Tiaras are marks of distinction and style worn by women of royalty and for special events such as pageants, proms, and weddings. Revivals of interest in romantic ensembles, like those seen in movies and in period costumes, make tiaras fascinating headdresses.
Egyptian artifacts show the first known tiaras. The huge headdresses crowning most Egyptian royalty and priests may be the most memorable, but the court's princesses wore tiaras shaped from wire and bearing images taken from nature.
Tiaras from both the Greek and Roman Empires began as simple bands of cloth worn around the top of the head or forehead and tied in the back. Powerful men and women wore these bands, and later versions were decorated with pearls and gems. Another kind of tiara gained popularity too. Wreaths of leaves were awarded to winners in sports, but officials also wore them for ceremonies. The natural wreaths were replaced when craftsmen used gold, silver, and plated metal to make imitation leaves embossed with natural patterns and shaped like wreaths.
Celtic tribes in the eighth to sixth centuries b.c. created elaborate headwear like the bronze diadem excavated from Cavenham Heath in Suffolk, England. This Celtic diadem was probably made in the period from the second century to the fourth century a.d. The front upper edge is cut into three semicircles, and the back has three points. The front and back stand higher than the sides, which are plain bronze strips. The front and back panels can slide on the bronze strips so the diadem can be adjusted to fit the wearer.
Terms for majestic headwear are often confusing and sometimes interchangeable. The Celtic diadem is unique because it is adjustable. Most other ornaments called diadems are fixed in size. Tiaras are also called diadems, but they are not full circles and have limited flexibility. Tiaras must either be sized specifically for the wearer or positioned differently on the heads of others. A tiara called the bandeau was popular in the 1920s. It was worn around the forehead with the ends tucked in the hair. These bandeaus have been revived today, but wearers sit them on the crowns of their heads like conventional tiaras. Yet another variation was designed that can also be worn as a small crown-like circlet or a necklace.
Nineteenth and twentieth century British monarchs benefited from their extensive Empire; South Africa, the world's largest producer of diamonds, and the fabulously wealthy maharajahs of India presented lavish jewelry, tiaras, and gemstones (later mounted in tiaras) for every occasion. Incidentally, although the Royal Family of England owns private collections of jewelry, many tiaras and other items are the property of the nation and are "on loan" to the Royal Family. The Queen has stated that even the private collections will someday be given to the state as part of Great Britain's history.
The raw materials for a tiara begin with metal wire. Silver and gold are the leading choices. Square wire (box shaped when cut) is also preferred for forming the tiara band and its upright designs, although round, half-round, flat, beaded, and other forms of wire may be preferred (or combined) for different designs. The wire may also be of different gauges (thickness). Tiaras typically call for 12—14 gauge wire. Gauges with larger numbers are the thinnest and smaller gauge numbers show thicker material. Binding wire holds pieces together until they can be soldered. Iron wire must undergo a heating process called annealing to make it malleable (soft) and flexible for binding small jewelry parts. Even after cooling, the annealed iron can be easily, smoothly, and tightly wrapped. Precious metal solder will not stick to the iron so the binding wire can be removed.
Solder is metal or a metal alloy that is melted to connect pieces of metal. In tiara manufacture, solder of the same precious metal as the wire is chosen. Not only should it be gold or silver, but it should also be the same shade and hardness so it blends seamlessly with the wire. Silver solder melts at a low, medium, or high temperature depending on the composition of the alloy. Alloys melt at lower temperatures than their component metals, so the combination of another metal and silver will produce an alloy that can be used as solder to join pure silver. High-temperature silver solder melts at just below the melting point of silver. Low-temperature solder (made of silver alloyed with a soft metal like lead or tin) can be applied over high-temperature solder (still made of silver but with a smaller amount of tin or a harder metal like zinc, as examples) so uneven surfaces can be leveled.
Stones that give tiaras their shimmer range from artificial to precious materials. Fake or artificial stones are made of glass (containing lead to add sparkle) or paste. Rhinestones are also artificial gems that are colorless and made of paste, glass, or gem-quality quartz. Despite their classification as artificial, rhinestones made of well-cut, gem-quality quartz can be expensive and beautiful. Austrian crystal is clear, high quality manufactured glass with a high lead content for brilliance; it is fabricated in many colors.
Diana Frances Spencer was born July 1, 1961, in Norfolk, England. Tutored at home until she was nine, Diana then attended Riddlesworth Hall. At 12, she attended West Heath School, leaving at 16 for a Swiss finishing school. Moving to London, Diana worked as a kindergarten teacher's aide.
Prince Charles knew Diana most of her life, but they were reintroduced in 1977. In 1981, Charles proposed, and on July 29, 1981 they were married in St. Paul's Cathedral. A congregation of 2,500 and a television audience of 750 million watched the ceremony. Another two million spectators jammed the processional route.
On June 21, 1982, Diana gave birth to son William. Henry arrived September 15, 1984. On December 9, 1992, a Palace spokesperson announced the royal couple was separating, and on February 29, 1996, they divorced. Diana was barred from succeeding to the throne and had to drop the prefix Her Royal Highness. She shared custody of her sons with Charles and was involved in all decisions regarding their lives. Diana also received a lumpsum alimony payment of more than $20 million and was able to keep jewelry acquired during the marriage.
Tragedy struck August 31, 1997. The paparazzi's pursuit of Diana and Emad "Dodi" al Fayed combined with their driver speeding while legally drunk, caused an accident in Paris. Fayed and the driver were killed instantly; a bodyguard sustained critical injuries. Doctors worked to save Diana, but a few hours later she was pronounced dead.
On September 6, one million people gathered along the funeral route from Kensington Palace to Westminster Abbey. Walking behind Diana's casket were her sons, brother, ex-husband, former father-in-law, and five representatives from each of the 110 charities with which Diana had been associated.
Chemicals, compounds, and polishes are needed to clean and finish tiaras. A solution of acid and water is used to pickle (clean) tarnish from metal. Typically, one part sulfuric acid is added to 10 parts water to make a pickling acid, and the solution is heated. Metal is polished in three steps using polishing compounds that are increasingly gentle to add more shine with each step. There are over 500 buffing and polishing compounds in liquid, cream, stick, and cake forms. Jewelers prefer a white polish known as Bobbing compound (also called Chrome Rouge) that will add a final finish to many good quality metal products, but it is used as the first polish for jewelry. Tripoli, a brown compound, is an excellent polish for silver that cleans and removes tiny scratches. To produce a mirror finish on precious metals (or to polish soft metals), a pink compound called Jewelers' Rouge gives tiaras their final polish.
Finally, rolls made of padded velvet cushion the wearers' heads against the weight of tiaras and skin-to-metal contact. Adjustable, elastic bands can be attached to the ends of the velvet headbands to make tiaras complete circles and to tighten them slightly. Hair combs (usually of tortoiseshell or plastic) are sometimes added to the cushions so the tiaras can be anchored to hair more securely.
The tiara has two major and several minor components. The head band that sits on the wearer's head is called the band or circlet. It is usually silver or another precious metal with stones ranging from rhinestones to gemstones. The delicate, filigree portion (and the second major component) is called the top ornament or crown; it may rise from the band in a matching pattern or be dramatically different. The tiara band is typically small and lightweight so it is partially concealed in the wearer's hair and makes the top ornament radiate from her face. Wider bands are sometimes preferred to display more sparkle or carry out a theme.
Usually, the ornament has a center spike with identical sides bracketing the spike. The spike is often considered distinct from the ornament because its size is proportional to the ornament and the entire circlet can change the appearance from understated to excessive. Its proportions also influence the weight of the tiara, its balance and comfort on the wearer's head. In general, the spike should only be one third of the length of the band higher than the band. This is particularly effective in preventing delicate designs from being overpowered by the spike.
Other smaller components of the tiara include the interior headband padding and an elastic band or haircomb to help secure the tiara. The elastic band connects the two ends of the circlet at the back of the wearer's head, is adjustable, and can be hidden under the hair. Haircombs are less common but may be stitched in place near each end of the circlet. The combs point downward and are pushed into the hair. They are used most often on heavier tiaras.
The designer makes a drawing or rendering of the finished piece as it would appear if laid out flat. The drawing can be simple, perhaps for a new band with an existing top ornament. The drawing can also be a pencil or brush (painted) rendering or a computer-aided design. Pencil and brush illustrations are usually highly detailed and shaded, so the depth (thickness) of the piece, embossed patterns, and stone settings (bezels) are clear. Like designers of other types of jewelry, they keep notebooks of design ideas.
Using the design drawing, the artist makes a template on cardboard. The template for a tiara consists of two parts, the lower band and the top ornament, also called a crown. The band is sized to fit the wearer (based on direct measurement or a sizing chart), and, even though the tiara is not a full circlet, the measurement is increased to allow for the padding on the band. The upper and lower edges of the band will be straight lines on the template if the crown stands upright on the band, or the lines (and the flat shape of the template) will curve if the ornament slants out. Sometimes the sizing of the template is adjusted to fit the wearer before any metalworking is done. The template for the crown is a simple outline; details of the ornament are shown on the drawing. Instead, the crown template is used to confirm (before the two major parts are joined) that the centerlines of the crown and band match and that the lengths of both are compatible.
- Jewelers and artists may work for firms that produce a variety of designs of tiaras and a significant volume or independently in their own studios. Assuming the maker has chosen a design, the jeweler/artist begins by confirming that appropriate supplies are on hand. Frequently used stones may be stored in jewelers' boxes or safes in their studios. Precious gems or rare cuts are purchased from diamond and gem merchants, stone cutters, or other specialists. The tiara maker may also cut and polish gems.
- Small bands are usually made from wire that is simply wound together. More complex windings can be crafted in any of a variety of patterns, called unit arrangements, rather like chains. Wire can be coiled around a tool called an arbor that is a specific shape in cross section, such as round, oval, or rectangular. The unit arrangements are repeated along the length of the band and sometimes stacked for wider bands. These are soldered together at points specified on the design drawing. Fine iron binding wire is used as needed to hold pieces together while they are soldered. The band now looks like the template. The ends of the band are hammered flat and are squared with a file.
- The processes of applying the binding wire, soldering the unit arrangements and binding, and shaping the band work the metal and tend to make it brittle. As the band is formed, the metal is softened and restored to its characteristic malleability so it can be worked again through a heating and cooling process called annealing. A borax paste called flux is applied to the solder and the metal being joined before annealing or soldering.
Flux serves two purposes. It prevents the silver or other metal from oxidizing as heat is applied during annealing or soldering; solder will roll into balls if it oxidizes and will fail to stick to the metal. Flux will flow under high heat and so it serves as a warning to the tiara maker to watch the temperature of the silver. Soldering also tarnishes metal; to clean it, the band is pickled in a weak solution of sulfuric acid and water while it is mildly heated. Annealing and pickling may be done several times while the band is being made. The band is still only metal without any gems as metal working to shape the circlet is completed.
- Bezels are made for each of the stones that will be mounted on the tiara later. A bezel is a setting or mount that angles inward under the stone so more of the stone and less of the setting shows. A bezel is made of wire that matches the silver or gold of the tiara and is shaped by bending wire with needle-nosed pliers. There are several basic shapes and sizes for bezels.
Bezels are grouped in unit arrangements. They are sized to their stones, and soldered closed and numbered. The numbered bezels are assembled in their unit arrangements, held together with binding wire, and soldered together. They are annealed and pickled as needed.
- The symmetrical patterns in the crown or top ornament are shaped with wire. Wire may be wound, coiled, bent with pliers, or formed to suit the design, as it was for the band. The crown is also made up of unit arrangements because there are matching or mirrored designs on both sides of the tiara. Periodically, the bezel units are test-fitted to the crown units. Each unit arrangement is soldered and then soldered again to a larger unit until the crown is complete. The crown should match the template.
- The band and crown are checked several times during construction to make sure they match the design and complement each other. Next, they are shaped into rounds by gently wrapping them around an arbor and gently working them into circles. The band and crown are held together with binding wire, soldered to each other, and pickled.
- Bezels in their unit arrangements are then soldered to the crown (and the band if the design requires). Low-temperature solder is used so that it will not melt other solder already in place. The tiara is pinned to a charcoal block or rotating base so the unit can be positioned from the outside but soldered on the inside. Apart from bezels, other ornaments like solid metal beads may be part of the design, and these are also soldered in place one at a time. Once ornaments and bezels are in place, the tiara is pickled again. It is also checked for smooth edges and true shape.
- The tiara surfaces are finished in three polishing steps. Bobbing compound (also called Chrome Rouge) is a relatively coarse polish and removes more metal than the other polishes. Tripoli compound is finer but intermediate step for cleaning and removing fine scratches. The ultimate shine is produced with Jewelers' Rouge, the most delicate polish. Very small buffing pads are used on a flexible shaft buffer. The small pads and the flexible shaft let the artist reach every surface without applying too much pressure.
- Next, the gems or stones are set in their bezels. The bezels may not fit snuggly, so a square-edged tool called a pusher is used to press the top edges against the stones. The padding on the inner, lower edge of the band is made of stuffed velvet. A Velcro strip is glued with white fabric or crafters' glue to the band and the velvet headband so it can be cleaned.
- After a final inspection, the tiara is V packaged in a padded hat box or velvet case and delivered to its new owner.
The jeweler, artist, or other skilled specialist performs every task and observes each minute detail of tiara production. The reputations of the artist, his or her studio, or the manufacturing firm rest on producing heirlooms and recommendations from clients. Even when jewelers produce custom tiaras for royalty, each royal member may have several preferred jewelers who compete for such honored work.
Tiara making does not result in byproducts. Both artistic design and jewelry making are involved, so it is common for tiara manufacturers to produce other types of jewelry.
Tiara production creates few wastes despite the use of metals, polishing compounds, and pickling acids. Manufacturers use only small amounts of pickling liquid that they replenish as needed. Tiaras are pickled in the container in which the acid bath liquid is stored. Evaporation is the only form of loss; no pickling liquid remains to require disposal. Polishing compounds and powdered metals can be hazardous, but workers are protected with filtered respirators. In the artist's studio, air filters and polishing machines suck up these powders and control dust in work areas. The dust collected is stored in a closed drum along with used air and respirator filters. When full, the drum is disposed in a landfill that is classified to receive this kind of waste.
Metal wastes consist of very fine trimmings and particles. These are swept up daily and stored in bins. They are sent to a metal refinery where the precious metals are extracted and recycled. Apart from environmental law and responsibility, artists benefit from metal recycling because refunds for metals recovered at the foundry may pay more than the artists' annual power bills.
Some manufacturers claim that tiaras are suddenly back in fashion, but, in fact, interest has been steady. They have long been treasured bridal accessories. If interests have changed, it is in the popularity of theme weddings; tiaras, period gowns, and other heirlooms are special in themselves but also contribute to unique wedding photographs. The artist is an expert in heraldry (symbols on shields, annor, and family crests) and jewelry from medieval and Renaissance times.
Real brides and princesses may have to step aside for Hollywood, however. Crown and coronet specialist Carl W. Lemke has made jeweled reproductions for many films and television programs including modern ornaments and orders as well as historic headwear. Although a few brides may be inspired by the wedding styles of their mothers and friends, many more will want to copy the tiaras and fabulous jewels from Shakespeare in Love, Titanic, The Princess Diaries, and other motion pictures. Imagination and beautiful craftsmanship insure a long and healthy interest in tiaras.
Where to Learn More
Ebbetts, Lesley. Royal Style Wars. New York: Crescent Books, 1990.
Latham, Caroline, and Jeannie Sakol. The Royals. New York: Congdon & Weed, Inc., 1987.
Menkes, Suzy. The Royal Jewels. London: Grafton Books, 1988.
Morton, Andrew. Theirs is the Kingdom: The Wealth of the Windsors. London: Michael O'Mara Books Limited, 1989.
Rose, Augustus F., and Antonio Cirino. Jewelry Making and Design. New York: Dover Publications, 1967.
Anderson, Louise. "Why Wear a Tiara on Your Wedding Day?" Roses By Design Web Page. December 2001. <http://www.webview.co.nz/roses/wedding-tiaras/whya-tiara.htm>.
Lernke, Carl W. "Making a Hollow-ware Coronet." Carl W. Lemke Unique Jewelry Web Page. December 2001. <http://www.signetring.com/Coronet/Coronet-how_to_make/coronet_how_to_make.htm>.
Minor, Margaret R. "Diadem." The Power of Women in Celtic Society. December 2001. <http://www.unc.edu/courses/art111/celtic/catalogue/femdruids/diadem.html>.
Palady, Dion. Tiara Town Web Page. December 2001. <http://www.tiaratown.com/history.htm>.
Tiara Enterprises, Inc. Web Page. 1998. December 2001. <http://www.tiaras.com>.
ti·ar·a / tēˈärə; -ˈarə; -ˈe(ə)rə/ • n. 1. a jeweled ornamental band worn on the front of a woman's hair.2. a high diadem encircled with three crowns and worn by a pope. ∎ hist. a turban worn by ancient Persian kings.