I’m back with the final chapter in my visit to London and Kensington Palace, where I got to see the three tiaras on display there, as part of the Victoria Revealed Exhibit. And I have to say, this is my favorite chapter. And favorite tiara of the three. In fact, one of my top three tiaras… ever. Yes. Ever. The Fife Tiara.
Originally created for Princess Louise, the daughter of King Edward the VII (who was not yet king when the tiara was created – his mother was still ruling), the tiara was a wedding gift from her groom, the Earl of Fife. Quite a wedding gift, I’d say. And the Earl received a “gift” of his own – Queen Victoria felt that an earldom wasn’t quite posh enough for her granddaughter to marry into, so she bequeathed the title of Duke onto the young man. And so he became the first Duke of Fife.
The tiara, created some time in the late 1880s (the Duke and Duchess of Fife were married in 1889), was likely designed by Oscar Massin, who had exhibited a very similar piece at the Exposition Universelle in Paris in 1878. He merely designed his pieces but the execution of his designs was left up to various jewelers and unfortunately, the actual creator of this tiara is unknown.
What we do know is that the tiara consists of hundreds of diamonds (almost 200 carats worth), with the more important stones weighing anywhere from 1 carat to ten. The larger stones are briolette cut, meaning the are cut all the way around (not like a typical diamond cut to a culet). The briolette cut stones are each hung from a tiny attachment, which allows them to pivot with any movement, something I saw firsthand when I bumped into the display case slightly. With every pivot, they toss great sparkles of light around like mini disco balls. It was outstanding and mesmerizing at the same time.
Normally, nobility is passed down from father to son, but since Louise and the Duke only had one son, who was sadly stillborn, Queen Victoria stepped in once again and allowed the title to be passed on to the eldest daughter, Lady Alexandra. With the title came the tiara and she wore it at least two times that we know of (likely many more) – to both the coronation of King George VI in 1937 and Queen Elizabeth II in 1953.
Lady Alexandra also lost a son, Alastair (he had served in WWII but while serving as a lieutenant in Canada he drunkenly fell out of a window and died of hypothermia), and so this time, the title and tiara were passed on to her nephew, James. Both James’ daughter and daughter-in-law wore the tiara in their weddings (his bride did not) and then the tiara disappeared for a time.
There was great concern that it had been sold, especially after the 3rd Duke passed away in 2015. However, as luck would have it, the tiara survived and in 2017 the Arts Council England published a report outlining a pair of government programs. The programs allow important works of art to transfer into public ownership. The Fife tiara was accepted by the government in lieu of taxes after the Duke’s death and it was valued at 1.4 million pounds. With the transfer of ownership, the tiara now belongs to the people of Britain and there was a caveat to the agreement: the offer was conditional and stated that the tiara “has been permanently allocated to Historic Royal Palaces for retention and display at Kensington Palace in accordance with the condition attached to the offer.” Which means we all get to see it on display now! Oh heavenly day.
If this is first of the three pieces I wrote about the tiaras currently on view at Kensington Palace, go peruse the Fife Fringe and Queen Victoria’s Emerald Tiara and then come back and let me know which is YOUR favorite in the comments.