the Lusitania Tiara of Lady Allan


1909 Cartier Meander Tiara done in the Greek key style

all photo credits: Sotheby’s

Today we feature our first Canadian tiara ever. Not to offend our neighbors to the North but that’s not even the mind-blowing part. It’s a tiara that could actually pique the interest of both you and dad/husband. What is it about dads & their love for books about war? Especially any war preceded by the word “great” or ending in a Roman numeral? No, neither Winston Churchill nor Dwight D. Eisenhower ever wore it, but who wouldn’t pay to see five-star Ike sporting this while debriefing the president? Heh. Where’s Mel Brooks when you need him?

Above sparkling halo and her owner, Montreal socialite Lady Marguerite Allan, were both on the Lusitania when it was torpedoed by a U-boat in 1915.

lady marguerite allan in her Cartier meander Tiara

Lady Allan (above) was married to Hugh Allan, a banker and ship enthusiast. Most crucially, Sir Hugh commissioned this lovely bandeau tiara in 1909. A Cartier masterfully executed in an open-work Greek key design, that tiara motif we never see too far away from the verb meander: a reference to its flowing, winding style.

Lady Allen's Greek Key Tiara

The tiara’s band, made of platinum and gold, is millegrain-set with 30 total-carats of near flawless circular-cut diamonds, bordered top and bottom with seed pearls. The centerpiece is a detachable, cushion-shaped diamond weighing in at 3.3 carats. Cut in the old miners’ fashion, the diamond is as near-flawless as her little sisters that frame her.

close-up of 3 carat center stone

When appraised for auction, Sotheby’s described the seed pearls as “well-matched in color, with good skin and luster.” Well don’t they know how to flatter with fancy words like good? The auction house also speculated that the tiara frame was made later, but your Blog Hostess thinks they mean that cushy base. The large diamond was rated in the envious F-G color, while the millegrain diamonds averaged G-I in color. But that’s just for the detail-oriented of us readers.

The tiara survived [obviously, duh] the sinking of the Lusitania in 1915 along with Lady Allen and her two maids, Emily Davis and Annie Walker, one of whom had bundled the tiara on her person. Upon her rescue, the maid returned the tiara to Lady Allan. Unfortunately, her ladyship’s two daughters, Anna and Gwendolyn drowned when the group of women became separated. Lady Allan was severely hurt when a lifeboat fell on her. The unfortunate Marguerite outlived all of her children as she lost her son in the Great War.

the Lady Allan Meander tiara

Lady Allen’s Greek Key Meander Tiara

The tiara has been called a remarkable example of wartime Canadian art. It was auctioned at Sotheby’s in October of 2015 for just over a million dollars.


About ♔ la dauphiine ♔

Connecticut-based jewelry monger, history buff, Mets fan. On the hum-drum side, call me a lauded poet, novelist and ghost-writer. (That's right, I haunt prose.)
This entry was posted in diamond, the americas, tiara time! and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

11 Responses to the Lusitania Tiara of Lady Allan

  1. Lady says:

    It’s beautiful! What a tragic story behind the tiara’s owner, however. It wasn’t bad enough that the ship was torpedoed, she had to have a lifeboat fall on her (ouch!) and lose her 2 daughters? I’m sure she wished she had her daughters, rather than the tiara.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. racurac2 says:

    What a great post! I have a question: how do they take care of the pearls when they are mounted on a crown? I don’t have real pearls but I’ve read that pearls need contact with skin because they are porous and can become dull and brittle with time. Oh…! what a royal problem!!!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Angelyn says:

    “..preceeded by the word ‘great’ and ending with a Roman numeral..” I’ve struggled for years to articulate this phenomenon that’s been going on in the family bookshelf!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Susan Ti says:

    Interesting reading thanks for posting

    Liked by 1 person

  5. A life boat? Good. Golly.I love the tiara. And what a fabulous portrait. Lady Allan looks quite comfortable, decked out in the 1909 Cartier stunner. The pearls are nice touch. (Have you read Joan Dickinson’s The Book of Pearls? Interesting read! I just scored it at a flea market.)

    More cat pics, please . . .

    Liked by 1 person

it's not just a love-affair with my own voice

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