Tiaras, long associated with grand occasions and glamorous women, were once at the top of the hierarchy of jewelry. From the late eighteenth century until well into the twentieth, tiaras were potent symbols of high rank and affluence and were displayed at court ceremonies, gala evenings, and the many events whose invitations bore the pronouncement, “tiaras will be worn.” These jewels, so prominent when floating above a glittering crowd, were showpieces for the jeweler’s art. Artists and craftsmen have created them in a dazzling array of styles and materials, adapting the traditional form to changing tastes, technology, and social conditions.
Comprising loans from private collections, museums, and jewelers from around the world, this exhibition explored the history of tiaras and celebrated the creativity and craftsmanship of those who have created them. The guest curator for the exhibition was Diana Scarisbrick, an internationally known English jewelry historian and author of numerous articles on the history of jewelry and gem engraving. “Crowning Glories” presented more than seventy-five tiaras, most of which have never before been exhibited in the United States. Examples ranged from a neoclassical tiara created for the empress Josephine to one made especially for this exhibition by the British artist-jeweler Marit Guinness Aschan.
“Crowning Glories” showed the evolution of tiara design from the neoclassical creations of the early nineteenth century, through the naturalism and nostalgia of the Romantic period, to the massive and imposing designs of the mid to late nineteenth century. The story continued with examples of the Russian style, which was popular throughout Europe, and the light and delicate designs of the Belle Epoque, made possible by the introduction of platinum settings in the 1890s. The interwar period, the last great era for tiaras, was represented by superb art deco examples and by elegant modern tiaras created in the 1930s. One separate section of the exhibition showcased tiaras owned and worn by American women; another presented alternative and “artistic” tiaras, including examples by the great jewelers of the Arts and Crafts and Art Nouveau movements.