In another World, in another lifetime, when women above a certain status were forbidden from any activity other than to act as beautiful decorations and brood mares for their husbands, ostentatious jewels were a way of shouting your value to a room without opening your mouth.
Of course, even now, gemstones and gold are used as social place holders, but, back in the day if you wanted to proverbially pee on the post of the highest society, it took more than a clunky diamond ring and a fancy watch.
Bling was the thing, and nothing says “I win” better than a diamond encrusted tiara you just happened to pop on to keep your hair in place.
What, this old thing?
(The two hundred and eighty brilliant-cut diamond and enamel Chamuet Tiara, last sold in 2015 for over 625,000 Pounds Stirling.)
If you’ve ever even glanced at a picture of any Royalty, either modern day or ancient, you will have no doubt spotted this semi-circular head dress. Tiaras are not crowns. They do not symbolize a title or any kind of political power. Tiaras are decorative reminders of wealth and the extraordinary craftsmanship and engineering that goes into them.
Kokoshnick Tiaras, a Russian form of the art, are particularly remarkable.
Their design is based on the traditional Russian head dresses of old, always incorporating complex patterns and symmetry with a high bridge above the forehead, like a crest. In fact, the word ‘Kokoshnick’ means ‘cockerel’ or ‘rooster’ in the old Slavic language.
In the North of Russia, no fair maiden would be seen dead in public without her Kokoshnick firmly in place.
In wealthy pre-revolutionary Russia, nor would any self-respecting member of the Romanov court, although the materials may have been different.
However, the fashion for this style of ‘extra’ diamond wearing was not limited to the ill-fated Romanovs.
One of the most famous Kokoshnick Tiaras was created for Queen Mary of England, and is still often worn by The UK’s Queen Elizabeth II. Known as the Kokoshnick Fringe Tiara, it comes with a tiny silver key that allows the diamond fringe to be removed from its gold frame and to be worn as ‘regular’ jewellery. ‘Fringe’ style tiaras are very popular with those in the know, especially as it’s a kind of ‘two-for-one’ deal.
Queen Elizabeth has ever worn two tiaras at the same time using this unique feature.
This beauty, now the property of a Museum in Doha, Qatar, is the Laurel Tiara created by Cartier in 1930 for a private client. Aquamarines and diamonds make up this stunning piece
But what happened to the originals? The Kokoshnicks that were made in Russia to be worn by Russian royalty?
Well, some made it out. A quick search on the internet will uncover a few pieces of Romanov grandeur hiding in plain sight. When the writing was on the wall, literally in blood, a number of minor royals did what they could to get the heck out of dodge with as many of their trinkets as possible. There are a number of Faberge crowns currently at home in the castles of the UK and other European royalty. After all, family is family. However, some, like the following gosbsmacker, have been lost to time.
This is Alexandra Feodorovna, the wife of Nicolas II wearing a famed diamond Kokoshnick which had been passed down in the family since its creation in the early 1880’s.
This black and white picture from the early 1900’s shows the detail of the hundreds of encrusted diamonds in its manufacture.
And here is the last time it was seen. Set out on a table by the Bolsheviks following the 1917 revolution. This table of utterly fantastic fortune was displayed as a reminder to the people of Russia that the other half were living unimaginably decadent lives. Following the publication of this photograph, the piece disappeared along with most of the items laid out on the table. A few can still be seen in the Armory Museum inside the walls of the Kremlin, but most have vanished, maybe broken up or placed into private collections.
These days one may not always pop on a tiara to go to a dinner party, but in truth, we are all still a bit fascinated by big displays of bling, and if your headband is the best at the table, you win.