Tiara to the Aigrette – Hair Ornament, Halo or ‘Cock’s Comb’

Cartier Tiara diamond

Catherine Middleton arrived at Westminster Abbey to marry Prince William, Duke of Cambridge on 29th April 2011 looking absolutely breathtaking. Not only was the lace dress, with its V-neck décolleté and elegant silhouette one of the most romantic seen on a royal bride for a long time, but to top it all off on her hair she was wearing the ultimate head turning piece of jewellery, the tiara. She had chosen to wear the ‘Cartier’ tiara, known in royal circles as the ‘Halo’. The Royal Collection contains a variety of both designs and styles in hair ornaments, which were inherited by Her Majesty in 1953.

The ‘Halo’ was made from a band of sixteen graduated scrolls set with 739 brilliant and 149 baton diamonds. The tiara’s beautifully nuanced design represented simplicity balanced beautifully between a piece of traditional regalia and an object with close family associations.

It wasn’t flashy or gaudy, but chic and refined, probably about as understated a piece of glorious jewellery for the hair as you could possibly hope to find. Her choice said a lot about the ‘classic’ style of the soon to be Duchess, because she had picked out something with such a restrained and elegant design from the royal collection of tiaras.

The Cartier Halo Tiara was the ultimate ‘something borrowed’ item worn by any bride anywhere, and in our time. When Louis-François Cartier registered his first craftsman’s hallmark during the 19th century – a lozenge with a heart and his initials L and C inside, it was the beginning of an ongoing love story for he, his family and the Maison Cartier he founded. His aim of ensuring that the jewellery Cartier designed would pass from generation to generation is perhaps best reflected in the Cartier Halo Tiara.

This was first given by Prince George to his wife Elizabeth just three weeks before he became King George VI in 1936. The Queen Mother left it to her daughter Queen Elizabeth II who lent it to Catherine Middleton.

By today’s standards the tiara would be extremely valuable. The diamonds in the ‘Cartier’ Halo tiara are set in platinum. Platinum is called a ‘noble metal, because it displays remarkable resistance to corrosion and is one of the rarest elements in the earth’s crust.

This equates to it being the most precious metal we have. During sustained periods of economic growth platinum is usually twice the price of gold.

Diamonds-&-Red-RoseDiamonds have become a potent symbol over the centuries reflecting power, sovereignty and eternal love. They also have inherent qualities of endurance and longevity.

Their value is mainly determined by a single diamond’s 4C’s, carat, color, cut and clarity. These are also allied to the purity, magnificence and material value of the stones.

When you value add both provenance and style to such a stunning piece of Cartier’s timeless jewellery, then that adds value as well.

Duchess Kate wearing the tiara would have given its value a further boost, because ‘provenance’ and proving who has worn it makes a difference to all antique items.

The tiara has been making impressive statements about status and style for some time, when worn by either a man or a woman. For the past two centuries especially, women wearing tiaras have been painted, photographed, filmed and much admired. Their tiara’s, have in some instances, become as celebrated as they have.

This stunning hair ornament was purchased by the Duke of York (later George VI) for the Duchess of York as a present just weeks before he was called to the palace to take over from his brother who had abdicated the throne. When their eldest daughter Elizabeth turned 18 her mother gave it to her as a gift.

When she left Westminster Abbey that day the newly appointed Duchess of Cambridge, was carrying the weight of British history, as well as the expectation of both British and Commonwealth peoples on her delicately lace covered shoulders, and she carried it off with great aplomb. In the process she became a fashion icon for brides to follow for all time.

Technically the word ‘tiara’ in translation came from ancient Greek via old Persia and it means high crown. It is a form of head ornament used by royalty since the days of the Kings and Emperors of ancient civilizations, including Anatolia, Mesopotamia, Assyria and Persia.

Attaching the word ‘halo’ to the Cartier tiara belonging to the Queen is an interesting choice.

A ‘halo’ is a sign of divinity and symbolizes the beauty of holiness.  A prime example of a holy ‘tiara’ would be the one His Holiness the Pope used to wear at Rome. The Papal Tiara or The Triregnum symbolized the triple power of the Pope; as father of Kings, governor of the World and the Vicar of Christ from the 14th century onward.

Originally just a small circlet, the Papal ‘tiara’ had grown into something a little larger during the late 13th and early 14th centuries ending up as the triple crown, which was represented as an image first on the tomb of Benedict XII who died in 1342.

It seems that Pope Boniface VIII (1235-1303), whose previous rule had coincided with the change, decided he wanted it to be a bit more imposing and so the three-layered ‘Papal Crown was born.

Being made of silver and gold and also studded all over with gems it had in recent times become associated with the church’s many excesses over the centuries, despite it being an integral part of its ongoing history and traditions since antiquity.

Its use was finally abandoned during the Papacy of Paul VI (1897-1978) because it represented triumphalism.

Pope Paul saw himself as a humble servant for a suffering humanity and consequent demanded significant changes of the rich in America and Europe in favour of the poor in the Third World. He decided that like so many other such grand symbols of Empire it was time for it to retire to a museum.

A magnificent antique diamond tiara designed circa 1890 by Fabergé at Paris is certainly an amazing object. It has become known as The Empress Josephine Tiara which was sold in 2007 for 1,050, 400 pound.

The Tiara gained the ‘Empress’ association because it is made from diamonds given to the former French Empress Josephine by Russia’s Tsar Alexandra I following her distressing divorce from Emperor Napoleon 1.

The Russian ruler used to visit her often. However it was not made by Fabergé’s workmaster August Holmström until late in the nineteenth century and the Empress had died in 1814, so the ‘tiara’ had never belonged to her at all.

This tiara was inherited by Queen Maria José (1906-2001) the last Queen of Italy, from her brother Prince Charles Theodore (1903-83), the second son of King Albert I of Belgium.

His maternal great grandmother was an adopted daughter of Emperor Napoleon 1 and a member of the first family Empress Josephine belonged to by marriage, that of her guillotined husband Alexandre, Vicomte de Beauharnais.

A tiara differs from the diadem, another style of ancient ornamental headband, which was worn by Eastern monarchs.The word also derives from Greek and in translation means “I bind round”, or “I fasten”. It started out as a simple ribbon that surrounded the head of a king to denote authority and could also be used more generally as an emblem of regal power or dignity.

Roman Emperors from the time of Diocletian onward had worn the diadem a fact that French Emperor Napoleon knew well because it was an Empire that he studied avidly. He and his Empress, Josephine, both wore the diadem at his coronation.

Napoleon crowns Josephine Empress

Napoleon crowns Josephine Empress

In the Coronation painting by Jacques Louis David he is wearing the stunning ‘golden’ laurel wreath, which was in tribute to his military prowess, each ‘laurel’ leaf representing a victory.

In ancient times Laurel leaves were thought to be remedies against poison, as well as tokens of peace and laurel branches became heraldic symbols. Laurel wreaths were given to winners, or victors in the early Olympic games and as a symbol of victory later worn by Roman conquerors such as Julius Caesar.

Josephine Tiara 1804They are symbols of both triumph and fame. So great was the weight of Napoleon’s hair ornament it became necessary to prune it in order to make it more practical for use.

She is wearing her diamond diadem, which was made for the coronation in 1804 and sold in 1887 by the French Republic when it was purchased by the jewelry store of Van Cleef and Arpels at New York, in whose possession it remains today.

Josephine’s Shell cameo Diadem presented to her by her brother in law was made of gold, shell, mother of pearl, cameos, pearls precious and semi precious stones.

It always traveled with her wherever she went helping her to diffuse the Parisian Empire style, championed by she and Napoleon both, abroad.

Pauline BonaparteA great many of the diadems of Josephine as well as her jewelry passed down through the royal houses of Europe all associated with Napoleon’s family.

Napoleon’s sister Pauline was a renowned beauty.

Portraits of her wearing the cameo and diamond diadem with matching jewelry reveal just how incredibly beautiful she was, and they are.

Josephine’s son Eugéne de Beauharnais’s daughter was named Josephine for his mother, and she became the Queen of Sweden having married the future King Oscar I in 1823.

Amethyst TiaraShe took a huge part of the treasure trove of her grandmother’s jewels with her to Sweden where they remain. They are indeed impressive and include Josephine’s stunning Amethyst Tiara

Sweden’s Princess Victoria wore Josephine’s Cameo Tiara at her wedding.

The pearl-covered diadem is heightened by seven cameos, depicting mythological figures.

Today it has become the traditional bridal hair ornament in the House of Bernadotte, with Victoria’s mother Queen Silvia, wearing it on her own wedding day on June 19, 1976.

Empress Josephine’s Cameo Diadem of Lapis cameos and delicate pearls set in gold. The centre cameo is reputedly a portrait of Napoleon Bonaparte

An interesting aside is that Napoleon’s General Bernadotte, who became King Charles XIV of Sweden had married Napoleon’s former fianceé Desireé Clary, who also became Queen of Sweden.

Of all the diadems we know in the world there is one that stands out of any crowd, and alone in terms of its historical traditional influence and alone in terms of celebrity.

It has been regularly worn, slightly modified from time to time and is probably the most recognized piece of ‘head’ jewellery in the world.

I am referring to the Diamond diadem that belongs to HM Queen Elizabeth 11.

Her ownership could make us believe that it is feminine in origin. However that is not the case. King George IV had it made for his own coronation in 1821.

On that occasion he wore it at all the preliminary ceremonies including the one held in Westminster Hall and during his walking procession to Westminster Abbey. The ‘velvet “Spanish Hat’ he wore in conjunction with it, with its huge ostrich plume, completely overwhelmed its presence.

The Queen’s Diamond diadem was made by Rundell, Bridge & Rundell of Diamonds, Pearls, Silver and Gold. It is set with 1,333 diamonds, mostly found, some oval or cushion-shaped brilliants. It includes a yellow brilliant in the centre of the front cross.

Small alterations for this stunning diadem were undertaken for Queen Victoria in 1838, for Queen Alexandra Victoria’s eldest son Edward’s wife in 1902 and for our current Queen’s mother in 1937.

Queen Elizabeth II wore it for the first State Opening of Parliament in her reign and then to Westminster Abbey for her own coronation. She still wears it today for State Openings and she appears wearing it on all British and Commonwealth countries coinage, their banknotes and postage stamps.

Today we associate tiaras much more with European royalty of the nineteenth century and the so-called Belle Epoque, or beautiful era in the latter half of the nineteenth century, which rolled over into the elegance of the Edwardian age prior to World War 1.

The Queen of the Belgians Tiara was made of diamonds and platinum and commissioned from Cartier in their ‘garland style’, manufactured in 1910.

Diadem of diamonds made by Boucheron of Paris in 1896 to complete Consuelo Vanderbilt’s bridal trousseau. It is set with 1,091 diamonds.

The year 1911 would prove to be a great one for Cartier and the history of the tiara. They held an exhibition in April at London that showcased nineteen tiaras.

They had been  commissioned by people attending the coronation celebrations of England’s new King George V, the current Queen Elizabeth’s grandfather.

Thousands of people thronged their London store to catch even a glimpse of a tiara, a guinea admission was donated to the Prince Francis of Teck Foundation, which was named after Queen Mary’s brother who had died the previous year.

In 1920 Chaumet made a tiara with a foliate design set in diamonds in 1920 for the marriage of Prince Alexander Murat with Yvonne Gillois.

The Murat Tiara contained three natural pearls and that made it exceptional. The centre pearl weighs 303.97 grains (75.84 carats) and the two on each side 121.19 and 120.90 grains respectively.

In terms of value the famous Peregrina pearl that also sold recently was knocked down for more than $11.8 million weighing 203 grains, so this is a very serious and precious pearl.

Prince Alexander had descended from Joachim Murat, who had married Caroline Bonaparte, Napoleon’s sister. Murat’s brilliant military and political career found him ruling the Kingdom of Naples and Sicily until he was publicly executed in Calabria.

Empress of Russia Maria Feodorovna (1847-1928)

The design chosen for this piece did not follow Art deco stylistic trends of the time although Vogue in 1920 praised the tiara, which in anyone’s definition could be called ‘classic’.

During the ‘Art Deco’ period between the wars in the twentieth century the Tiara not only came back into fashion, but also met morphed into new styles.

The ‘kokoshnik’ or Russian tiara derives from a Russian word meaning ‘Cocks Comb’, referring more commonly to the fleshy growth of crest on the top of certain birds, such as Roosters.

It derived from a style of hair ornament worn in Russian traditional folk dances, originally made of cloth and fastened with ribbons. Catherine the Great had one studded with precious stones. They became popular in western Europe around 1800 and the pre-eminent example of one in this style was owned by Russia’s Empress Maria Feodorvna (1847-1928).

Maria was the sister of Alexandra, who became Princess of Wales. Her sister’s splendid number served as an example for Garrard and Co in London to produce one for the Princess to be given to her on the occassion of her 25th wedding anniversary in 1888.

It was presented to her by 365 peeresses of the United Kingdom. The new tiara was muti-purposed, and could also be worn as a necklace. Queen Mary of Teck inherited it from her mother-in-law and then she bequeathed it to her granddaughter, who became Elizabeth II.

It has 61 graduated bars containing 488 pavé set brilliant diamonds that rise towards the centre. Sixteen of the original bars have since been removed.

When Cartier took up making the ‘kokoshnik’ style of tiara around 1900 they took their inspiration from the Empire of Napoleon and fashioned them with diamond drops suspended from a gallery within an openwork mount.

When the wearer moved so did the stones, which increased in size towards the centre.

Our example is a Kokoshnik made by Cartier Paris 1908, Set in platinum with fifteen pear-shaped diamonds round old cut diamonds, pearls, and a stunning lily of the valley setting for the swinging pear-shaped diamonds. Many of the styles they made are quite simply chic and very beautiful.

Another small example of a small kokoshnik tiara made in 1914 by Cartier at Paris is also made of platinum with a stylized Art Deco tree at the centre with branches undulating outward ending in black onyx leaves all set against a diamond background. Pearls were set at rhythmic intervals to enliven its unbroken contours.

In Russia the kokoshnik tiara  achieved monumental proportions, until they finally perished in the flames of the 1917 revolution and were outmoded completely in Europe by the onset of the Second World War.

The bandeau perhaps is the first hair ornament, which gives us a clear idea of what the original tiara in antiquity may have looked like.

Cartier made many bandeaux in their elegant ‘garland style’ around 1900 and despite their simpler appearance, they still suited the protocol of the court. Our stunning example (below) was made in New York in 1924 with a central pearly weighing 51 grains.

The bandeaux of the 20’s were very sophisticated ornaments. Many were made to match bracelets and necklaces designed en suite to go with them.

Otherwise they were multi-purpose, with sections dismantling to be turned into bracelets, brooches and clips. Designers of these pieces displayed a great deal of imagination, innovation and ingenuity in putting them together.

A bandeau suited the new ‘bob’ hairstyles women were now sporting. They came about because the fashion for long hair that had existed for centuries changed when so many women had to remove their long hair during World War 1 for practical reasons, either while they manned ambulances in the field, or were working in factories, where tresses could become caught in dangerous machinery.

Worn low on the forehead with the all new 20’s bobbed hairstyle, the bandeau, like a long cigarette holder and hip length pearls, became de rigeur for avant garde modern women who were breaking free of the shackles of servitude they had been bound up in for centuries, as an aspect of a patriarchal society.

In the 1890’s another new hair ornament the ‘aigrette’, complete with feathers and plumes became perhaps the most popular of all. They complimented the fashionable Oriental turbans and the historical costumes being worn at masked balls. Cartier’s aigrettes became an essential part of the evening wear supplied by the famous London couturier House of Worth, whose glorious evening wear every woman of fashion, style and influence wanted to own.

Following World War I during the 20’s and 30’s the aigrette came back with a vengeance, not only with even more fabulous plumes attached, but instead of plumes of feathers, this number from Cartier (above) had plumes of diamonds, which became the ultimate choice for any lady of fashion.

Youthful actress Carey Mulligan with a beautiful new style of be-jewelled hair ornament, tied simply with a ribbon in Baz Luhrmann’s The Great Gatsby, 2013

In its time and typology the Tiara, reserved for the elite and worn at ceremonies and on festive occasions as a sign of privileged status, still holds true today. Women wearing them are turned into a Queen of the Night.

Despite going out of fashion for some considerable length of time during the 20th century, in the 21st century hair ornaments seem to be back with a vengeance, and with a whole new attitude attached. They are for many young women great ‘Bling’, especially when made from diamonds.  They don’t seem to believe that you really need to be a royal, or to own a palace to wear one.

Cartier Tiara diamondOnce a symbol of the aristocracy, this most important of all fashionable accessories has been taken over by modern brides as a symbol of love, with the Duchess of Cambridge their heroine in a halo leading the way.

There would not be many women about, who would not want the experience of being a ‘queen for a day’ wearing such an impressive jewelled hair accessory.

Such ornaments symbolize the financial power that makes objects of luxury and love possible and conveys social distinction on the wearer, while throwing light on the continuing evolution of both our society and its cultural development.

Carolyn McDowall, The Culture Concept Circle, 2012 – 2014

1 Comment

  • Sheena Burnell says:

    And who can forget Marilyn Monroe making a tiara look insanely desirable in “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes” – not to mention all the other fabulous diamonds she had on!

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