Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Persian headdress

The word tiara is a Greek word for an ancient Persian headdress. The tiara was a high headdress worn by ancient Persian kings and represented the king’s crown. Subsequently the term tiara was used to refer to the tall ovate headdress worn by the Popes of the Catholic Church, made of silver cloth and ornamented with three diadems, with two pendants at the back, symbolizing the Pope’s authority over the church.But today, the term tiara is also used to refer to a semi-circular jeweled ornamental band worn above the forehead by women on formal occasions. Thus the difference between a tiara and a crown becomes evident from this definition. While the tiara is a semi-circular ornamental band worn above the forehead, a crown usually is a circular ornament that covers the entire head. While the use of crowns was the exclusive privilege of only the monarchy, tiaras came to be used by not only the women of the ruling families, but also by the common people, in fact by any one who could afford to own one. The use of tiaras by brides on their wedding day has now become commonplace.
Tiaras in the Iranian Crown Jewels
Among the fabulous collection of jewels and jewelry in the Museum of the Treasury of National Iranian Jewels, there are three beautiful and exquisitely crafted tiaras. They are :- 1) The emerald and diamond tiara 2) Noor-ul-Ain tiara 3) Farah’s favorite tiara. Fath Ali Shah’s hat decoration which he usually wore over a black woolskin hat is also essentially a tiara
1) The emerald and diamond tiara
Nothing much is known about the origin of this tiara and during whose period it entered the royal treasury. But the design of the tiara gives an indication as to the possible period of its origin. The design of the tiara depicts a sunburst, with the rays of diamond blossoms ending in an emerald or pearl. This design can also be seen in the aigrettes produced in the second half of the 19th century, and therefore we can safely predict that this tiara too originated during that period. This roughly corresponds to the period of Nasser-ed-Din Shah who ruled between 1848 and 1896. It is well known that after most of the crown jewels of Iran were stolen after the assassination of Nadir Shah in 1747, two of the subsequent Shahs who did their best to build up a respectable collection of crown jewels were Fath Ali Shah and Nasser-ed-Din Shah. Thus we can safely conclude that the emerald and diamond tiara may have originated during the period of Nasser-ed-Din Shah, and perhaps may have been worn by his Shahbanou, the queen consort.

The height of the tiara at its line of symmetry at the center, along which falls the large red spinel and the large drop shaped emerald, is 7.2 cm. The length of the arc of the tiara is not known, but should be between 15 to 20 cm, as the length of the forehead is approximately one-third of the average circumference of an adult head, which is 50 to 60 cm. The striking feature of the tiara is the motif of the sun burst on which it is based. The center of the sunburst is occupied by a 25-carat cushion-shaped pink spinel, from which the rays depicting the sunburst arise. The pink spinel is surrounded by a row of diamonds, and each diamond of this row is the base of a ray. The rays are made up of one or two diamond blossoms. The longer rays made up of two diamond blossoms end up in a white natural pearl. The shorter rays with a single diamond blossom end up in a drop-shaped emerald cabochon, of which the largest emerald is along the line of symmetry. The size of the emeralds then decrease symmetrically on both sides, and the smallest symmetrical emeralds are situated towards the base of the sunburst. Besides the central large emerald there are four symmetrical pairs of emeralds on either side, making a total of nine emeralds. The largest emerald has a weight of 20 carats.
On either side of the sunburst placed symmetrically at each end of the tiara are two identical floral motifs. The center of each floral motif is occupied by a diamond and so are the eight petals surrounding the central diamond. The arc shaped base of the tiara is also studded with a row of diamonds.
The sun motif and the lion motif are two insignia that symbolizes the Aryan origin of the Iranian people. These two motifs are used as the royal insignia of Iran. The Iranian Flag of the pre-Islamic revolution period depicts the lion insignia. The same lion insignia is found on the Sri Lankan flag, whose inhabitants the Sinhalese also claim to be of Indo-Aryan origin.

2) The Noor-ul-Ain tiara
The Noor-ul-Ain tiara is of recent origin, designed and constructed in the year 1958, by Harry Winston Inc. of New York, jewelers to monarchies and celebrities around the world, for the occasion of last royal wedding of the 2,500 year-old Iranian monarchy, in which the last Shah of Iran, Mohammed Reza Shah Pahlavi, got married to Empress Farah Diba. Incidentally this was Mohammed Reza Shah Pahlavi’s third marriage, the first two marriages having ended up in divorce as they failed to produce a male heir to the throne.
The frame of this tiara is made up of platinum and set entirely with diamonds of varying colors, mainly pink, yellow and colorless. In this respect the Noor-ul-Ain tiara differs with the other tiaras of the National Iranian Jewels, which contain other jewels like emeralds, rubies, sapphires, and spinels, besides diamonds. Thus, being composed of diamonds only varying in size from 14 to 60 carats, the Noor-ul-Ain tiara is more valuable than the other tiaras of the collection. The tiara is known as the Nur-ul Ain tiara, because of the incorporation of the 60-carat Nur-ul-Ain diamond as the centerpiece of the tiara. The other diamonds in the tiara have weights ranging from 14 to 19 carats each, and there are a total of 324 diamonds in the tiara. A row of colorless tapering diamonds known as diamond baguettes are also incorporated on the base of the tiara.

The famous and historic 60-carat pink diamond, the Nur-ul-Ain, is the second largest pink diamond in the world. It is a pale pink, oval, brilliant-cut stone. A team of Canadian experts who conducted research on the Iranian Crown Jewels in 1965, were of the opinion that the Nur-ul-Ain (light of the Eye) diamond, and the Darya-i-Nur (Ocean of Light) diamond had a common origin, and most probably originated from the “Great Table Diamond” (Diamanta Grande Table), which Tavernier saw when he visited Golconda in Southern India, in 1642, and which according to him was at one time mounted on the Peacock Throne of Mogul Emperor Shah Jahaan (1628-58). The Nur-ul-Ain diamond was one of the diamonds among the large booty carried away by the Iranian Conqueror Nadir Shah when he invaded the capital cities of Delhi and Agra of the Mogul Empire in 1739, a raid motivated either by Nadir Shah’s desire to lay his hands on the enormous riches of the Mogul Empire or as some historians believe was a punitive raid for the refusal by the Mogul Emperors to return the vast collection of Iranian crown jewels, plundered previously in 1722, by the Afghan ruler Mahmud, when he invaded and captured Isfahan, killing the last ruler of the Safavid dynasty. Most of the stolen jewels eventually entered the treasury of the Mogul Emperors. After Nadir Shah’s death the Nur-ul-Ain diamond together with other diamonds went missing, stolen by people close to Nadir Shah which included his generals and his blind grandson Shah Rukh. Eventually Agha Muhammad Khan Qajar (1779-96) who reunited the whole country and founded the Qajar dynasty, was able to bring together at least part of the stolen jewels, and a significant number of jewels were also recovered from Shah Rukh, the blind grandson of Nadir Shah, and this may have included the Nur-ul-Ain diamond. Since then the Nur-ul-Ain diamond had remained in the treasury of the Qajar kings as a loose diamond, until mounted on the tiara by Mohammed Reza Shah Pahavi.
3) Farah’s favorite tiara
The name Farah’s favorite tiara is self explanatory, as she was often seen wearing this tiara on formal occasions such as during her husbands official visit to the United States and Canada in 1965. Like the Noor-ul-Ain tiara this tiara was also designed and manufactured by Harry Winston Inc. the New York Jewelers, and also for the same occasion, the marriage of Empress Farah Diba, to Mohammed Reza Shah Pahlavi in 1958.

The metal used for the frame of the tiara is platinum, and unlike other tiaras the base of this tiara is double arched. The jewels used on the tiara are diamonds and emeralds. Two rows of diamonds arise from the base of the tiara, and additional diamonds fill up the space between the two arches. The diamonds used are of three different colors – pink, yellow and colorless. The size of the diamonds in the center are larger, and decreases towards either side. The outer surface of the upper row of diamonds produces an almost smooth curve because of this arrangement. Seven large emeralds arise from the outer surface of the upper row of diamonds. Each emerald is arranged as the centerpiece of a floral pattern, surrounded by smaller diamonds. All the emeralds are spherical in shape and cabochon-cut. The largest emerald is situated along the line of symmetry of the tiara which corresponds with the depression between the two arches. The size of the other emeralds decrease gradually on either side, with similar emeralds occupying symmetrical positions. The largest emerald weighs 65 carats, and the smallest emeralds on either side weigh 10 carats each.The jewels used in the tiara have different origins. The emeralds are possibly of Brazilian origin. The yellow diamonds are of South African origin, and the other pink and white diamonds are possibly of Indian origin, re-cut as modern brilliant-cuts from loose Indian diamonds in the Iranian treasury.
4) The Hat decoration of Fath Ali Shah
This exquisitely crafted piece of jewelry which in essence is a tiara, was used by Fath Ali Shah as a hat decoration, which he wore often on a tall black woolskin hat. The hat decoration is clearly depicted on several miniature paintings of Fath Ali Shah belonging to this period.
The hat decoration of Fath Ali Shah can be considered as a masterpiece in jewelry designing for its excellent symmetry, and surpasses the other three tiaras given above in this respect, including the two modern tiaras designed by Harry Winston. This perfectly designed ornament of the second half of the 19th century, with accurate mathematical symmetry speaks volumes about the great abilities of craftsmanship possessed by the Iranian jewelry craftsmen of the period, which even modern craftsmen with all recent technology at their disposal find difficult to achieve. Great masterpieces of ancient Iranian origin have been lost for ever due to frequent conquests and destruction the country had gone through during its long history. But, fortunately the hat decoration being of relatively recent origin had been spared the calamity that befell its predecessors. The world is indeed grateful that such masterpieces of jewelry have been preserved for posterity in the Museum of the Treasury of the National Iranian Jewels.

by Dr Shihaan Larif and posted on January 29, 2008

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