The Devonshire Diamonds: The Coronet, Tiara, & Parure

While not technically royal jewels, the Ducal Devonshire tiaras and parure are, shall we say, significant pieces of jewelry so let’s give attention where attention is due!

#1Devonshire Diamond Coronet

Hello, gorgeous! (via Chartsworth official site)

Hello, gorgeous! (via Chatsworth official site)

Let’s start with the biggest, which is suitably described on the official Chatsworth website as a Diamond Coronet rather than a tiara. In her delightful book Home to Roost, the late Deborah Mitford, Duchess of Devonshire (‘Debo’ to family and friends) includes an amusing chapter to tiaras in general. It was originally an article written for The Telegraph in 2002. Here are some excerpts (shown in bold) that highlight this tiara of all tiaras:

My grandmother-in-law, Evelyn Duchess of Devonshire, was Mistress of the Robes to Queen Mary for forty-three years from 1910. Together they weathered long hours of tiara’d evenings, including those during the fabulous Indian Durbar in Delhi in 1911. The magically beautiful but relentless program, carried out in torrid heat, was exhausting for all concerned, and after one particularly lengthy evening Granny Evie was heard to say, ‘The Queen has been complaining about the weight of her Tiara…The Queen doesn’t know what a heavy tiara is.’ 

Evelyn knew what she was talking about. The larger of the two Devonshire diamond tiaras in indeed a whopper.

Evelyn Duchess of Devonshire by Bassano, vintage print, 29 April 1920 (via Royal Jewels of the World)

Evelyn Duchess of Devonshire by Bassano, vintage print, 29 April 1920 (via Royal Jewels of the World)

 It was made in 1893 for Louise, the 8th Duke of Devonshire’s wife. She was formerly married to the Duke of Manchester and was known as ‘the Double Duchess.’

Deborah, Duchess of Devonshire did wear ‘the big tiara’ on a few occasions. I’ll let her tell the story…

I remember going to…an entertainment in London in the early 1960’s, by myself as Andrew had an engagement elsewhere. With…confidence I wore the big tiara…When I ran out of partners and wanted to go home, I went out to look for a taxi. It never occurred to me that it might not be a good idea to stand alone in the street, long after midnight, with a load of diamonds around my neck and 1,900 more glittering above my head.

One memorable evening we were staying at Windsor Castle for a dance given by the Queen. I came down to dinner, got up as I thought our hostess and the other guests would be, the big tiara firmly in place. To my horror none of the other women wore theirs. It is far worse to be overdressed than underdressed a I sat through dinner wishing I was anywhere else. When the dancing began, I took it off, put it under a chair and enjoyed myself enormously. I suppose Windsor Castle in the only house where you could be sure of finding the blessed thing still there at bedtime.

If only there was a picture of Debo standing there waiting for a taxi to arrive! She perhaps most famously wore the tiara for her 80th birthday party along with the famous House of Worth gown worn by Louise, Duchess of Devonshire for the Diamond Jubilee costume party she threw at Devonshire House in London in 1897.

Deborah Duchess of Devonshire dressed for her 80th birthday party (via The Telegraph)

Deborah Duchess of Devonshire dressed for her 80th birthday party (via The Telegraph)

This photo shows the Duchess at the 1897 costume ball (on the left) side by side with Debo. It appears that the sleeves of the gown were altered at some point after the ball.

Here’s a more relaxed photo. I love how it really shows that Debo didn’t take all the Duchess stuff too seriously,

This photo shows the gown in more detail. It is displayed at Chatsworth.

Let’s take another look at the tiara, I can’t resist.

via Pinterest

via Pinterest

This detailed description comes from the Chatsworth site and is quite illuminating.

The coronet has a row of thirteen scrolled palmettes (a fan- like shape of leaves on a palm tree), alternating with a lotus pattern. The upper section was made around 1893 and was set throughout with cushion-shaped diamonds. The base has a row of lozenge motifs set between two lines of more cushion shaped diamonds and dates from around 1897.It is mounted in silver and gold.

In order to make the coronet the 8th Duke of Devonshire removed the diamonds in the Devonshire Parure and other heirlooms, such as the 6th Duke’s Garter Star. These totalled 1041 diamonds, to which Skinner added another 840.

A.E.Skinner was the jewelry firm that made this historic piece.

#2 The Devonshire Parure

So that brings us to the Devonshire Parure. It really is quite eclectic and wouldn’t go with just any old gown.

I think Debo agreed with me. Here is her description of it from Home to Roost:

This set consists of seven monumental pieces of jewelry which, until you look closely at them, might have been pulled out of the dressing-up box. They are a bizarre combination of antique  (Greek and Roman) and Renaissance cameos and intaglios carved from emeralds, rubies, sapphires, and semi-previous stones – cornelian, onyx, amethysts and garnets – set in gold and enamel of exquisite workmanship by C.F. Hancock of London. They were commissioned by the dear, old extravagant 6th Duke of Devonshire, ‘the Bachelor Duke’, for his niece, Countess Granville, to wear at the coronation of TsarAlexander II in Moscow in 1856. This tiara and its companion necklace, stomacher, and bracelet are very prickly to wear. I know because I put them all on for a Women’s Institute performance when I was cast as ‘The Oldest Miss World in the Wold.’

Here she is wearing some of the pieces in what appears to be her everyday clothes and in front of the portrait that was done by Lucian Freud when she was 34 years old. There has been some chatter that this was photoshopped. It’s possible, but my guess is that it’s a real photo and she did put it on like this, perhaps for the Women’s Institute event!

via Pinterest

via Pinterest

More information on the parure can be found at the official Chatsworth website here, if you’d like to see. This is the most significant (and tiara-like) of the headpieces in my opinion:

A chatsworth headpiece (via Chatsworth official site)

A chatsworth headpiece (via Chatsworth official site)

#3 The Devonshire Diamond Tiara

This is the tiara that Debo was most photographed in and you can see why she would have chosen it over the ‘big one.’ It reminds me a bit of the Girls of Great Britain and Ireland Tiara – formal but not too heavy, great upward spires, and lots of breathing room so it’s not a wall of diamonds.

(via Royal Jewels of the World)

(via Royal Jewels of the World)

This portrait was taken of the Duchess around the time of the Queen’s coronation in 1953. Information on the history of the tiara can’t be found on the Chatsworth site unfortunately, perhaps they will add it at some point.

Deborah, Duchess of Devonshire (via Royal Jewels of the World)

Deborah, Duchess of Devonshire (via Royal Jewels of the World)

The big tiara was worn by Debo’s mother in law the Dowager Duchess of Devonshire since she assisted the Queen during the Coronation and would have had more eyes on her. It’s been noted that Debo was likely the only Duchess at the Coronation wearing their family’s ‘second best’ tiara.

So regal! (via Chatsworth)

So regal! (via Chatsworth)

This explanation of the peeress robes she is shown wearing for the coronation comes from the Chatsworth site:

Cecil Beaton called Deborah ‘the most beautiful of all’ the peeresses in this off-the-shoulder robe, believed to have been reworked from an original worn by Georgiana, wife of the 5th Duke of Devonshire. In her memoirs, Deborah describes how she came to wear it:

“…Moucher [Mary Devonshire] was to have the robes that had been carefully put away by Granny Evie in 1937 after King George VI’s coronation. Chatsworth, as always, came to the rescue. There were a number of tin boxes…In the vain hope of finding something for me, we started going through them and, lo and behold, from beneath a ton of tissue paper in the box that had held Moucher’s, appeared a second crimson peeress’s robe. The velvet is of exceptional quality, so soft your fingers hardly know they’re touching it, and of such pure brilliant crimson as to make you blink.” 
Deborah Devonshire, Wait for me! (John Murray, 2010)

So, what do you think? I’d take the smaller tiara very happily!


Categories: British Royal Family, Parures, Tiaras


6 replies

  1. Sent from my iPad


  2. Reading your posts is one of my guilty pleasures

  3. Thank you so very very much for this wonderful post on the Duchess of Devinshire our beloved Debo. I am still in awe of your posts and extremely grateful. Please do keep them coming. They are absolutely brilliant! Hoping this finds you well and able to continue your marvelous work. Sincerely, Marilyn Roccoforte

    Sent from my iPhone


  4. Miss this blog! When will you post regularly again?

  5. The Duchess of Northumberland was also wearing the “Second Best” Tiara, since her mother-in-law, Helen, Dowager Duchess of Northumberland was Mistress of the Robes to The Queen Mother.

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