, after which the famous royal jeweler Garrard modified and expanded it in the 1930s into the tiara form we know today. The presence of the Spencer tiara in this exhibit is a historic moment in itself, as it is the first time in 60 years that it will have been exhibited in London. Initially seen at the Diana exhibit at Althorp, Northamptonshire, in the estate of her brother, the tiara has been locked away in the family vaults since 2011.
Last but most certainly not least, is the Westminster Halo tiara. Perhaps the most interesting in terms of diamond history, this ornate diamond diadem was created by famed Parisian jeweler Lacloche in the 1930s. The central diamond of this tiara was at one point one of the most famous diamonds in history, the Hastings Diamond. Weighing 101 carats, the gem was gifted to King George the 3rd in 1785 by the leader of Hyderabad, Nizam Ali Khan. Named after the British general of India at the time, Warren Hastings, this diamond is one of the largest stones unearthed to date. The tiara was then bought by the American jeweler Harry Winston, one of the most famous diamantaires in the world, who then replaced the diamond with smaller stones, to create a more wearable look.
As always, we could not help but ask Spofforth his professional opinion on the central gem of this exhibit – the natural diamond: “I think it’s one of those fascinating things. Natural diamonds are always going to be the way forward. For us, it’s one of those things to be seen. they will always have that importance, that caché, and remain top of the pile”.
The 50 tiaras will be on display at Sotheby’s Bond Street until June 15th, 2022. Trust us, you won’t want to miss it.