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Gemspedia >> Famous Gemstones >> The Crowing Gift

The Crowing Gift

Reason is God’s crowning gift to man – Sophocles 496-406 BC

By Diana Jarrett GG

The phrase “the crowning gift” or “crowning touch” is uttered when something reaches perfection. And it appears that actual crowns, tiaras and diadems were also created to convey such lofty symbolism. They served as emblems of achievement, a sports victory, part of religious garb, a sign of sovereignty, or to identify a deity. All three types of headgear share ancient roots, but each item’s name identifies a distinct topper.


From their creation majestic crowns played a central role in many societies as essential to royal regalia. Middle Eastern and early Egyptian crowns in particular were imposingly tall and funnel shaped. Their extreme height was functional, because in early times, elaborate rituals were conducted before an entire nation. The huge headgear made it possible for thousands of people to see the leader from afar. And throughout its long evolution, a crown remains distinguished by entirely covering the dome of the head, and is often enclosed.


Consider just how gargantuan early crowns were by reading this ancient Biblical account:


“David took the crown from the head of their king—its weight was found to be a talent (75 pounds) of gold, set with precious stones—and it was placed on David’s head.” I Chronicles 20:2

Modern crowns are created to be elaborately jewel-studded golden headwear. However early crowns relied on precious metals and gemstones only occasionally or were a later modification. For example, The Assyrians fixed a pair of bull horns on crowns for embellishment, and to symbolize authority. A circle of short feathers was added to their ancient tiaras. As these regal caps developed over time, they transformed into magnificent gear, flaunting the nation’s power and wealth.


Contemporary cultures associate diamonds with crowns and tiaras, but a surprising number of other gemstones have been employed in designing majestic headwear. The 13th century Russian Crown of Monomakh looks like a golden fur trimmed beanie decorated with pearls and colored stones. The 19th century tall dome-shaped French crown of Charlemagne is encrusted with cameos all around.


Another example of surprising gem choices for posh head coverings appears in an opulent turquoise and diamond crown Napoleon I gave to his consort Empress Marie Louise. The silver crown contains 950 diamonds and 79 large rare Persian turquoise stones cut en cabochon. They replaced emeralds originally set in that crown. It attracts great attention to its display at the Smithsonian Institute’s Museum of Natural History .


In 1967, celebrated jeweler Van Cleef & Arpel created an extremely complex crown for the then Empress of Iran. Massive, intricately carved emeralds and sapphires dominate the coronation piece also featuring naturalpearls , diamonds and rubies.


Diadems, first made as male regalia, and as a mark of distinction, were awarded to the victors at Greek games, and were woven rings of leaves. The earliest royal diadems were fashioned from long strips of silk or other fine fabrics about two inches wide and placed like a band wrapped tight and low about the forehead, with the long strands falling across the shoulders where it was tied at the back.. Diadems later evolved into arched front golden headbands worn low, eventually eliminating the long flowing strips. Yes, Lynda Carter’s 1970s Wonder Woman wore a classic diadem on her forehead.

A beautiful young Princess Diana thrilled onlookers years ago as she danced with Prince Charles at a ball honoring their official visit to Australia. To complete her regal ensemble that evening she chose an elaborateemerald encrusted neckpiece worn low across her forward in true diadem fashion, creating an unforgettable fashion statement.


Today tiaras are mostly associated with beauty pageants so the dictionary defines them as “an ornamental, often jeweled, crown-like semicircle worn on the head by women on formal occasions.” Historically though, their function and form has a real purpose. Popes wore—and still wear richly embroidered fabric tiaras while performing religious duties. Ancient male dignitaries wore tiaras described as a high crown, often cylindrically shaped, narrowing at the top, made of richly ornamented fabric or leather. These tiaras were used by the kings and emperors of ancient Mesopotamia .


While male religious figures still use tiaras of highly embellished fine fabrics, the contemporary feminine tiara is more familiar to everyone. This semi-circular bejeweled head decor is usually made of fine metal with diamonds or other precious stones, and secured to the head by small metal combs at each end of the tiara, which disappear under the coiffure.


The late Princess Margaret’s historic Poltimore Tiara went up for auction at Christies London in June 2006. Designed in 1870 by Garrard for the wife of second Baron Poltimore, Christies estimated its value at US $ 370,000. Princess Margaret wore the famed tiara at her wedding. When the furious bidding was over, the hammer came down on ? 925,000 for an elated anonymous Asian collector.


If anyone can trump the attention paid to bona fide royalty, it would be a Hollywood celebrity. A young Elizabeth Taylor wore a diamond tiara given to her by producer husband Michael Todd one year for the Oscars. Although she demurred that they were a bit out of style at the time, Todd called her his queen and she couldn’t refuse acknowledging his romantic gesture.



Today’s young stars are once again giving preference to these splendid embellishments.


When raven haired beauty Catherine Zeta-Jones married Michael Douglas in 2001, she opted to finish her look with an Edwardian tiara. And TV chat show personality Star Jones headed straight to legendary jeweler Fred Leighton for one of his opulent diamond tiaras when she tied the knot in 2004.


Florida artisan Karen Tweedie received an unusual request from a client recently asking for something completely unlike her tropically inspired contemporary fashion jewelry. His wife’s milestone birthday warranted an especially creative present. When younger and less affluent, he would often tease that she should wear her tiara on date nights. Now he wanted to actually give her one. So Tweedie produced a modern tiara in freshwater and cultured pearls , withwhite topaz and golden topaz faceted stones set in sterling, to the delight of the recipient.


With so few occasions requiring crowns diadems and tiaras nowadays, one turns to beauty contests when the desire for coronet-ogling occurs. Indian pageants rank supreme with their extraordinarily imaginative tiaras. Miss India-Earth tiara for 2004 is a delicate feathery spray of white, blue, and green transparent faceted stones artfully arranged representing the showy peacock’s plumes.


Crowns, diadems, and tiaras have a come a long way since their humble, leathery animal horned beginnings. Most of us who will never actually own an actual regal headpiece can still appreciate their ability to transform the wearer into becoming something out of this world.

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