LONDON’S CROWNING GLORIES
Byline: James Fallon
LONDON — “Tiaras are back in fashion because they’re frivolous and fun,” said Kieran McCarthy of the British jeweler Wartski. “They’re simply about enjoyment, and that’s what people want today.”
Wartski should know, since it has been selling tiaras to the rich and royal for decades. It’s also mounting an exhibition, “One Hundred Tiaras: An Evolution of Style 1800-1900,” March 5-19 at its shop in Grafton Street here to raise money for the English charity The Samaritans.
The exhibition — which actually covers 104 tiaras, made by jewelers from FabergA to Butler & Wilson — will be the first full-scale tiara show in London since one by Cartier in 1911, which included only 14 tiaras. It is the brainchild of Wartski’s managing director Geoffrey Munn, who was looking for a subject to help support the charity.
“Tiaras at one time were all about class and your position in society,” said McCarthy, who helped organize the show. “In most cases they were worn only on special occasions, like balls or the state opening of Parliament. They spent most of their lives in velvet boxes. Today, tiaras have nothing to do with class. The only thing that sets tiara wearers apart is the style with which they wear them.”
The height of tiara design was the Belle Epoque era, when such jewelers as FabergA, Cartier, Lalique, Castellani and Giulano were designing fantastical creations of swirls and circles.
“The era was very much like today — there was peace, people were well off, and they were looking for frivolous enjoyment,” McCarthy says. Tiara design of the era actually was based on the cloth headdresses, called kokoshniks, worn by Russian peasants in the fields. These were copied by the Russian royal family in gemstones and silver, influencing their royal relatives throughout Europe, McCarthy said.
The tiaras in the Wartski exhibition will include a sapphire and diamond model worn by a young Queen Victoria in a portrait painted by Winterhalter; the tiara that was worn by Lady Diana at her wedding to Prince Charles, and Princess Marina’s Russian tiara, lent by Prince and Princess Michael of Kent.
But the show won’t include solely royal tiaras. There will be a bone model designed by Simon Harrison for Vivienne Westwood’s runway show in Paris next month and two other modern tiaras designed by Slim Barrett and Keith Coates. There also will be Butler & Wilson’s rhinestone tiara designed for Dame Edna Everage with the word “megastar” across the front, and two loaned by Elton John.
“Tiaras are all about the individual,” McCarthy said, holding a delicate gold and enamel semi-circle designed by Castellani in 1874. “They are magical objects that allow you to create them in any form you wish.”