In January of 2012, a beautiful sapphire and diamond tiara once belonging to Queen Victoria turned up in a private home in Highgate, UK.
To uncover the secrets of this mystery tiara and to understand how it came to be in possession of a private family rather than the royal family one must go back over 170 years to when the tiara was first created to trace its fascinating history.
Franz Xavier Winterhalter’s portrait of Queen Victoria
Queen Victoria’s husband Prince Albert, the Prince Consort, was known for his keen eye for architecture, design, and art. He was instrumental in creating many of Victoria’s most beloved pieces of jewelry including this tiara which Victoria described as a “sapphire coronet” in her records most likely commissioned by Albert from jeweler Joseph Kitching circa 1840-1842 at the cost of approximately 450 pounds. It is a small piece in keeping with Victoria’s style and could be worn in a nontraditional way surrounding her chignon on the back of her head as one can see in the famous portrait above by Franz Xavier Winterhalter. The tiara features cushion cut and kite-shaped sapphires set in gold while the diamonds are set in silver in a neo-Gothic trefoil pattern typical of its time. The small structure suited Victoria because she was a very petite woman at only 5’0″ tall. Albert was also undoubtedly aware of Victoria’s issues with migraine headaches which meant that she preferred wearing lighter tiaras in order to avoid triggering a migraine.
Queen Victoria’s Engagement Ring
Victoria was a very romantic and sentimental woman. Albert himself was also a hopeless romantic and he designed many pieces of jewelry for Victoria that held symbolic meaning, including jewelry made of their children’s baby teeth. Victoria’s famous engagement ring was a serpent, an ancient symbol of protection. A serpent or dragon eating its own tail-known as a ouroboros – or depicted in a circular pattern as with Victoria’s ring is also a symbol of eternity. This ring features Victoria’s birthstone, an emerald, as the centerpiece and rubies for the serpent’s eyes. Albert often designed jewelry with rubies to symbolize passion and diamonds to symbolize eternity, since diamonds are the hardest stone and therefore nearly impossible to break. Turquoise and pearls were seen as representing romantic love so they were often used in weddings. Victoria gave each of her bridesmaids a gift of a turquoise eagle brooch seen below.
Royal Bridesmaids Brooch
Queen Victoria’s brooch with her daughter, Princess Vicky’s baby tooth
But for Victoria’s wedding gift, Albert gave her a magnificent sapphire brooch surrounded by diamonds that is reminiscent of the style of Diana, Princess of Wales’ engagement ring which now belongs to Catherine, the Duchess of Cambridge.
Queen Elizabeth II wears this brooch often. Queen Victoria is Queen Elizabeth’s great-great-grandmother so I am certain that this wedding brooch holds a great deal of significance to her.
Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II at Royal Ascot in 2015 wearing Victoria’s wedding brooch
Victoria proudly wore her brand new brooch on her wedding day to Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha on February 10, 1840 as you can see in the portrait above. I personally believe that Albert created the sapphire tiara to match the brooch that he gave his new bride.
After Prince Albert’s death on December 14th, 1861, Victoria went into mourning for the rest of her life. Therefore, she often did not feel that it was appropriate to wear ostentatious jewelry or bright colors. But this diminutive sapphire coronet was deemed appropriate for Victoria to wear in later life due to its small size.
Queen Victoria with her sapphire tiara
After Victoria’s death in January 1901, the sapphire tiara was not seen for two decades as Queen Alexandra and Queen Mary preferred to wear more substantial pieces. It was next seen in 1922 when the tiara was given to Princess Mary-daughter of King George V and Queen Mary-as a wedding present along with a matching parure comprised of a bracelet and necklace. Princess Mary married Viscount Lascelles, who would eventually inherit the earldom of Harewood making Princess Mary the Countess of Harewood.
Princess Mary’s wedding parure with Queen Victoria’s tiara
Princess Mary wearing her wedding parure and the matching tiara. She wore Victoria’s sapphire coronet tiara in a bandaeu style across her forehead which was fashionable in the 1920s.
Princess Mary, the Countess of Harewood, on left, wearing Queen Victoria’s sapphire coronet tiara circa 1960s. Princess Marina, Duchess of Kent, is pictured on her right.
Princess Mary died in 1965, leaving Victoria’s tiara to her husband and children. Subsequently, the tiara was worn by Patricia Lascelles, the Earl of Harewood’s second wife.
Patricia Lascelles, Countess of Harewood, circa 1970
The last time that the tiara was pictured being worn on a member of the Lascelles family was in 1992 when Andrea Lascelles married the Earl’s fourth son, Mark.
The tiara was seen in public in 1997 after Geoffrey Munn wrote to the Earl of Harewood telling him he was putting a collection together for an exhibition at Wartski’s. The tiara was again exhibited in 2002 at the Victoria and Albert Museum.
George Lascelles died in 2011, making his son David the current Earl of Harewood. Since 2002 the fate of the sapphire tiara and matching parure has been convoluted. It is possible that the necklace and bracelet were sold decades ago; however, the tiara managed to stay in the family. And that brings us to the day in 2012 when an anonymous family in Highgate loaned a tiara previously belonging to Queen Victoria that had not been seen in years to Geoffrey Munn, an expert in jewelry appraisal and history.
From Left: Linda Rosenblatt, Antiques Roadshow expert Geoffrey Munn, and Jean Marks with Queen Victoria’s tiara at event for World Jewish Relief
Queen Victoria’s sapphire and diamond tiara, circa 1840, on loan from a private collection by arrangement with Wartski, London
Since its rediscovery in 2012, the Victorian Sapphire Coronet Tiara has been most recently exhibited at the Winter Antiques Show in February of 2014 in New York. Although I cannot be sure, I believe it may still belong to the Lascelles family unless they discretely sold the tiara along with the matching parure after George Lascelles death in 2011.
This tiara is a beautiful piece albeit it is comparatively small to other pieces created for Victoria by Prince Albert. Its whereabouts in 2016 are somewhat unknown to the general public. However, I feel that if it were at all possible it would be lovely to see this piece purchased by the Prince of Wales, who much like Prince Albert has a well known interest in jewelry and an appreciation for design. It would be fantastic to see this tiara reunited with Queen Victoria’s wedding brooch that Her Majesty is so fond of or perhaps it could be worn by the Duchess of Cambridge since it matches her engagement ring so well. But no matter what, I feel that the most appropriate thing is for this tiara to continue to be worn by direct descendants of Queen Victoria or their spouses. Considering how much this tiara meant to her I am sure that is what Victoria would have wanted and I hope that whomever owns this tiara now treats it like the priceless piece of history that it is.
The Frugal Lady