Crowning Glory – The Magic of Wearing a Tiara
WORDS HANNAH BETTS, PHOTOGRAPHY DANIEL HERENDI.
A symbol of glamour from the court of Napoleon to the heyday of Hollywood, it is the ultimate piece of jewellery. Style and social commentator Hannah Betts experiences the head rush of wearing a tiara.
A symbol of glamour from the court of Napoleon to the heyday of Hollywood, it is the ultimate piece of jewellery. Style and social commentator Hannah Betts experiences the head rush of wearing a tiara. Nothing prepares you for the first time that you wear a tiara. I have an unabashed love of jewellery and gemstones. I have worn diadems to the Venice Film Festival and to gatherings in London. I have sported Graff’s heavenly diamond Alice bands – charm itself, to be sure.
But being crowned with the exquisitely com-posed symphony of stone and space that is a Graff tiara is the culmination of every girlish fantasy. Any illusion of nonchalance is aban-doned. It marks an epoch both brilliant and ruinous: henceforth life can only be downhill. So do not expect the voice of objectivity here. There can be no ifs or buts, because wearing a tiara is unutterably brilliant – a consummately life-changing experience.
For Martin Leggatt, the Manager of Graff’s New Bond Street salon in London, it is the out-of-this-world, almost fairy-tale wonder that makes the tiara such a powerful piece to wear:”It’s a rite of passage, a fabulous concoction, a gasp piece and a final flourish. Every woman wants a ring, needs earrings, craves a necklace, but a tiara is the last piece in the jigsaw of a parure. It’s the jewel that recasts everyone who wears it a princess or a queen.”
Earlier, I had the honour of being the first to admire a brand-new tiara – a coruscating confection of 336 yellow and white diamonds, still warm from the finishing. Merely holding it gave me an adrenalin rush. This object of wild loveliness is now off on its adventures. Nevertheless, wearing one is something else entirely – one immediately carries oneself three inches taller. As to the effect on one’s looks – forget pearls next to the face, it’s diamonds above the hair that render the complexion lumi-nous. Everything becomes about the eyes. Then again, it is a fair bit about the cheekbones too, and one must not forget, of course, about the mouth, which cannot help but smile.
The tiara’s history begins in ancient Greece, where men and women adorned themselves with wreath-like creations – a habit that was emulated by the Romans. The look then fell out of fashion until the neoclassicism of the late 18th and early 19th centuries, when Napoleon sought to elevate his court with tiara-ed beauties in empire-line dresses. Others followed suit, not least the British and the Russians, until tiaras became synonymous with courtly glamour – an exclamation mark to draw their subjects’ gaze.
Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II has no fewer than 10 tiaras, several of them legendary, including the Girls of Great Britain & Ireland creation she sports on banknotes, the lofty Delhi Durbar and the spectacular, halo-style Queen Alexandra’s Kokoshnik. The Swedish royals, despite being a bicycling monarchy, also boast some splendid pieces. And many is the old English family that has one tucked away in a vault or attic until a bride demands her moment – though a splendid dowager did once inform me: “No woman wants to wear a pre-19th century tiara – the weight is quite killing.”
But it was the American society hostesses of the 19th and 20th centuries who demonstrated that you don’t have to be a royal to carry off a tiara, meaning a rush of commissions from the Astors, the Vanderbilts and the likes of Barbara Hutton. Screen legends followed suit – Ava Gardner, Elizabeth Taylor and Audrey Hepburn, who wears a tiara in so many of her films.
That they are not for everyday wear is, of course, part of their appeal. Today, they are assumed by queen and commoner alike for all manner of white-tie parties, state occasions, regal banquets and balls, with jewelled bands also making a comeback on the red carpet.
As Martin Leggatt reveals, they are popular among clients from right across the world: “They’re a universal joy and the subject of cross-gener-ational fascination, he says. As charming on a bride as they are glorious on a grande dame.” In Japan, some lucky brides who are friends of the House have even worn the famous ‘Royal Bride’ tiara, featuring 312 diamonds, on their own wedding day.
Graff creates designs that transcend both time and style, and a tiara may be considered an instant heirloom. Were I to lay claim to one, I would never be out of it, whether pelting down Piccadilly or disporting myself in the bath like HRH Princess Margaret in Snowdon’s magnificent portrait. I steal one final glance at myself in ‘my’ diamond tiara. Obviously, I would be far too English ever to make such a claim under normal circumstances, but I look completely beautiful.