A spectacular diamond-winged “Valkyrie” tiara made for a Scottish aristocrat is to go on show for the first time when V&A Museum of Design Dundee opens next year.
The piece, commissioned by the late Mary Crewe-Milnes, Duchess of Roxburghe, was the last such item ever made by royal jeweller Cartier.
The tiara was inspired by winged helmets worn by Valkyries – warrior women of Norse mythology who rode on horses over battlefields choosing men to die and be worthy of a place in Valhalla and immortalised in Richard Wagner’s opera Der Ring des Nibelungen (The Ring Cycle).
The tiara comprises more than 2,500 cushion-shaped, single-cut, circular-cut and rose-cut diamonds, set in a gold and silver frame.
The pair of “en tremblant” wings was constructed using wire-coiled springs so they move slightly when worn. The wings can also be detached and worn separately.
The exquisite headpiece was commissioned in 1935, the year of the Duchess’s marriage to the 9th Duke of Roxburghe, when the couple lived at the family seat of Floors Castle, near Kelso.
It comes in a cream leather bespoke Cartier case with her initials inscribed in gilt lettering in a Celtic font.
The tiara, on loan from a private collector in Scotland, will be shown in the museum’s Scottish Design Galleries.
Joanna Norman, lead curator of the Scottish Design Galleries and acting head of research at the museum, said: “This tiara is a stunning example of design being directly influenced by the person who commissioned it.
“In 1935 the Duchess of Roxburghe had just married into a Scottish dynasty. When she asked Cartier to make one last Valkyrie tiara, she was commissioning a piece of exquisite craftsmanship and unexpected design, inspired by the fashions of her childhood.
“The tiara is an amazing piece which trembles when worn to give a sense of moving feathers. Designed to allow the Duchess to remove the wings and wear them as brooches if she so desired, the attention to detail is spectacular.”
The trend for Valkyrie tiaras originated on the stage before being rapidly adopted by fashionable aristocrats at the start of the 20th century.
A notable early example – centring on a 33-carat diamond, made by Cartier in 1909 for the wife of American banker JP Morgan – was credited with helping to fuel the craze across the Atlantic.
By the 1930s the influence of Art Deco had taken hold in the decorative arts and ornate winged headwear was no longer in demand. By 1935, requesting such a dramatic item of jewellery would have been considered very unusual.
The Duchess’s fondness for the style was sparked by seeing winged tiaras worn at balls and parties as a child, prompting her to approach Cartier more than a decade later to produce one last grand homage to the bygone fashion.
The Duke and Duchess’s marriage ended acrimoniously. The Duchess barricaded herself in a wing of the house when the Duke tried to evict her, cutting off her electricity and gas supply. They divorced and she moved to London.
Her great-nephew, the broadcaster Bamber Gascoigne, inherited her estate following her death aged 99 in 2014.