The reason to wear jewelry is not only because you want to look beautiful of you want to be noticed or to decorate a rather dull dress. Pieces of jewelry are alos worn as a symbol of rank, power or wealth; to boast or to say to the world: ‘you have to take notice of me’. The best of jewelry to show your power or rank is a crown and this is often also the most expensive piece of jewelry of a royal family or country. Lets see how this works…

A crown is a headpiece that is worn by kings (or queens) and it’s an object that belongs to the function of the king. Already for a long time and in a lot of cultures a crown underlines a rank. Besides that sometimes it is very practical to wear a crown on your head, since it makes you taller and that makes you more impressive. A type of crown is the tiara, nowadays this is mostly a crown for women.

Who wore a crown in Ancient Times?

In Ancient Times a lot of kings wore a crown, like in Egypt were the pharao wore a headpiece that was a combination of the crowns of Upper and Lower Egypt. The Persian monarchs had crowns that were so big, that they were attached to the wall behind the emperor or monarch. When needed the emperor placed his head under the crown (like a kind of hair drier). The Greec kings liked to wear a tiara and the Romans used crowns made of olive branches to honor very brave soldiers or sportsmen.

1. Crown of Ancient Egypt 2. Persian crown 3. Roman crown

1. Crown of Ancient Egypt 2. Persian crown 3. Roman crown

The higher the rank, the higher the crown!

The Western kings wanted to have crowns like the monarchs in the Ancient Times. But… there was a little problem: also the lower ranks wore a crown or tiara. And there had to be a distinction of course. The kings decided to make their crowns higher with flowers and on top of the crown they placed a globe and a cross. Since it became very heavy and uncomfortable the jewelers made a velvet bonnet in the crown, that was seen as a symbol of power and authority too.

Temporary crowns

In the Early Middle Ages jewelers made crowns for their kings and when the king needed money, he remelted his crown for making coins. Later the kings wanted a more permanent crown, that could be placed on coins, flags etc. Then the crowns became more costly and stayed in the family, like the crown of St Stephanus (Hungary), that was used as a crown in the crowning festivities of the next generations. Some of those crowns were made of rented gems or by accident founded jewels and when the rent ended, the crowns were demolished.

The tiara in history

Another type of crown is the tiara; you can find them in a high tube shaped tiara and the lower round head pieces. In Mesopotamia (now Iraq) they had tube shaped tiara’s and the Greec introduced this type of crown to Europe. The first tube shaped tiara’s were made from leather and textile and were nicely decorated.

The tiara is used by the Hettites as a hat and the Assyrians decorated their tiaras with two bull horns and feathers as a symbol of power. The Persian tiara had no horns or feathers but a lot of expensive gemstones. One of the most famous examples of a tube shape crown is the tiara with the three crowns on an enamel head and on top of that: a globe and a cross. Then the tiara had two ribbons on the back, This tiara is used – until 1963-  to crown a pope.

1. Tube shape tiara Egypt 2. Tube shape tiara Assyria 3. Tiara with horns

1. Tube shaped tiara Egypt 2. Tube shaped tiara Assyria 3. Tiara with horns

The tiara or crown of the pope

Even the popes wanted to have a head piece that expressed their special position as the bisshop of Rome.The first popes had a velvel white bonnet as the symbol of power and rank. In the 13th century that changed into a tiara, with one golden band in the shape of a crown. In 1294 Bonifatius VIII added a second crown and in 1303 Benedictus XI had three crowns on his tiara. And all those bands or crowns had a special meaning: the first band was the symbol as head of the Catholics, the second one is the symbol of his juridical power over the clergy and the third one is the symbol of his temporal power as head of the Vatican State. In 1504 pope Julius II had a bud and cross added to that.

Quite a few pontifical tiaras were lost during the occupation of Rome by Napoleon Bonaparte. The tiara of pope Paul VI was sold to the American catholic church. In 2011 pope Benedictus XVI got a tiara from German believers, but he never used it.

Tiaras of the pope

Tiaras of the pope

Promoter of the tiara: Napoleon Bonaparte

In the 17th and the 18th century queens started to wear tiaras to symbolize thier special rank. Catharine the Great from Russia wore often a golden tiara. But not many women followed her in this. The enormous hair style of that time made that you could hardly see the tiara.

The emperor Napoleon Bonaparte from France made wearing a tiara very popular. His background was not that impressive (a soldier), so when he was in power he tried everything to make his dynasty more popular and important. One of the tactics was to wear huge and expensive jewelry and crowns/tiaras. That helped him too to look a bit taller, since he was really a tiny guy. The fashion in his time was to copy Roman jewelry, with a lot of olive branches in gold, big cameos on the tiara. The wife of Napoleon, Josephine, had a lot of tiaras, and some of them still exists and are owned by the European kings.

Famous tiaras of Josephine de Beauharnais, the wife of Napoleon Bonaparte

Famous tiaras of Josephine de Beauharnais, the wife of Napoleon Bonaparte

The tiara of the 20th and 21th century

The European kings of this time wear occasionally tiaras, like royal weddings, the start of the year in the senate of chambers etc. Mostly the taira is made of gold or silver, but also from turtle, coral or rhinestone and they are heavenly decorated with gemstones, mostly diamonds. The tiaras are the most costly pieces of jewelry in the jewelbox of the kings and queens. Most of the tiaras you can take apart and some parts of them can be worn as necklaces and / or brooches. Jewelers give with the delivery of a tiara a special screwdriver to do the job.

Our king (Willem Alexander of the Netherlands) only wore a crown once and that was when he was crowned. Our queen Maxima only wears the tiara at state banquets, wedding parties and other official occasions. Those things are heavy and expensive, so daily use is not advisable. Until you are married you should not wear a tiara (etiquette). During the wedding the bride wears the tiara of her family and after the wedding she can only wear the tiara of her husbands family or the one she owns.

1. Dutch crown 2-3 crowning of king Willem Alexander of the Netherlands

1. Dutch crown 2-3 crowning of king Willem Alexander of the Netherlands

Today when you want to wear a tiara you don’t have to be of high rank or aristocratic. But it is not so popular anymore. Women wear their hair shorter and with the introduction of shampoo the hair gets silk and smooth. Not a good base to keep a tiara on its place. Besides that: people don’t appreciate it when you show all your wealth anymore. On the other hand Versace made a tiara for Madonna! And beauty queens are still decorated with a tiara when they win the contest.

Where are all those famous tiaras?

Since the 19th century a few hunderd tiaras are made and some of them became really famous, like the tiaras of tsarina Alexandra of Russia or empress Josephine of France. But you wonder where are all those tiaras? Some are dismantled to use the gemstones in other pieces of jewelry or the stones were sold in times of financial need. Or they are still in a jewelbox or safe of one of the royal families, because you don’t wear a tiara often in this time.

Royal tiaras

Royal tiaras

Crowns, tiaras, diadems and other head pieces got very popular in history to show your wealth, your power and your rank. Thanks to democracy and the sensible people who don’t accept this extra ordinary wealth anymore the crowns are not much used anymore. Understandable, but … when you like beautiful pieces of jewelry with gemstones, it is a pity, that you don’t see those original pieces more.

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