Chaumet’s dazzling tiaras

May 2023

Chaumet's dazzling tiaras

Few, if any, can rival Chaumet’s collection of historical tiaras and head ornaments. Founded by Marie-Étienne Nitot in 1780, Chaumet’s ancestor, the House of Nitot, was jeweller to Napoleon I who insisted that tiaras, those symbols of power, be worn at Court. We spoke with Claire Gannet, Chaumet’s director of heritage.


he coronation of King Charles III on May 6 incorporates numerous symbols of power - not least the crown, or rather crowns, worn by the British monarch on the day.

As per tradition, the king will be crowned in Westminster Abbey by the Archbishop of Canterbury. At the moment of his coronation, he will wear the St Edward’s Crown, named after Edward the Confessor (c. 1003-1066). It was made for the coronation of Charles II in 1661, after the original medieval crown was melted down in 1649. The crown, whose solid gold frame weighs 2.23 kilos, is kept inside the Tower of London, from where it was taken last December to be resized. Charles III will wear it only when he is officially declared king. For the remainder of the service, he will wear the Imperial State Crown.

The Queen Consort will wear the crown that Garrard & Co. made for Queen Mary in 1911 and which has been modified by the Crown Jeweller, Mark Appleby. Four of the crown’s eight detachable arches have been removed to lighten the jewel. It has also been reset with the Cullinan III (93.4 carats), Cullinan IV (63.6 carats) and Cullinan V (18.8 carats) diamonds from the personal jewellery collection of the late Queen Elizabeth II. They replace the Koh-i-Noor diamond - a means of avoiding diplomatic complications with the government of India, which has repeatedly requested the diamond’s return.

While crowns have long been the preserve of the royal families of Europe, tiaras, aigrettes and diadems are worn outside royal circles - a legacy of the rich American heiresses who, in the late 1800s and early 1900s, married hard-up British aristocrats, gaining a title if not wealth. One jewellery house in particular is renowned for its head ornaments, and that is Chaumet. Claire Gannet, director of heritage, answered our questions.

Europa Star: Unlike other leading jewellery houses, Chaumet continues to produce tiaras. Why is this?

Claire Gannet: The tiara has been a centrepiece of Chaumet’s creativity and collections since the House was established. This specificity gained momentum during the Empire. Tiaras, which borrow from Ancient Greece and Rome, were a demonstration of the emperor’s power, and the emperor indeed required that the ladies of the Court wear tiaras for all official engagements, thus launching a fashion. Over these two and a half centuries, the tiara has been reinvented many times, endlessly adapting to artistic movements and the tastes of the day.

Of the many tiaras throughout Chaumet’s history, which are the three most beautiful?

There are so many marvellous pieces that it’s hard to choose, but I have special affection for three in particular. First, the Épis de Blé (wheat ear) tiara, which is the oldest in the collection (1811) and has ties to Empress Joséphine, an important figure in Chaumet’s history. The second would be the Pensées (pansies) tiara (1850), a delightful jewel that resembles a circle of fresh flowers entwined in the hair, only in diamonds! Thirdly, the Soleil Rayonnant (sunburst) aigrette (1916) which hints at the Roaring Twenties, when women bobbed their hair and swapped dresses for trousers. If I might add a fourth, it would be the Princess Henckel von Donnersmark tiara. Now in a private collection, it is the most valuable tiara in the world.

Soleil Rayonnant aigrette tiara
Soleil Rayonnant aigrette tiara

Tiaras were often specially commissioned pieces. Did they adhere to a particular style – Georgian, Garland, Art Nouveau, Art Deco – as do other items of high jewellery, or were they complete flights of fancy?

Any item of jewellery is part of a moment, and is therefore influenced by the prevailing style, such as Art Deco, but it will also reflect the likes and preferences of the person for whom it is made. Sometimes there is a balance between the two, sometimes one clearly takes precedence over the other.

Épis de Blé tiara
Épis de Blé tiara

Is Chaumet seeking to extend its heritage collection with more tiaras and head ornaments?

For a number of years, Chaumet has implemented an ambitious acquisitions policy, in particular for tiaras, through auction houses as well as important dealers and private owners.

Is there one tiara in particular that Chaumet would love to acquire?

The Œillets (carnations) tiara is a treasure that would have its place in the collection, but there are numerous others we dream of owning!

How do you explain the renewed interest in tiaras among the younger generations of wealthy families?

A tiara can symbolise the start of a dynasty, with all that jewellery represents as an heirloom. It can also be an expression of love. A tiara possesses a spiritual dimension too, elevating the wearer and bringing her closer to the heavens.

Déferlante tiara
Déferlante tiara

Historically, crowns and tiaras were worn by royalty and nobility. How did they appear on the heads of the upper classes? Was this down to the “dollar princesses”, the wealthy American heiresses who married into the aristocracy whose own fortunes had dwindled?

There are several answers to this question. In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, numerous marriages took place between the daughters of American billionaire magnates and members of the hereditary British, and to a lesser extent French, aristocracy. New world money coming to the rescue of old world aristocracy. These industrial families, who came to prominence during America’s Gilded Age, wanted to stand out at dinners and society gatherings. The tiara is dramatic and glamorous, the epitome of grand occasions as well as official celebrations. It also appeals to the “princess” inside perhaps every little girl or woman.

Chant des Sirènes tiara
Chant des Sirènes tiara

Without giving away any secrets, what type of person buys (or is given) a tiara today?

Tiaras are still gifted for a wedding or the birth of a child. They can also be worn by a woman leading a successful career, a reminder that a jewel can bestow power and strength on the person who wears it. Asia’s leading families in particular appreciate Chaumet’s majestic history.

Is Chaumet still making tiaras for members of royal families?

Chaumet was serving royal families as recently as the 1960s and 1970s. These families’ vaults also contain wonderful tiaras which have been passed from generation to generation and which they wear with immense pleasure.

Chaumet's dazzling tiaras