While this over-the-top tiara is listed in as a Royal British Tiaras by us today, it wasn’t truly worn by royalty. Aristocrats and nobility? Yes. Royalty? Nah. But when you have a tiara as stunning as The Portland Sapphire Tiara to talk about, who wants to get caught up in the little details?
Unless, of course, we’re discussing the details ABOUT the tiara. Created in approximately 1889 by E. Wolff & Co. for Garrard, the tiara was ordered by William Cavendish-Bentinck, the 6th Duke of Portland for his new wife, Winnifred Dallas-Yorke. Having re-purposed some family jewels, the tiara consists of both Ceylon and Burmese sapphires of varying sizes, totaling 12 clusters around the circlet. Set in a halo encircling each sapphire there are old cut diamonds and natural saltwater pearls, all set in gold and silver. It’s a big tiara and would have likely been quite heavy (see the last image below for an idea of how big it really is).
While we don’t have any pictures of Winnifred wearing the tiara, we do have a photo of her wearing another Portland tiara at the coronation of King Edward VII, where she was one of four canopy bearers in the ceremony for Queen Alexandra. And… we do have an image of her daughter-in-law, Ivy Cavendish-Bentinck, who was the wife of the 7th Duke (the image at the top of the photo) wearing the tiara. You can also see in the image, a stomacher that was part of the family jewels, and possibly the muse for the tiara.
Ivy and William had two daughters and no sons, so the Duke’s title went to William’s third cousin (and the title has since died out due to lack of male heirs; the earldom of Portland lives on instead) but William made sure that his fortune and the family jewels were passed down to his eldest daughter, Lady Anne Cavendish-Bentinck.
Lady Anne never married and therefor had no children, so when she passed away in 2008, her younger sister’s son inherited her estate. If you have time to go down that rabbit hole, you can read about the family home here. But with a great inheritance comes….. great inheritance taxes. We can only assume that’s why so many of Lady Anne’s jewels, many of which had been passed down through the family, including the Portland Sapphire Tiara, were auctioned off by Christie’s. Here’s a link, just in case you want to go down THAT rabbit hole (it’s totally worth it – the Portland jewels are towards the end).
Quoting directly from the catalog of the Christie’s sale of the Portland Jewels in 2010: Duchess Winifred played an important part during the coronation of King Edward VII and Queen Alexandra in 1902, and can be seen wearing the brooch (seen above) in the photographic portrait commemorating the event. In Men Women and Things, Memories of the Duke of Portland K.G., G.C.V.O. (1937), the 6th Duke recalls an amusing anecdote which took place during the rehearsals:
“My wife, the Duchess of Marlborough, the Duchess of Sutherland and the Duchess of Montrose carried the canopy under which Queen Alexandra was anointed. These four ladies had to submit to being drilled in the garden of Buckingham Palace by Colonel Brocklehurst (afterwards Lord Ranksborough), Queen Alexandra’s Equerry, formerly Colonel of the Royal Horse Guards (Blues). He made them fall in like soldiers for drill, and then said, ‘There must be no talking or kissing or laughing in the ranks – though, of course, you may kiss me afterwards if you like. I shall address you as numbers 1, 2, 3 and 4. Now all four stand to attention! Numbers 1 and 2, take hold of the front poles of the canopy; 3 and 4 take hold of the others. Now, lift up the poles. Number 1, you are holding your pole too high. Number 2, yours is crooked.’ They were all very much amused, but obeyed his orders implicitly – though I did not hear whether they kissed him afterwards! When the day came their part in the ceremony was a great success.”
Oh to have been a fly on the wall at that practice session. Or at the Christie’s auction. Maybe then we’d know who won this spectacular tiara. For now, we’ll just have to settle for staring at it in photographs. If you were lucky enough to own it, where would you wear it? Tell me in the comments below!