Coronation Tiaras in the Making: 1911

making tiara in wax

CORONATION TIARAS IN THE MAKING

For many months before the coronation of King George V, the London jewelers were kept busy designing and constructing coronation tiaras, many of which are composed of more than 500 minute pieces of metal and are set with five or six hundred diamonds. Such a tiara will keep several workmen busy three months.

In making a tiara, the design is first created, and then reproduced in wax, all the stones being set in, so that the purchaser can see the exact effect of the ornament when completed. A zinc model is also made, with the design painted upon it, so that the exact effect can be seen when tried on the head of the purchaser, and this is used to fit the tiara to the head destined to wear it.

tiara zinc model

After the various metal parts of the tiara are made, they are grouped together on a shaped frame covered with wax, then, when the desired effect is obtained, the pieces are cast in plaster, removed from the frame and united together. Drilling holes in the platinum to receive the stones is one of the many difficult tasks in tiara manufacture. Many tiaras have more than 600 holes, and it takes an expert workman a week to drill them. Then every hole has to be separately polished by hand, a task which would take one polisher a month to accomplish, but he parts, of course, are given out to several. If a single workman should set all the stones, it would take him seven weeks to complete the task.

setting a large stone in a coronation tiara

Although the makers of a tiara take the greatest care, at least $50 worth of precious metal disappears in the process, even though the filings and washings recovered average as high as $350 or $500. The water used by the workers in gold and platinum for washing their hands is always filtered off to recover the precious part of the dirt it contains.

Popular Mechanics, Vol. 16: p. 1911: p. 62-64

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: To-morrow is, Mrs Daffodil understands, “International Tiara Day”—an excellent excuse to pay tribute to these beautiful objects most often associated with the crowned heads of Europe.

In the States, the “Four Hundred” by Mrs Astor’s reckoning were delighted to take up the wearing of tiaras— it gave them something to do with their spare money. The papers delighted in pointing out the excesses and pretensions of the tiara-wearers, although it seemed that no one was quite certain about the accessory’s symbolism. Mrs Daffodil wonders where the reporter got his information about  the “five points of the countess” and the “nine points of a princess.” Princess Elizabeth and Princess Margaret Rose wore 8-pointed coronets at King George VI’s coronation.

Women who wear tiaras in this country do it of course with no idea of their political significance, while in Europe it is necessary in private life to avoid  the pointed crown, which indicates rank, whether it be the five points of the countess or the nine points of a princess. Such precautions are not necessary in this country, and women take any share which they can afford, or which is becoming to them. It was this freedom in selection that led a foreigner to express his astonishment at a large ball given recently in New York.

“How does it happen,” he asked, surprised at the number of nine-pointed coronets, “that there are only princesses here in the United States?” The Washington [DC] Post 20 January 1907: p. 71

Here we find that Mrs Astor did not understand the subtle differences in shape that differentiate a crown from a tiara.

Mrs. William Astor had marvellous jewels, but she did not put a crown upon her head every time she appeared at an imposing function, and when Mrs. W. K. Vanderbilt did so, even those who loved crowns and had plenty of money to buy them resented it for a while. Hers was the regular royal crown, standing all round in sharp spikes thickly crusted with diamonds and pearls, and with not a tendency to a democratic tapering at the back. It was such a crown as Queen Gertrude wears in “Hamlet,” and when those who had royal incomes saw it they hinted that they didn’t care much for having crowned heads sitting among them. Mrs. Vanderbilt claimed no more than to be an ordinary democratic woman, yet she started in on a pretty good crown. She wears it still, and fashion has followed her in the compromise of the tiara. The tiara dwindles modestly down toward the back, after the fashion of an ordinary subject’s decoration, yet wearers look like royal princesses when they put them on.  The Indianapolis [IN] Journal 10 June 1894: p. 14

Mrs Daffodil invites you to join her on the curiously named “Face-book,” where you will find a feast of fashion hints, fads and fancies, and historical anecdotes

You may read about a sentimental succubus, a vengeful seamstress’s ghost, Victorian mourning gone horribly wrong, and, of course, Mrs Daffodil’s efficient tidying up after a distasteful decapitation in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales.

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