It had originally been commissioned in 1902 by the Earl of Essex for his wife, Adele Beach Grant. One of the so-called ‘dollar princesses’ (wealthy Americans who married transactionally into the upper echelons of British society: the women wanted status, the men needed money) Adele married the Earl of Essex in 1893, having broken off an earlier engagement to Lord Cairns after a scandalous court case left him with a large settlement to pay. Considered one of the beauties of her time, the Countess of Essex needed a new tiara to wear to the Coronation of King Edward VII. An so, her husband reportedly supplied 1,048 diamonds to Cartier to make it.
Ironically, the trend of American money marrying British titles had been sparked by Sir Winston’s parents, Lord Randolph Churchill and Jennie Jerome, who married in 1874 after being introduced by the Prince of Wales at the Isle of Wight sailing regatta.
In 1916, Lord Essex was run over by a taxi, leaving Adele with substantial death duties. The Essex Tiara was sold to a dealer and eventually reacquired by Cartier.
But it saw several new dawns. The large and recognisable tiara was later spotted atop the head of Princess Margareta, custodian of the Crown of Romania, at her 1996 wedding, and again in 2013 when it was displayed at the Cartier exhibition at the Grand Palais in Paris. An enlarged version was displayed by Cartier above its Fifth Avenue store front as part of its Christmas decorations in 2004, and the real thing was worn by Rihanna on the cover of W Magazine in 2016.