How did you come to offer this piece?
Francesca Valentini: It was originally shown to me by a gentleman who had received it as a wedding present in the mid-1960s. It has given his wife so much pleasure over the decades, and they now want to offer someone else the opportunity to love it. As Elizabeth Taylor said: ‘we are all temporary custodians of beauty.’ This is one of my favourite pieces in the sale because, despite its age, it is still easy to wear today, either in the hair or on the wrist, and the old-cut diamonds of between 3 and 7 carats.
Tell us more...
It is a type of headpiece known as a bandeau tiara, made in the early years of the 20th century using a simple line of large old cushion-cut diamonds of well-matched pale yellow, interspersed with platinum panels set with small diamonds. The square connecting links cleverly highlight the yellow of the larger stones. At the same time, the intricate piercing of the platinum setting, with its delicate beaded detail, provides a contrast to the simplicity and sheer size of the main diamonds.
‘As Elizabeth Taylor said: “we are all temporary custodians of beauty.”’
It is an extremely well thought-out piece. The beaded edging, known as millegraining, was typical of the period and served to soften the appearance of the setting edge. This technique required platinum, a relatively new material for jewellery designers at this time, and its strength allowed craftsmen to use less metal in the piece. Many late 19th century tiaras were designed to convert to necklaces or suites of brooches, but the bandeau design of this later example was more suited to conversion to a bracelet.
These are very uncommon items — were they more popular at a certain point in history?
Surprisingly, diadems, crowns and tiaras were traditionally worn by powerful men. It was a badge of status, worn by Roman emperors, although Cleopatra is sometimes depicted wearing a diadem, as is Hera, queen of the Greek gods. Diadems tended to be worn over the forehead rather like this bandeau tiara, and in modern times we tend to use the word diadem or bandeau when describing a sleek, linear piece that sits elegantly within the hair rather than crown-like on top of the head.
At what kind of events would this piece have been worn?
Stately occasions, very formal social events. One of the reasons for the comparative rarity of this type of head ornament is the change in society and etiquette after the First World War, when the formal social season was much reduced. Luckily this type of jewel is now back in fashion because it is seen as a beautiful piece to have and to wear — as a bracelet or a hair ornament at an occasion such as a wedding. It speaks of a more glamorous age, and I think it would be a wonderful thing to own.