Jewelry & Watches

A Rare Tiara Designed for a Romanov Coronation Goes on Display

The coronet is part of the seven piece Devonshire Parure, an 88-gem masterpiece you can now see it for yourself at Sotheby's.
IMAGE COURTESY SOTHEBY'S. DESIGNED BY CHIUN LEE
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What do you wear to the crowning of an Emperor? In 1856, the Countess of Granville didn’t need to think too much about it. She was to accompany her husband’s uncle, the 6th Duke of Devonshire, to Tsar Alexander II’s coronation in Moscow, and he knew exactly what she should wear. After all, the 6th Duke had been to a Russian affair before, having attended the crowning of of Tsar Nicholas I in 1825 as King George IV's ambassador to the Russian Empire.

The Duke had seven jewels commissioned for his niece from London jeweler C.S. Hancock—a bandeau, bracelet, coronet, diadem, necklace, stomacher, and comb. The pieces used ancient cameos, intaglios, and stones from the 2nd Duke of Devonshire’s extensive carved gem collection. There are 88 gems in total in what is officially known as the Devonshire Parure, including carnelian, amethyst, garnets, emeralds, sapphires, and diamonds.

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A CORONET THAT IS PART OF THE 7-PIECE DEVOSHIRE PARURE
Photo by COURTESY SOTHEBY'S.

The set was long hidden in the vaults at Chatsworth, the Cavendish family estate outside of London, but was finally put on exhibit after an extensive renovation of Chatsworth in 2010. It can be seen through September 18 at Sotheby's in New York as part of the Treasures from Chatsworth Exhibit, displayed in a set by Hamilton's production designer David Korins. And though the Devonshire diamond tiara is also included, it was the Parure, in all its lapis and enamel ancient eccentricity, that I wanted to know everything about.

The Devonshire Parure is by several accounts almost impossible to wear, described as quite "prickly."

The Devonshire Parure is by several accounts almost impossible to wear—the late Dowager Duchess of Devonshire, known as Debo, and one of the famous Mitford sisters, once described it as quite “prickly"—and it was likely worn only briefly at the coronation due to its intricate settings.

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A PAINTING DEPICTS THE CORONATION OF EMPEROR ALEXANDER II AND EMPRESS MARIA ALEXANDROVNA OF RUSSIA, WHICH TOOK PLACE ON SEPTEMBER 7, 1856 AT THE DORMITION CATHEDRAL IN THE MOSCOW KREMLIN
Photo by HERITAGE IMAGES / GETTY IMAGES.

It is a glorious example of Renaissance Revival, a style sometimes also referred to as Holbeinesque after the bejeweled Tudor royal portraits of Hans Holbein the Younger. Holbein was one of the great chroniclers of the court of Henry VII, and also the secret designer of some of that court’s most elaborate jewels.

Renaissance Revival emerged in the 1860s and remained popular until the end of the century. It is marked by the use of classical elements that point to an appreciation and eye for Greek and Roman arts popular during the Renaissance (though it is not to be confused with the gold filigree work of the nearly contemporaneous Etruscan Revival, heavily inspired by the actual jewels of antiquity). Renaissance Revival also made ample use of enamel work, a technique that had been heavily used during the Renaissance to make up for the lack of colored stones at that time. It can also be recognized by its intricate gold scrollwork and large centrally placed gemstones.

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JANE SEYMOUR, QUEEN OF ENGLAND BY HANS HOLBEIN THE YOUNGER, 1536
Photo by (PHOTO BY VCG WILSON/CORBIS VIA GETTY IMAGES) / GETTY IMAGES.

Also of note in the Devonshire Parure is the inclusion of a stomacher, a gold plated, gem-studded triangular piece meant to be worn to cover the chest area, a style that can be seen in portraits, especially of noble women in the 18th century.

The Parure features four carved gemstones depicting different Tudor monarchs. One of these is a cameo portrait of Queen Elizabeth I set in a green enamel locket. Within this locket there were two small portrait miniatures, which were unfortunately damaged in the 1970s. There is some evidence that these miniatures could be Queen Elizabeth I and her courtier Robert Dudley.

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The Devonshire Parure

Photo by COURTESY SOTHEBY'S.
Photo by COURTESY SOTHEBY'S.

Photo by COURTESY SOTHEBY'S.

The miniatures are in need of conservation and Sothebys is giving visitors to the exhibition the chance to restore history. The estimated conservation cost is $8,000; perhaps if you put in for the whole amount, that they’ll even let you try it on. So what if it’s a little prickly.

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 LEARN MORE: The Treasures From Chatsworth is open to the public until September 13, at Sotheby's New York.

*This story originally appeared on Townandcountrymag.com

*Minor edits have been made by the Townandcountry.ph editors

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