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There’s a reason why that picture of Princess Margaret wearing a tiara and lounging in a Kensington Palace bath is arguably the most famous image ever taken of the Queen’s sister. There’s something wonderfully louche and fabulously aristocratic about putting on an eight-figure piece of jewellery that most people would reserve for their wedding day simply to wash.
And why not? If the Princess had followed tradition and only used the Poltimore tiara – which she personally owned – to get married in, she’d have worn it twice. By putting it on to go to dinner and the theatre – and yes, to bathe – it transformed the £1.7m piece of jewellery into a hard-working item.
The same logic can be applied today, as women rebel against the idea that these beautiful designs must be reserved for walking down the aisle. Tradition always used to dictate that tiaras could only be worn by brides on their wedding day or by married women, largely because for centuries they were seen as an emblem of a loss of innocence and the crowning of love. Given the average British bride is now a not-so-innocent 35, this doesn't really apply anymore.
Chaumet specialises in tiaras, having created over 3,000 since its beginnings in 1780, which have been worn by the likes of Empress Josephine, Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney, Grand Duchess Maria Pavlovna and Lady (Edwina) Mountbatten.
Whereas previously they were the preserve of royalty and aristocrats, today there is a huge appetite from Asian clients in particular who want to build their own collection of future heirlooms. Colleagues of mine tell me that at events such as Dolce & Gabbana Alta Moda, guests arrive at breakfast in simple tiaras, which they update over the course of the day to ever grander, larger versions, ending with crown-like pieces for dinner. Among Texan millionaires, apparently, it is now de rigueur to wear a tiara to lunch and take your bodyguard as a plus one.
"Over time tiaras have gone from being an expression of power to a fashion accessory," says Jean-Marc Mansvelt, Chaumet's CEO. "Our clients order tiaras for weddings, as the ultimate symbol of love that can be passed to the next generation. But we also have Asian customers who order them for business meetings. One lady told me that when she wears her tiara in front of her team she feels confident, like an empress. It comes back to the tiara's original function: as a symbol of power."
After all, where are women more in need of authority than in the office? For years, we have been told to ‘lean in’, drop our voices and dress in dark colours if we wish to be taken seriously. Perhaps the solution all along was to wear some diamonds in our hair.
Keen to test-drive this theory, I contacted the Natural Diamond Council, which works with brands such as Hancocks and Bentley & Skinner to loan tiaras to clients for anything from one night to a week. Traditionally, the service has been used by brides but the company has seen a rise in women requesting tiaras for black-tie balls and other events.
And so, one morning last week, the team from Bentley & Skinner arrived at the Telegraph offices with two tiaras – one a Victorian diamond-set design with a centre of three large European-cut diamonds that was worth £120,000; the other dating to 1890 with a diamond floral design and 329 old European and rose-cut diamonds at a retail price of £115,000. To rent them, you need to put the entire sum down as a deposit and then pay one percent of that for each day you keep it.
I had slept badly the night before and kept thinking how tired I looked, and so was delighted to find the array of diamonds on my head immediately lit up my skin and made me look more refreshed. No wonder the Windsors are so keen on them. I usually wash my hair in the morning but had followed advice from the Natural Diamond Council that tiaras stick better to a day-old shampoo – sure enough, it stayed in place throughout a meeting on next week's features and during a phone interview with a fashion designer.
Unlike Princess Margaret’s Poltimore tiara, these designs feel less like a crown and more like a beautiful piece of jewellery. Fittingly, I suppose, because they are designed to be worn as necklaces as well as head pieces. I found them surprisingly subtle, particularly when paired with a white shirt and navy jacket – and as a result, my colleagues didn't immediately notice the house-deposit-worth of diamonds sitting on my head.
When they did, most people reacted one of two ways: either they looked startled and moved away quickly as possible, as if I was about to do something odd, or they stopped what they were doing, and asked if they could try it on – and then demanded I take a picture of them.
As soon as they affixed it to their hair, I noticed an immediate shift in their demeanour. They dropped their shoulders, lifted their chins and lounged back in their chairs to flip through a magazine. After all, who has time to answer emails or update a spreadsheet when they're dressed like the Duchess of Cambridge at a state dinner?
As for conferring a sense of authority and power on the wearer – that, I'm less sure about. Largely because during my day of dabbling in the world of royal jewellery, I noticed that whenever I tried to pitch a story or discuss a feature, all anyone really wanted to talk about was my tiara...
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