In Norse mythology a Valkyrie is a female figure who gets to choose who lives or dies on the battlefield. The story was celebrated in Wagner’s opera Der Ring des Nibelungen in the instantly recognisable third act – The Ride of the Valkyries – which was first performed in 1870, sparking a fashion for all things Viking.
Early adopters of this winged style of tiara included Jane Norton Grew, the wife of American banker, J.P. Morgan Jr., when she commissioned Cartier to make hers featuring a 33-carat central diamond, as well as First Lady Ida Saxton McKinley, whose winged tiara from the late 1800s was spotted on the American TV programme Pawn Stars in 2014 and has since been bought by the McKinley Museum in Ohio.
Slightly later to join the trend across the Atlantic was Lady Mary Crewe-Milnes, one of the Queen’s train-bearers at the 1937 coronation of King George VI and also one of Scotland’s wealthiest aristocrats. Her maternal grandparents were Hannah de Rothschild, sole heir to the banking fortune, and Archibald Primrose, 5th Earl of Rosebery, who was British Prime Minister for one year in 1894. Their daughter, Lady Margaret Primrose married Robert Crewe Milnes, who was to be the first and last Marquess of Crewe, having lost both sons to childhood death. It was their daughter, Lady Mary, who commissioned Cartier to make a Valkyrie style tiara the same year of her marriage to the Duke of Roxburghe in 1935.
When their marriage ended in 1953, the Duke famously cut off all light, heat and water to encourage Mary to leave their family home, Floors Castle. After six weeks she finally moved out and lived the remainder of her life between her flat in Kensington and West Horsley House in Surrey which she had inherited from her mother in 1967. She was 99-years-old when she died in 2014 and with no children of her own she bequeathed West Horsley House to her nephew, former University Challenge TV host Bamber Gascoigne.
It was only when her Valkyrie tiara was lent to the V&A Dundee for its opening in 2018, did the curators discover that the wings actually predated the Cartier bandeau by approximately 50 years and were simply attached in 1935. The tiara (now referred to as The Winged Tiara) can be seen in the museum’s Scottish Design Galleries when it re-opens on 1 May 2021 (correct at time of publishing).
The tiara includes 2,500 brilliant-cut, single-cut, rose-cut and baguette diamonds set in a gold and silver frame. The en-tremblant diamond wings were constructed using wire-coiled springs so they move slightly when being worn. The wings are removable and can be worn as two brooches.
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