Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Luxarazzi 101: Empire Tiara

Empire Tiara? Luxembourg? Fair enough, your likely confusion is all too understandable... Even though once upon a time Luxembourg had been bigger, it certainly was never considered to be an empire; and neither was the Duchy of Nassau which was once reigned by the Grand Ducal Family for that matter. The whopper of the Grand Ducal collection is, however, still known by exactly this name, the (Luxembourg) Empire Tiara.

The name though is most likely a case of something getting lost in translation. In French this piece is usually known as grand diadème and in German as Reiches Diadem, the translation of the latter one seems to be the source of the confusion. Diadem is simply another word for tiara, but while the German noun Reich means empire in English, reich as an adjective (the -es simply is an inflection) would translate to rich. So, it's rather a "rich tiara" than an "empire tiara" but as the name certainly fits its proportions, there is no harm in using it.

While the history and provenance of one of the biggest tiaras of all the reigning - and non-reigning, really - European families isn't lost in translation, there still is not much known about it. The Empire Tiara had its first prominent outing as the wedding tiara of Grand Duchess Charlotte - later to be repeated by her younger sister, Princess Hilda - when Charlotte tied the knot with Prince Felix of Bourbon-Parma in 1919 though it certainly is much older than that.
Grand Duchess Charlotte and Princess Hilda at their weddings
The lack of information available has made room for many speculations; the two most common stories told involve either Grand Duchess Elizabeth Mikhailovna of Russia, the first wife of Grand Duke Adolph, or Grand Duchess Hilda of Baden, Adolph's daughter. The first theory claims that the tiara was part of the massive dowry of Grand Duchess Elizabeth and is fueled by the bling's sheer size and carat power, which make it is easy to believe that the piece has a Romanov provenance. The other theory tells us that the tiara was left to Grand Duchess Charlotte by her aunt Grand Duchess Hilda when she died childless as she did indeed leave some of her jewels to her Luxembourgish nieces. 

As interesting as they are, both theories can be dismissed for simple timeline reasons. The Empire Tiara entered the Nassau family sometime between 1813 and 1829 and as Adolph was born in 1817 and didn't firstly marry until 1844, there isn't much to them. 

Why the timeframe of 16 years, you might rightfully ask? The Nassau family used to have inventories of their jewellery every once in a while. (You know you have a seriously big jewel vault when you need to have jewel inventories, I guess...) They had one in 1813 and this tiara wasn't mentioned, whereas in 1829 (and 1859) it was, so unless they simply overlooked it in the vaults - which admittedly would be kind of hard when it comes to this wall of diamonds - it's a save bet that it came into the family during the years inbetween.

The Empire Tiara's exact provenance, however, still remains a secret and the details are a little shaky. In 1829, Frankfurt-based jeweller Jakob Tillmann Speltz worked on the tiara though the records do not indicate whether he designed and realised the piece or whether he just made adjustments by adding another few carats. As Speltz worked for many important people during that time, it certainly is a possibility that he was the tiara's creator.

The style and craftsmanship of the tiara has certain Parisian elements and are typical for its time - the end of the French empire and restoration period - though it seems that many German jewellers picked up the ideas of their French counterparts and created tiaras in similar style. If the tiara indeed is of French provenance, it's most likely that Duke Wilhelm of Nassau, father of Grand Duke Adolph, bought the piece from a French noble family who had run into financial difficulties after the end of Napoléon I's reign and had it reworked in 1829 by Speltz to gift it to his second wife, Princess Pauline of Württemberg, who he married that same year.
Grand Duchess Charlotte, Grand Duchess Joséphine-Charlotte and Grand Duchess Maria-Teresa
Venturing further into unconfirmed speculation, it is often said that the Empire Tiara used to be a convertible piece, breaking up into other tiaras, rings and brooches, though it seems that if was fixed into its current setting instructed by Grand Duchess Joséphine-Charlotte, who had many of the family's as well as her own jewels reworked. The tiara is 10.5 centimetre (4.1 inches) high and has a diameter of 19 centimetre (7.5 inches).

These days, Luxembourg's Empire Tiara is the only piece in the Grand Ducal collection that is solely reserved for the use of the Grand Duchess. In fact, this has been the case for the past 100 years or so; the only known exception being aforementioned Princess Hilda who wore it at her wedding to Adolph, 10th Prince of Schwarzenberg in 1930.

Even the Grand Duchesses reserve this tiara for very special events and don't get it out of the vaults for just anyone. Apart from her wedding day and many state occasions, Grand Duchess Charlotte also wore the tiara on the day she abdicated in favour of her oldest son, Grand Duke Jean, and then handed it over to her daughter-in-law, Joséphine-Charlotte, who continued the policy of only wearing it for the most important events before turning it over to today's wearer when her husband abdicated.

Grand Duchess Maria Teresa also followed the precedence set by her mother- and grandmother-in-law by only wearing it four times since her husband ascended to the throne in 2000. She chose the Empire Tiara to adorn her head on a state visits to Belgium and Netherlands, both closely associated with the Grand Ducal Family as well as Luxembourg through political, economical and familiar ties, for the wedding of the only European heiress apparent at the time, Crown Princess Victoria of Sweden, and for an official portrait.


  1. Good to know that Luxembourg's Empire Tiara is the only piece in the Grand Ducal collection that is solely reserved for the use of the Grand Duchess.

  2. Have to say, it looks magnificent on J-C in the middle pic (yellow dress). It seems tough to wear or style, but when the proportions/hair are right, it's fabulous. From what I've seen, I prefer it somewhat more open than M-T wore it in Sweden. I believe she wore it once in Belgium to great effect.