Queen Elizabeth II is always spotted wearing one. Princess Diana was partial to Queen Mary’s Lover’s Knot Tiara (on loan from Queen Lizzie herself). Kate Middleton wore a halo tiara (also on loan from Queen Elizabeth II) to her wedding to Prince William, as too sister-in-law Meghan Markle when she wed Prince Harry, pairing Queen Mary’s bandeau tiara with her Clare Waight Keller gown. In fact, there is nothing quite as sovereign as a tiara; a jewelled ornamental crown the indubitable symbol of queenly behaviour. It is one of the greatest (and sparkliest) perks of being a royal, but thanks to Chaumet, you don’t need to be a Mountbatten to wear one.
A signifier of sovereignty since ancient times, the French fine jewellery Maison has made over 2,000 tiaras since 1780 for monarchies and aristocratic families alike. Beginning with France’s first lady of the 1800s, Empress Joséphine de Beauharnais, who is in fact credited with popularising tiaras along with the new Empire style (husband Napoleon wanted the French court to be the grandest in all of Europe and such gifted his wife many ornate parures which included tiaras), Chaumet have continued the royal tradition to this day, reimagining it for a modern audience. Like all art, it begins with a drawing. In the 400,000 archive drawings held by the Maison, a multitude of art movements have been referenced, with influences of Romanticism, Naturalism, Belle Époque and Art Déco present in the works, movements which continue to be a source of inspiration today.
With the tiara the emblem of power chosen by Napoléon to express the grandeur and magnificence of his reign, a current exhibition in Paris begins with this historic act, celebrating the Maison’s first great client, his wife Empress Joséphine. The exhibition tracks Chaumet’s long history of being the jeweller to many European courts, and the grand aristocratic families of the bourgeoisie, with the tiara becoming an attribute of success and wealth. Opening the exhibition, a vault studded with several hundred historical models in nickel silver – an alloy of copper, zinc and nickel – greets visitors to the summit of the famous Vendôme Column, topped by the laurel-crowned statue of Napoléon I. Illustrating the variety of head jewellery that has been created by Chaumet for nearly 240 years, this spectacular scenography represents an elevation to the evocative heights of jewellery possibility, but above all else – presents an immersion into the origins and universe of Maison Chaumet.
But its actual construction requires a unique technique; a volume model in nickel silver with which the jeweller adjusts the design to the shape of the head and to the way it will be worn. It’s this specific form of craftsmanship that sets tiaras apart from other jewellery, with Chaumet conserving around 700 nickel silver tiara models in its museum, all which bear the stamp of the history of the Maison’s creative expertise.
With this great history, today its tiara making remains a wholly bespoke service; a special order or unique item requiring 500 to 1,500 hours of work, which, astonishingly, represents an overall timeframe of over a year. Each tiara undergoes a protracted process of pure craftsmanship which entails many different steps: shaping, dismantling, preparation of the setting, polishing, re-cutting diamonds, setting, applying hallmarks, Chaumet engraving, final assembly and final finishing. It’s an exclusive expertise which belongs to the Chaumet High Jewellery workshop, located at 12 Place Vendôme, the epicentre of Parisian luxury.
An apogee of femininity, the tiara now stands as a fashion accessory as much as an object of bourgeois power and influence. When wearing one in the modern day, a certain level of preparation must be factored in, particularly a considered hairstyle (a must when wearing any kind of head pieces; think a low, tousled ponytail à la Meghan Markle or chic chignon). A statement of style and an expression of art de vivre; it’s the finest way to add a royal touch to any special occasion and feel every bit a queen in one of Chaumet’s precious tiaras.