Wednesday, 24 September 2014

A Tiara for a Princess

Let's leave the painters, sculptors and photographers on the back burner for a bit and take a look at the art of the jeweller. More particularly, at the tiara that the second Baron Poltimore bestowed on his wife in 1870. His Lordship commissioned the tiara from Garrard, the Court Jeweller.

Garrard was appointed Court Jeweller by Queen Victoria in 1843, responsible for the upkeep of the Crown Jewels and for creating jewellery for the Royal Family, including such pieces as the Imperial Crown of India, the crown of Queen Mary for her coronation, and the Crown of Queen Elizabeth (the Q Mum). We can go and admire these fine examples of Garrard's art for a modest fee, at the Crown Jewels display in the Tower of London.  Garrard's also created Princess Diana's engagement ring, which we can admire free of charge whenever The Duchess of Cambridge waves her hand.

Recently, Garrard's saw fit to appoint Jade Jagger (daughter of Mick) as its creative director, and raunchy pop singer Christina Aguilera as the company's new face. Gold chain-mail underwear, diamond-studded revolver pendants and devil-themed trinkets were soon featured in the Garrard's catalogue. It must have seemed like a good idea at the time, but the upshot was that after 165 years, the Palace gave Garrard's the pink slip. Henceforth the Crown Jewels and the Queen's personal jewellery collection will be cared for by Mr Collins, who runs a quaint jewellery business in Tunbridge Wells High Street and has no truck with raunchiness in any form.

But back to The Poltimore Tiara: it was so named after its first owner, Florence Bampfylde, Lady Poltimore. Good call to name it after her title rather than her surname – the Bampfylde Tiara sounds like somehing more suited to the Goblin Queen of Mordor than a peeress of the realm. And never mind a Baroness … a Princess of the Blood would certainly not pop anything called a Bampfylde onto her head, especially not on her wedding day! And that is exactly what HRH Princess Margaret did.

Princess Margaret and the Poltimore Tiara were meant for each other. The tiara had to wait nearly a century for its Princess, but one happy day in 1959, the Kismet Fairy brought them together. It happened like this: after Florence's death in 1909 the Poltimore passed to Margaret, the third Lady Poltimore. She gave it its grandest outing yet, to the 1911 coronation of King George V.  The Tiara was a bit miffed to be tucked away behind the Duchesses and Countesses, on the head of a mere Baroness, considering it was much grander than any of the other tiaras. Still, it was Westminster Abbey, even in the cheap seats.

But the Poltimore's Day of Destiny was at hand. The 4th Baron must have been feeling the pinch, because he offered the Tiara for sale at auction in 1959. Kismet kicked in and Princess Margaret snapped it up for a mere £5,500.

It was a match made in heaven. If ever there was a tiara that cried out for a beehive hairdo to set it off, this was it. At last the Tiara came into its own. On its second outing to Westminster Abbey, it rested proudly on the head of the bride, a princess, at a royal wedding, the cynosure of more TV cameras and papparazzi flashes than you could shake a stick at. Its rococo opulence was elegantly set off by the simplicity of the wedding gown and it lent height to the diminutive princess.

The Princess loved that tiara. She even wore it in the bath. I hasten to reassure the Gentle Reader that the photographer in this instance was no long-lensed papparazzo from the Murdoch stable, but her husband. There he is, in the mirror. No scandal here, nothing to see, move along, please.

The Poltimore is a seriously convertible sparkler. It comes in its own blue leather fitted case, complete with screwdrivers and alternate settings. It breaks down into a necklace and eleven brooches. The Princess wore it in al its incarnations, although she never actually wore all eleven brooches at once (as far as I know). I wouldn't have put it past that old magpie Queen Mary to find room for eleven brooches on the royal façade and still manage to hang a few ropes of pearls round her neck, but her granddaughter showed a bit more restraint.

When Princess Margaret died, her two children faced inheritance taxes of over 3 million pounds. Some of their mother's jewels had to be sold, including the Poltimore. (They kept "a few smaller tiaras", so no need to feel sorry for them.) The reserve was set at $350,000, but it was sold to an anonymous Asian buyer for a whopping  $1.7 million.

I do hope this stupendous sparkler with its romantic story was not broken up for the stones, whoppers as they are. I like to think that somewhere in Beijing or Tokyo there is a lady as petite and pretty as the princess, wearing the tiara in her scented bubble bath.

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