Today marks the 125th Anniversary of the Birth of Mary, Duchess of Devonshire, who was born on this day in 1895. Since we have already featured the magnificent Devonshire Tiaras, to mark the anniversary today, we are taking a look at her versatile
Sapphire Opal Necklace Tiara.
But first, lets learn a bit about the Duchess. The daughter of the 4th Marquess of Salisbury and Lady Cicely Alice Gore, Lady Mary Cecil married the Marquess of Hartington, the eldest son of the 9th Duke of Devonshire, in 1917, who succeeded his father as the 10th Duke of Devonshire in 1938. The Duke and Duchess had five children, including the Marquess of Hartington and the later 11th Duke of Devonshire, and remained married until his death in 1950. Since her mother-in-law was the Dowager Duchess, and her daughter-in-law became the new Duchess, she was titled as ‘Mary, Duchess of Devonshire’. The Duchess was the Mistress of the Robes to Queen Elizabeth II from 1953 to 1967, taking a major role at the Coronation and at State Openings of Parliament, and was the Chancellor of the University of Exeter from 1955 to 1972. She was appointed a Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) in 1946 and a Dame Grand Cross of the Royal Victorian Order (GCVO) in 1955. The Duchess lived in London where she passed away in 1988, at the age of 93. Now, let’s learn about her versatile Sapphire Necklace Tiara.
Consisting of five large
Sapphire Black Opal and Diamond elements in a Diamond frame, the provenance is unknown but the current Duke has stated the jewels were passed from mothers to daughters in the Cavendish family, so it’s quite likely that the piece could come from the Cecil Family, and was given as a wedding gift, though the design is quite Victorian (the piece was created by Cartier in 1937). As the name states, the Opal Necklace Tiara was originally a necklace, often being worn with the two Devonshire Diamond Tiaras, most notably at the Queen’s Coronation in 1953, where the Duchess had a leading role as the Mistress of the Robes, and later on State Visits to Sweden and The Netherlands.
However, the tow Diamond Tiaras were quite substantial pieces, and the Duchess needed more Tiara options for the plethora of Gala events held in the 1950s and 1960s, so she put her Opal Necklace on a frame and often worn it as a Tiara, with notable occasions including a Coronation Ball in 1953, the Queen’s first State Visit, to Norway, in 1955, an Army Dinner in 1956, and an RAF Dinner in 1958.
However, the versatility of the piece didn’t end there. The Duchess could break up the individual sapphire and diamond elements and wore them as brooches, not just individually, but also joining three of them together as a stomacher, which was worn to the Wedding of Princess Margaret in 1960.
The Duchess loaned her Opal Necklace Tiara to her daughter, Lady Elizabeth Cavendish, who was a lady-in-waiting to Princess Margaret and accompanied her on a Tours around the world, wearing the Tiara for a Banquet in Trinidad in 1955 and an Opening of Parliament also in Trinidad in 1958. It’s quite likely that the Sapphire Necklace Tiara was inherited by Lady Elizabeth, who passed away in 2018, leaving no heirs, so the piece could probably have been inherited by her nephew, the current Duke of Devonshire.
UPDATE- It appears that the Necklace Tiara does not contain Sapphires like originally thought, but Opals, and seems to have been worn by Lady Louise Burrell, the daughter of the 11th Duke and Duchess of Argyll, at the Royal Caledonian Ball in 2011. A huge Thank You to Altezania Mompox for this amazing find!
A huge credit for discovering that the Necklace Tiara was created by Cartier in 1937 and also contained Opals not Sapphires goes to Sash Giles, the Curator of Decorative Arts at Chatsworth House!