High Jewellery Jewellery Stories

Tiaras at Downton Abbey

Downton Abbey brought back the tiara thanks to Bentley & Skinner, that lent them some serious sparklers. But are tiaras only for aristocratic ladies?

A highly successful tv show gave a prominent role to one of the most versatile jewels you might possess: the tiara.

A global success, the tv show first, and the movie Downton Abbey after sparkled with some serious jewels that brought back the glamour of the 1920s. Among those, tiaras were for sure the most exquisite, thanks to the contribution of a leading jeweller that lent precious pieces, Bentley & Skinner.

Tiaras through time

According to Christie’s, the peak of the tiara’s popularity was from the 1870s to just before the First World War, when diamonds were plentiful following the discovery of new sources in South Africa, and hairstyles were suitably voluminous.

They continue explaining that throughout the 20th century, the wearing of tiaras has fluctuated in line with changes in prosperity and fashion. In the past 20 years, there has been a renewed appreciation for this type of jewel, fuelled by various high-profile exhibitions and celebrity weddings.

People sometimes think that there are limited occasions on which one can wear a tiara, but this is not always the case. Many tiaras, particularly 19th-century examples, are highly versatile and can be worn not only as a headpiece for a very formal occasion but can also transform into a necklace for less formal events, such as the opera or a black-tie party. 

Some examples can further dismantle to form brooches, hairpins, earrings and/or bracelets that can be worn in a much more relaxed environment.

And tiaras can be accessible jewels, as one can find some estimated at as little as £5,000-£10,000. An attractive price for a jewel that can be passed on to future generations.

All this means, also according to Diana Will, Sales Advisor and Gemologist at Bentley & Skinner, that the fact of being transformable (and accessible) pieces make tiaras quite attractive and allow them to be considered by jewels connoisseurs to own.

Bentley & Skinner & tiaras

International public admired and stick to Downton Abbey not only for the well-rounded characters, for the witty lines and for the painfully recreated settings. Great admiration also went to the costumes and, when it comes to the ladies of the house, to their jewels.

Many of the jewels one sees in the ITV series’ 6 seasons were created by talented Andrew Prince, and some others were lent by jewellers, like Bentley & Skinner.

Bentley & Skinner, established in 1880 by Royal Appointment to Her Majesty the Queen and His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales, has been supplying jewellery to the Royal Family since the latter part of Queen Victoria’s reign.

Today, they offer the most exquisite range of both antique and modern jewels to their clientele. Among these, the finest tiaras.

Not so many know that Bentley & Skinner have a full in-house workshop with three goldsmiths, a diamond setter and a pearl stringer. This allows the jewellers to make remarkable creations, and this magnificent tiara is one of the most exquisite examples.

Bentley & Skinner kokoshnik diamond tiara.

This kokoshnik diamond tiara took two years to make, and it was made by master goldsmith Adrian Lawrence.

The tiara is designed as a graduated row of lanceolated motifs set with old brilliant-cut diamonds, alternating with lines of smaller collet-set diamonds, supported by a row of diamonds in box collects. Detachable into three sections, this tiara converts into a necklace and a crown, for a total of 897 diamonds weighing 120,55 carats set in silver on a gold mount.

Bentley & Skinner kokoshnik tiara as a crown.
Bentley & Skinner kokoshnik tiara as a necklace.

Tiaras in Downton Abbey

The Jewellers, Goldsmiths and Silversmiths lent jewels to Downton Abbey ITV show production. One magnificent piece is a Georgian Wedding Diamond Tiara, worn by Lady Mary (played by Michelle Dockery) on the day of her wedding to Matthew Crawley in Season 3.

Downton Abbey Georgian Wedding Diamond Tiara Bentley & Skinner
Downton Abbey. Lady Mery Georgian Wedding Diamond Tiara. Bentley & Skinner

This tiara follows a naturalistic design, as it is made up of a band of lifelike leaves with little flowers blooming all along. The tiara is set with old-cut diamonds totalling 45 carats, set in silver and mounted in yellow gold, as it was customary at the time.

Lady Mery Crawley wearing the Georgian Diamond Tiara lent by Bentley & Skinner.

As you can see in the first image, this Georgian Diamond Tiara was designed to be worn high on the head, but Lady Mery chose to wear it according to fashion in the 1920s, like a headband.

Bentley & Skinner Georgian Diamond Tiara can transform into two brooches.

This tiara is even more interesting because following the tradition of tiara design at the end of the XIXth and early XXth century can transform into two splendid brooches – which makes it a highly versatile piece.

Tiaras in the movie

The first jewel lent was a Victorian diamond foliate tiara, dated circa 1880 and worn by the Dowager Countess played by Maggie Smith.

Bentley & Skinner Victorian diamond foliate tiara, worn by the Dowager Countess in the movie Downton Abbey.
The Dowager Countess of Grantham, Lady Violet, wearing the Victorian diamond foliate tiara.
Another image of Lady Violet, here with Lady Mery, wearing the Victorian diamond foliate tiara.

The central diamond weighs approximately 2.25 carats, surrounded by graduating openwork foliate and scroll design, all set with old brilliant-cut diamonds weighing approximately a total of 16.5 carats.

The gems are set in silver to yellow gold mount with a detachable gold frame, to allow the tiara to convert into a necklace.

Tiaras really reached their peak in popularity towards the end of the 20th century, when wealthy families such as the Crawleys would have been investing in these pieces to signify their affluence and high status in polite society.

Ilias Kapsalis, Jewellery Professional, Bentley & Skinner

The second diadem is a refined Late Victorian diamond tiara, dated circa 1890 and worn by Lady Edith, played by Laura Carmichael.

Bentley & Skinner Late Victorian diamond tiara, worn by Lady Edith.
Lady Edith wearing the Late Victorian diamond tiara.

Being a young lady in fashion, Lady Edith wears a “vintage” piece according to the latest fashion of her time – as a bandeau.

This diadem consists of nine diamond-set fleur-de-lys motifs with old brilliant-cut diamond tops, diamonds estimated to weigh a total of 15 carats, set in silver to a yellow gold mount.

Last but not least, here is Lady Cora’s tiara: an Edwardian jewel dated circa 1900. Lady Cora is played by Elizabeth McGovern.

Bentley & Skinner Edwardian diamond tiara worn by Lady Cora.
Lady Cora wearing the Edwardian diamond tiara.

This last one is with foliate swags and floral motifs graduating from the centre, set with old brilliant-cut and rose-cut diamonds estimated to weigh a total of 8 carats, all to a yellow gold mount with a detachable frame to convert the jewel into a coronet.

Diamonds were plentiful during this time following the discovery of new sources in South Africa, and so their use within these very elaborate and beautifully made tiaras was associated with this class of aristocrats. They were usually purchased as heirlooms pieces to pass on to future generations – a resurging trend we’re actually seeing today.

Ilias Kapsalis, Jewellery Professional, Bentley & Skinner

And, to confirm this last quote, Diana Will told High Jewellery Dream that they are witnessing a continued demand for tiaras from their customers, being Bentley & Skinner well known for their collection.

Customers, today, have an interest in buying these jewels as they are multipurpose, taking one from the most formal of the occasions to a more relaxed one as a tiara can be easily converted into bracelets, brooches or a necklace.

A tiara today then represents a very versatile jewel, a piece of investment that can become something to treasure through generations, whether it is a Georgian, Victorian, Edwardian or Art Deco creation.

With pieces starting as low as £5,000 on the auction market, a tiara could be yours, and let you feel like a glamorous princess.

Downton Abbey – the movie was released in theatres in September 2019.

1 comment on “Tiaras at Downton Abbey

  1. Pingback: The Anglesey Tiara at TEFAF | HIGH JEWELLERY DREAM

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