THE GRAND DUCHESS VLADIMIR TIARA GOES ON SHOW IN LONDON

The diamond and pearl tiara commissioned by the Grand Duchess Vladimir; it was bought by Queen Mary and left to her granddaughter, Queen Elizabeth II. It is currently on show at the Queen’s Gallery in Buckingham Palace as part of the Russia, Royalty and the Romanovs exhibition.

I have noticed from the reader activity on my blog that there seems to be a special interest in jewels formerly owned by the Romanovs- my blog entry on the famous pearl and diamond tiara commissioned by the Grand Duchess Vladimir (aunt by marriage of Tsar Nicholas II) seems to have elicited particular interest.

There is an opportunity, for those who are interested, to go and see this jewel up and close for a limited time only. I am not going to go into the history of the piece again- click here if you would like to read the background of this fascinating jewel.

The tiara is part of a much wider exhibition being held at the Queen’s Gallery beside Buckingham Palace in London. The title of the exhibition is Russia, Royalty and the Romanovs and is an insight into the close links the royal houses of Great Britain and Russia maintained for 300 years. These started when the Emperor Peter, also known as Peter the Great, spent some months living in London at the end of the 17th century in an effort to learn European engineering and culture.

The Mosaic Egg of 1914 by Fabergé, currently on display at the Queen’ Gallery in Buckingham Palace.

A detail photograph of the Colonnade Egg of 1910 by Fabergé.

The exhibition offers some fascinating exhibits; as a jeweller, I have to be completely biased and say that it is worth going to see for two reasons: the Fabergé on show, which is almost incomparable- it is of the highest quality possible and includes three of the famed Imperial Easter eggs, as well as an important selection Fabergé hardstone flowers. It is rare to see such a exemplary pieces from a private collection all on show together.

And secondly, of course, the famous tiara- displayed alone, in a darkened side recess of the gallery, emanating legend not just legend and Imperial mythology, but also a glittering example of the jewellers’ craft and design abilities at its height.

A fine three quarter view of the Grand Duchess Vladimir tiara .

Princess Eugenie's Wedding Tiara

Princess Eugenie is radiant on her wedding day wearing the Greville Emerald tiara.

I have to say, that when Princess Eugenie walked down the aisle on Friday 12th October, I think she really looked beautiful- and every inch the Royal princess, probably the moment in her life in which she will have shone the most as a Princess of the Blood of the House of Windsor.

As is tradition, the Queen leant her granddaughter a tiara to wear- the first time Princess Eugenie will have worn one, as traditionally, in the UK, unmarried women do not wear tiaras (I don’t know why). The piece she chose was bold, beautiful and surprising. The tiara was made in 1919 by Boucheron for the socialite Mrs. Ronnie Greville. It is composed of rose and brilliant cut diamonds and centrally set with a magnificent cabochon emerald of 93.70 carats. The existence of such a stone is in itself astonishing, as normally coloured stones deemed to be of gem quality are cut into faceted styles in order to maximise their colour and brilliance, so a quality cabochon stone of this size is incredibly rare. The tiara was left to Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother on Mrs. Greville’s death in 1942, along with a massive treasure trove of other jewels- this became known as the Greville bequest. The jewels that comprised the bequest were so magnificent and remarkable that I will be writing a separate post about this in the near future.

As the Greville bequest was a private legacy, it is not known exactly what it contained- and until the emerald and diamond tiara made its appearance last Friday, it was not even known to the general public that this piece was in the possession of the Royal Family, as no member seems to have ever worn it in public. I can’t think why it has remained locked away for nearly 80 years- personally, I think it is an almost perfect piece of jewellery: timeless design, light, flawlessly executed, matchless gems and for a tiara, eminently wearable.

This style of tiara is known as a bandeau- which in French, literally means hairband. My suspicion is that Queen Elizabeth II is not a fan of tiaras of this shape (how lucky to have tiaras of different shapes to choose from). The Greville emerald tiara is a very similar shape to the diamond bandeau worn by the Duchess of Sussex on her wedding day, another piece the Queen never seems to have worn. There are also another two bandeau tiaras which have disappeared into the depths of the Buckingham Palace vaults: one is the floral diamond bandeau the Queen was gifted by the Nizam of Hyderabad, which seems to have been broken up. The second, and a historically much more important piece, is the diamond and sapphire bandeau belonging to the Empress Maria Fedorovna. When the Empress died, this piece, along with several others, was acquired by Queen Mary, at full market price as offered by the Empress’ heirs. I am particularly fascinated by this piece, as it was last seen worn by Princess Margaret in the 1960s and find it slightly sad that such a historically important piece should have remained hidden for over 40 years.

I am digressing… there is not much point in speculating into who wore what, when and why… the finer intricacies of Royal vaults will remain forever hidden until there is a full blown revolution. But I am delighted that treasures such as the Greville Emerald Tiara reappear into the limelight every now and again- even if it is after 50 years; surely it is better for such jewels to appear now and again as they are meant to be worn rather, than be killed forever behind the anodyne facade of a glass screen?

Comparative photographs of Queen Mary, and her granddaughter Princess Margaret, wearing the sapphire bandeau tiara Queen Mary bought from the heirs of Empress Marie Fedorovna.

HOW TO WEAR A TIARA

The beautiful Loelia, Duchess of Westminster, wearing her Art Deco diamond halo tiara. Photographed by Cecil Beaton.

Originally, tiaras were made to crown a stately sweep of hair, as shown here by Mrs. Cornelius Vanderbilt III

OK, this sounds like a real first world problem… it is not a dilemma the majority of us mere mortals are going to face any time soon.  Some girls are lucky enough to wear a real diamond tiara once, on their wedding day. And a tiny minority of unicorn dusted people have to wear one on a regular basis.  It is astonishing how, with all the money and fashion advice they have at their disposal how wrong they get it and how bad it looks.  To my jeweller’s eye it is like a bias cut dress worn in the wrong size, or open toe shoes without a manicure.

First, a bit of history… the heyday of the tiara was in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. 120 years ago (give or take a few) the vast majority of women wore their hair long.  When you married, your hair went ‘up’- and the crowning glory was the tiara.  This is how the convention arose that unmarried girls did not wear tiaras.  It was a convention followed by the Queen- the first time she wore one was on her wedding day.  The majority of the most beautiful, accomplished tiaras were made for Edwardian women, designed to be worn in clouds of hair, often augmented by hairpieces. The frames and velvet bands of tiaras were therefore made for these sorts of hairstyles.  A tiara is not an Alice band or a headband- it is not supposed to hold the hair in place- the jewel is supposed to be held in place by the hair.

A young and as yet unfashionable Princess Diana, wearing the Spencer tiara.

Princess Diana develops a fashion sense and good hair: wearing the Cambridge Lover's Knot tiara, a present from the Queen.

To achieve the most elegant look, the hair needs to be pulled and stranded over the velvet headband to secure it in place.  The front of the hair should then be backcombed, teased and arranged in front of the tiara.  It is a skill that very few hairdressers have nowadays- there is, after all, very little demand for this service.  And of course, any Edwardian lady (who after all would probably wear a tiara at least once a week) would have employed a ladies’ maid trained with this invaluable skill.  But some of the younger Royals who looked like they’ve plonked their heirlooms on their heads as an afterthought should take a leaf from their more experienced in-laws. Some of the Scandinavian Royals are the worst offenders and even top drawer Royals, like Queen Letizia of Spain, don’t always get it right.

Princess Madeleine of Sweden is rocking the high school prom queen in this example of how a diamond tiara can look so wrong.

Princess Madeleine looking dignified with this aquamarine and diamond family heirloom tiara.

Princess Diana conquered the tiara with aplomb (as she did most fashion accessories).  Early photographs of her as Princess of Wales show her with limp, mousy hair, frame and velvet band on show.  As she became more assured and soignee, she learnt to style her short hair around her tiaras, proving (as the Queen does all the time) that you don’t need a lionine mane of hair to achieve a good, modern look with what is essentially a 19th century accessory.

Queen Letizia of Spain, looking almost top heavy in her Ansorena diamond tiara.

The older generation of royals, like Queen Sylvia of Sweden, always seem to get it right when it comes to tiaras.

Part of the problem with wearing a tiara (or diadem) on flat hair is that it makes the jewel look too big for the wearer’s head.  You only need to look at some pictures of continental Royals wearing these pieces with what they believe is a slick side parting and you realise that the proportions are all wrong and they look top heavy.  A lot of them look like Queen Victoria circa 1850.  So, Meghan, listen to your future stepmother-in-law for advice, who seems to have taken to wearing a tiara like a duck to water- and run a mile if the Countess of Wessex tries to tell you what to do with your hair.

An immaculately groomed Duchess of Cornwall wearing the Greville Boucheron tiara.

The Countess of Wessex wearing her diamond wedding tiara.

PRETTY IN PINK... PADPARADSCHA SAPPHIRES

A close up view of an exceptional padparadscha sapphire, showing that special mix of orange and pink which the stone needs to qualify as such.

The lotus flower, from which the padparadscha sapphire derives its name.

When Princess Eugenie announced her engagement ring to Jack Brooksbank she showed off an engagement ring set with one of the most special sapphires available to gem collectors: a padparadscha sapphire.  The name is almost unpronounceable (you literally have to say it a syllable at a time) and it derives from the Sinhalese word for lotus blossom.  We know that sapphires come in every colour under the Sun- but for a sapphire to qualify as padparadscha it needs to exhibit a very particular shade which is a mixture of a delicate pink and orange.  Otherwise it is just a plain old orange or pink sapphire, which are plentiful.  A genuine padparadscha is very rare, fetching higher prices than the finest blue sapphires.

Princess Eugenie's engagement ring, set with a rare padparadscha sapphire

The world of coloured gems is extremely subjective and the sapphires of this elusive hue divide camps more than most other coloured stones.  Padparadschas are most commonly found in Sri Lanka and some purists argue that to qualify as such this is where the stone must originate from.  However, examples have been mined in Vietnam and East Africa.  The special hue of orange and pink comes from trace amounts of chromium and iron in the crystal.  I would personally argue that if the chemical make up is identical to that of Sri Lankan stones it qualifies as a padparadscha.

A record breaking stone: this padparadscha sapphire weighing 20.84 carats fetched over $375,000 at auction in 2005.

Experts also argue on the level of pink or orange the stone must exhibit to qualify as a prime example: orangey-pink or pinkish-orange? Very orange with a touch of pink or vice versa?  If you are interested in buying one and want the genuine article it is best to insist on buying a stone certified by a reputable laboratory, such as GIA.  The price increases exponentially with the saturation of the colour and the carat weight.  Again, colour here is subjective- you don’t want a stone so strong that none of the light and clarity has a chance to shine through.  You want a stone that has that ‘limpid’ quality, or what used to be known as ‘water’ in the old days.  Personally, I like padparadschas that are just a shade stronger than pastel.

As with the majority of coloured stones on the market it is not uncommon to see heat treated examples on offer.  These stones are so rare that treatment is common to enhance the colour- even the treated examples, if they are of good quality, will command prices of several thousand dollars a carat.  They are not stones that are easily available in large sizes; anything over two carats is rare, anything over five is newsworthy.

Padparadschas continue to enthral because they are genuinely rare- if you are ever lucky enough to possess one, you will be completely fascinated, as its dual tonality can make the colour look quite different under different light sources. 

THE ARTISTRY OF ART NOUVEAU JEWELLERY

Chrysanthemum carved opal, enamel, diamond and baroque pearl brooch by Rene Lalique.  The highly stylised plant motif is typical of the period.

Fairy pendant by Henri Vever.  Note the slight asymmetry of the jewel so beloved by Art Nouveau designers.

Art Nouveau jewellery, like its stylistically opposed counterpart, Art Deco, refuses to go out of fashion and remains popular with collectors.  Last month, Christie’s held a sale dedicated exclusively to jewels from this decorative period which more than met expectations.  What is the enduring appeal of this short lived movement?

Art Nouveau arose around 1900 and sought to put all the arts on an equal footing with what were regarded as the higher arts: sculpture and painting.  It sought to liberate the arts from the usual, somewhat stifled historical references of the Victorian era and to elevate through intelligent design ordinary, everyday objects, and to bring these to the masses. This is the reason Art Nouveau is also known as a total art style, as it applies to everything.  This is also why it is more difficult to categorise the artists of the period as they were apt to put their hand to anything (although with varying degrees of success.  One of the greatest jewellers of the time, Rene Lalique, also became equally well known because of his glassware.

One of the greatest examples of this total art style is the Hotel Tassel in Brussels by the architect Victor Horta.  Everything in it, down to the last door handle has been designed to harmonise with the interior and exterior architecture.  It also uses an abundance of asymmetric, highly stylised plant motifs, a theme designers sought to make their own as they strove to break away from the constraints of the 19th century.

This preoccupation with the intrinsic whole is the main theme of Art Nouveau jewellery.  Designers were preoccupied with the harmonisation of the entire piece, how stones and techniques would fit in with each other to create a beautiful whole.  This is why the newly discovered Japanese arts were such a major influence, rendered effortlessly elegant by the sum of their materials and not the component parts.  Diamonds were used as decorative highlights, not as grand centrepieces.  Favoured stones included the full range of coloured semi precious gems such as amethysts, opals, citrines and freshwater pearls.  These were rendered even more vivid by the use of enamel- again a humble material elevated into an art form.

Abalone pearl and enamel fish brooch by Georges Fouquet.  Imperfectly shaped stones and humble materials such as enamel have been raised to masterpiece level.

A highly naturalistic iris brooch in purple sapphires, demantoid garnets and diamonds by Louis Comfort Tiffany.

In accordance with the principles of good design, the best Art Nouveau pieces were hand made by craftsmen with the deepest knowledge of the craft.  These craftsmen were highly preoccupied with how the pieces would sit on the wearer and their robustness combined with their suppleness is incredible.  However, this attention to detail made the jewels expensive and is one of the reasons for the downfall of the movement- it found itself unable to fulfil its commitment to democratisation.  Also, as it became more florid it was losing the essence of not using superfluous decoration.

Notable artist jewellers of the time include Henri Vever, who first exhibited in the new style at the Paris salon of 1900; Lucien Gaillard was a real innovator, recruiting Japanese craftsmen to come and work in his Paris atelier; Georges Fouquet, who worked closely with the modernist artist Alphonse Mucha over several decades; and the aforementioned Rene Lalique.

If you are thinking of investing in an Art Noveau piece, an absolute requirement for the piece is its condition: it must be perfect.  In spite of the cleverness involved in making them, many of the stones and materials used (such as opal and enamel) are fragile.  This must be checked.  A signature is also always preferable, and any supporting documents such as original sales invoices or working drawings are always a bonus.

The big jewellery houses also produced some fine examples of Art Noveau jewellery, the finest examples by far being by Tiffany.  The big Place Vendome names, in my view, fall slightly short of the great Art Nouveau designers.

JEWELLERY ARABIA 2017: AN INSIGHT

A typical display case at Jewellery Arabia, which this year was held in Bahrain on the 21st-26th November.

The 26th edition of Jewellery Arabia was held in the International Conference Centre of Bahrain from the 21st-26th November 2017.  This is the biggest jewellery show in the region, attracting over 50000 visitors from around the globe and is one of the very few that sells to the public as well as the trade.  Over 500 exhibitors took part, showcasing everything from loose gems to fantastic pieces of high jewellery.

There were prices for everyone too- with diamond set jewellery starting from as little as $100 to breathtaking unique pieces valued at several million.  The European jewellery contingent was well represented by big names such as Boucheron, Faberge and Boghossian.  The strongest representation of course was from the Middle East, with family owned Mattar Jewellers and Al Zain Jewellers nestling alongside independent Bahraini designers such as Azza Al Hujairi.  It was my first time exhibiting in the Middle East at the invitation of Azza.  The entire experience was a pleasure- the Barhainis simply could not have been kinder or more charming and there is a real sense of fellowship amongst the jewellery community there.  This is in marked contrast to London, where designers tend to be more reserved.

The economic climate was, however, challenging.  There were fewer big spenders from Saudi Arabi and those that showed spent cautiously.  This is no doubt a consequence of the anti corruption crackdown currently being conducted by the Saudi Crown Prince.  The sanctions against Qatar meant that they could not attend and there is general economic uncertainty created by the ongoing troubles in the Yemen.

None of this, however, deterred the exhibitors from putting on a magnificent display of colour and craftsmanship.  There were three designers in particular that caught my eye and my mentioning them is purely subjective- I just thought they had really lovely things. 

1.     Nikos Koulis

This was the Greek designer’s second showing at Jewellery Arabia.  His style struck me as very much neo Art Deco: beautiful, richly coloured stones with strong colour contrasts and clean lines. 

Emerald, diamond and black enamel earrings by Nikps Koulis.

Ruby, diamond and black enamel ring by Nikos Koulis.

2.     VAK Diamonds

This brand is the brainchild of Vishal Kathari, who is descended from a long line of jewellers.  I met Vishal at Baselworld earlier this year and was very much taken by the limpid, clear quality of his rose cut diamonds in their inventive light-as-a-feather settings.

Opal, diamond and pink sapphire ring by VAK diamonds.

Diamond jewellery by VAK in its signature light-as-a-feather setting.

3.     Mattar Jewelers

The pearl knowledge of this family is several generations old.  Of the current generation, four out of the five siblings are involved in the family business.  The eldest brother, Talal Mattar told me that he was encouraged to go and play with pearls in the family workshop from the age of 6- you cannot beat knowledge like this.  The sumptuousness and creaminess of their pearls is astonishing and cannot be captured in photographs.

Pearl and diamond tassel earrings by Mattar Jewelers.

Pearl necklace by Mattar Jewelers.  The quality of their pearls is impossible to convey photographically.