A room full of glowing jewels has opened its doors for the Jubilee showing off that most regal of headwear, the tiara. The display ranges from the 18th-century to the modern-day, with a range from private collections of jewels owned by the nobility to jewels worn by royalty.

Here’s the tiara designed by Prince Albert for Queen Victoria, and there’s the one worn by Princess Diana on the day she got married. The exhibition aims to show the evolution in designs over the two centuries that the tiara was at its height of popularity. A modern design by Charles de Temple crafted from shards of gold stands out from the diamond-encrusted jewels of the past, and yet is no less detailed and impressive to look at.

It’s laid out with the most impressive jewels in free-standing towers, and then a range of lesser, but no less impressive, tiaras along the walls. What’s really clever and should be copied by museums immediately is how they’ve displayed many of the jewels.

Many of the tiaras in the free-standing displays slowly rotate, so you don’t have someone standing in front of it for ages to get a good look, as all four sides of the glass case get their view — and unusually also of the backs, which are rarely shown in exhibitions. The smaller jewels in the wall niches also move, slowly raising and falling or rotating, held aloft by almost invisible threads. So almost invisible that I was peering at one display for some time until I spied how the jewel was being suspended in the case.

It’s not just an effective way of ensuring the jewels are shown off fully, the floating tiaras are almost magical in their cases.

I strongly recommend museum curators pay a visit.

A second room is given over to a choice selection of portraits of monarchs.

From Woburn Abbey’s famous Armada Portrait of Queen Elizabeth I, to the holographic image of Queen Elizabeth II,  and a host of queens in between, the exhibition shows the evolution of royal image from projecting power to projecting family.

A few other items complete the display, from the Bible used during the Coronation, to a reminder of the monarchy’s former absolute powers — a death sentence for a rebellious nobleman.

Both exhibitions are worth seeking out, but they are next to each other in the same building is exceptional. And for an exhibition that would normally expect to be a paid-for ticket to a major summer exhibition, is here, totally free to visit, which elevates the exhibition to the remarkable.

The exhibition is at Sotheby’s auction house on Bond Street until 15th June.

  • Weekdays: 9am to 4:30pm
  • Weekends: Noon to 5pm
  • Closed Sunday 5th June

Just go into the auction house, and the exhibition is on the ground floor just past the restaurant. Ask at the reception desk if unsure.

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2 comments
  1. Fred Westinghouse says:

    Rant:

    I went in with my DSLR camera.

    Security said I was not allowed to use it in this exhibition. They were surly to me. Not one had a smile nor a pleasant tone. Not once did any of them greet me with a “Sir” (I am older than them, 50+ years of age) or even “Mate”.

    I kept my cool. I knew I was on private property and they could enforce any rule they wanted.

    I politely asked to speak to a manager because there are no signs on site, nor on their website, prohibiting the use of a DSLR.

    Security simply batted off my request. So, I had no option but to leave the premises.

    I emailed Sotheby’s on June 4th. After a few more emails, with me explaining there is no difference between a DSLR and today’s Phone camera, they finally agredd I could use my DSLR. This was on June 10th.

    Now, I know how such organisations work, I guessed there would be problems when I went in the next day – Saturday.

    So, I went to the security guard, again politely asked him whether I could use my DSLR.

    Security said no. I asked to speak to a manager. Request was again flat batted.

    I was led to reception. One lady looked into my situation, spoke to some people in the back office and came back, telling me Security are 100% forbidding me the use of my DSLR at that weekend.

    She said she would raise the issue and Sotheby’s would get back to me on Monday.

    By Tuesday midday, absolutely nothing.

    I wrote another email to them. I received a reply within a few hours. Their Clint Care team apologised for what happened on Saturday. They said they were awaiting a final decision by the head of the exhibition (no name given) and would get back to me.

    Guess what?… Absolutely nothing from them.

    I emailed them on Friday. No reply.

    And their UK telephone number is on automatic telling me the phone system is not working, try again later.

    So, nearly 2 weeks in and I still haven’t got a reply. Even a solid No – for any reason – is fine. I am not overly bothered about using my DSLR at this exhibition.

    However, being poorly treated by Security, the incompetence of the teams behind the scene, left hand not talking to right hand etc. – Wow – how shambolic.

    Such a prestigious company, sitting in the heart of Mayfair, multi-billions of pounds ringing in its tills… yet in such a state of tizz over a measly DSLR camera.

    I have used my DSLR camera in Bonhams, Design Museum (for the Oak Collection), Saatchi (Tiffany Exhibition). They have great staff and they welcome people to use their cameras.

    What is the problem with Sotheby’s?

    Ok, rant over.

    As I wrote, I am not overly bothered about not photographing the tiara’s with my DSLR. But the entire experience has left a sour taste.

    P.S. There a still a few days left before the exhibition ends. When (or is it “IF”) I get a reply from Sotheby’s, be it Green flag or Red flag, I will post an update.

  2. Fred Westinghouse says:

    Ok, after 17 days to toing and froing, here is Sotheby’s final word:

    “We allow clients to take photographs with phone cameras only as agreed with our consignors. Pictures should be taken with no flash, should not include any other clients in the photos and people should always ensure that they are mindful of not disrupting the viewing experience of other clients.

    If anyone would like to use more advanced camera equipment then they would need to speak with the press office to get permission.”

    At long last a decision has been made. Well, sort of. Because they say one can talk to the press office. I have emailed them. I doubt they will give a member of the public permission. Let’s see.

    Final point: They must be complete numptys if they think a phone camera is any less capable than a DSLR. Sure they may have signed legal contracts with their consignors, but in reality, there is no difference in equipment and image quality. They must be stuck in the dark ages.

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