|Images (clockwise from left): Grand Duchess Eleonore of Hesse and by Rhine (portrait detail); tiara detail; tiara detail|
Today's a pretty special tiara day, my dear magpies -- it's the final day of our week of turquoise sparklers, and it also happens to be my birthday! To share my birthday cheer with all of you, I thought I'd feature one of my personal favorite turquoise tiaras: the unusual turquoise and moonstone tiara of the Hesse family, which has a unique design and a fascinating tale to tell.
In 1906, the tiara was made for Grand Duke Ernst of Hesse and by Rhine as a Christmas present for his newly-married second wife, Princess Eleonore of Solms-Hohensolms-Lich. (We've already met Ernst's first wife, Victoria Melita, who had some serious tiaras of her own.) The design of the tiara, which is plays on the distinctive, traditional kokoshnik shape, was apparently a Russian creation -- as Ernst's sisters included Tsarina Alexandra Feodorovna and Grand Duchess Elizabeth Feodorovna, he had major links with the Russian imperial family. Geoffrey Munn posits that the tiara was made "by a competitor of Fabergé."
Around the diamond and platinum kokoshnik frame, "ribbons" of turquoises and moonstones are wrapped, creating an unusual geometric design. The design travels around to the back of the tiara as well, where the "ribbons" are continued in blue and white enamel, adding an extra dimension to the art nouveau creation. (See the lower photograph here for a view of the back of the tiara.) The tiara is designed to have a silk ribbon attached to its base as a means of securing it to the wearer's head.
Photographs of Eleonore wearing this tiara have proved hard to come by, but you can see her wearing the piece in the portrait above, painted by Hanns Pellar in 1911. In October 1937, she was widowed. In November, her younger son, Prince Louis, was due to marry the Hon. Margaret Campbell Geddes in London, and Eleonore decided that the turquoise tiara would be an appropriate wedding gift for her new daughter-in-law. Along with her elder son, Grand Duke Georg Donatus, his pregnant wife, Cecilie (one of the sisters of Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh), and their two sons, Ludwig and Alexander, Eleonore boarded a plane bound for London on November 16, 1937. The tiara, packed in a strongbox, was among Eleonore's luggage.
Many of you probably know what comes next -- the plane tragically crashed in Ostend, Belgium. The pilot plane had tried to land in bad weather because Cecilie had unexpectedly given birth on board. All of the passengers, including the newborn baby, were killed in the accident. But the tiara, which was protected by the box in which it had been packed, survived unscathed. It was one of the only items found in the wreckage. The sparkler was given to Prince Louis and his new wife, fulfilling his mother's wish to pass the tiara along to the next generation of the family.
Princess Margaret, often called "Peg," wore the tiara on many occasions during her lifetime; Geoffrey Munn notes that one of Peg's last recorded appearances in the piece was in 1986, at a ball given in honor of Queen Elizabeth II's 60th birthday. Peg Hesse died in 1997, and as she and Louis had no children of their own, many wondered what would become of the turquoise tiara. The sparkler was featured in the major tiara exhibition at the Victoria & Albert Museum in 2002, but was attributed only to a "private collection."