Dreweatts has an opal, diamond and ruby tiara consigned to our upcoming Fine Jewellery, Silver, Watches and Objects of Vertu auction on 22 March 2023. Here James Nicholson, Deputy Chairman and International Head of Jewellery, Silver and Watches at Dreweatts, tells us about this highly unusual piece.
This tiara comes to auction through the Estate of Jean Pierre François Joseph Pineton de Chambrun, Marquis de Chambrun, Marquis d’Amfreville (1903-2004), and his second wife Muriel, the Dowager Marquise de Chambrun.
Jean Pierre Pineton was the eldest son of French politician and diplomat Charles Louis Antoine Pierre Gilbert Pineton de Chambrun (1865-1954) and his American wife, Margaret Rives Nichols (1872-1949). The de Chambrun family had a distinguished history as important French politicians in the French Senate and French Chamber of Deputies and were direct descendants of Gilbert du Motier, Marquis de Lafayette. Margaret Rives Nichols was born into the 19th century millionaire Longworth Storer family in Cincinnati.
Although profoundly deaf, Jean Pierre studied biochemistry at the Institut Pasteur and art at the Horace Vernet school. As a member of at the Cercle de l'Union Artistique in France, Jean Pierre became an acclaimed painter and designer of jewellery, wrought iron and crystal for Baccarat. He married his first wife the French heiress, Gisèle Hugot-Gratry (1909-2005), in the late 1920s and they had three sons together. The family left France during World War II as Jean Pierre was a staunch opponent of the wartime Vichy Government in France, and they settled in Cincinnati for the duration of the war. After the war Gisèle returned to France with their sons and their marriage ended in divorce. Jean Pierre lived in Lucca in Northern Italy with his sister Marthe de Chambrun, Principessa Ruspoli-Poggio Suasa, in the 1950s although they subsequently moved to Tangier.
Whilst living in Tangier Jean Pierre was introduced to Muriel McIntosh Villar. Muriel had moved to Tangier after the war, having lost her first husband during the Malayan Emergency, to live with her retired Sergeant Major father. Muriel and Jean Pierre married in 1963 and would spend their 40 year marriage between France, the United States and the Algarve in Portugal. When they stayed in America between the late 1960s and early 1970s, they would always stay at Vernon Manor Hotel in Clifton, Cincinnati. Interestingly the base of the tiara box offered with the tiara has a label stating the Marquis of Chambrun's name and confirming the address as the Vernon Manor Hotel. Jean Pierre and Muriel toured America lecturing about his ancestor the Marquis de Lafayette, and Lafayette's role in defeating the British during the American Revolution and War of independence. Muriel also became a celebrated poetess and won several awards including Ohio Poet of the year in 1976 for her Book Of Poems "Sudden Spring", and an award from Cincinnati University in 1970 for her first book "Salisbury Cathedral". Jean Pierre and Muriel were fêted by American society at large, and were known to several American President's including Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton and George Bush Junior for their work in promoting Franco-American relations.
Opal tiaras are extremely rare, and only one other tiara set with opals is known. The Princess Marie of Denmark opal tiara was an exuberant Art Nouveau creation of large, towering opal set floral sprays. The tiara was re-set by Princess Marie's daughter-in-law Princess Viggo, into a simpler diadem. This opal diadem was passed down to the Count and Countess Flemming of Rosenborg, and has not been seen being worn in public since it was last worn at the wedding of King Harald V and Queen Sonja of Norway in 1968.
The present lot is an exuberant piece of mid 20th century jewellery design. Although unmarked, it is probably made in Northern Italy, and with his background in jewellery, it is likely that it was designed by Jean Pierre.
Opals are rarely found in tiaras due to the fragility of the stone, with their composition mainly made up of water and silica gel. They are highly prized due to their colour play, showing all the colours of the rainbow. When rotated in light, one can see different flashes of colour, which are caused by the microscopic silica spheres in the stone. The most sought after colours are red and green.
Opals were traditionally found in Eastern Europe, in the Czech Republic and Slovakia. However, in the 1870s, they were discovered in Australia. Since then Australia has contributed to around 90% of the global output of precious opals. The best opals are found in Lightning Ridge, with others coming from Queensland and New South Wales. A small percentage of stones also come from Ethiopia, America and Mexico, however these are not as commercially viable as the Australian examples.
The opals found in the present lot are of exceptional quality, and so we can be fairly certain that these originated from Australia. They are set into 18 carat gold scrolled framework, complimented by circular cabochon, circular cut and step cut ruby accents, as well as rose cut and old mine cut diamonds, adding an extra sparkle.
Adding to the uniqueness of this tiara, it is intended to be worn more like an alice band across the middle of the head, rather than at the front. This adds significant height to it, making it a real statement piece.
Wednesday 22 March | 10.30am GMT
Donnington Priory, Newbury, Berkshire RG14 2JE
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