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Crown of Raj last family on sale - Lady Mountbatten's tiara to go under hammer at Sotheby's

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By AMIT ROY in London
  • Published 15.11.02

London, Nov. 15: Lady Mountbatten’s tiara, which was worn when her husband was the last viceroy of India and which dazzled onlookers, including notably Jawaharlal Nehru, is to be auctioned by Sotheby’s in London.

The family heirloom is being sold on December 17 by her daughter, Lady Pamela Hicks, who is hoping it will make between £100,000 and £150,000. She was married to the late David Hicks, an interior designer.

A Sotheby’s spokesman was unable to say whether the family had fallen on hard times and needed the money. Many will see the sale as a further erosion of Britain’s once proud imperial legacy.

Edwina, countess of Mountbatten, died in 1960 and was buried at sea, while Lord Mountbatten was blown up by the Irish Republican Army in 1979.

The title has passed to the elder sister of Lady Pamela Hicks, Lady Patricia Mountbatten, a familiar figure at Indian functions in London. Her husband, the film producer, Lord Brabourne, worked on David Lean’s A Passage to India (the Brabourne family gave its name, incidentally, to Brabourne College in Calcutta and the Brabourne Stadium in Bombay).

Sotheby’s describes the adornment as “a magnificent and important tiara, previously owned and worn by one of the most beautiful and distinguished women of her day. An object of dazzling beauty, Lady Mountbatten’s tiara evokes at a glance the glamour of the circles in which she moved.”

The head of the jewellery department at Sotheby’s, Martyn Downer, said: “We feel very privileged to be handling the sale of this dazzling work of art which evokes the glittering world of pre-war society that was the backdrop to Lady Mountbatten’s remarkable life and career.”

Set in platinum, the tiara is believed to have been made around 1910 by a leading French jeweller, “possibly Chaumet or Cartier”. It is “pierced and millegrain-set with circular-cut diamonds in a design of meandering scroll and trefoil motifs”.

It was exhibited in the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston in 2000. However, it was shown off to best effect in 1947 when Edwina was vicereine in India and her husband was busy supervising the transfer of power. He stayed on to be independent India’s first governor general.

For once, Sotheby’s is not engaging in hype when it claims that “Lady Mountbatten’s tiara remains a dazzling tribute to a unique kind of aristocratic glamour”.

She was the great granddaughter of the social reformer Lord Shaftesbury and wealthy in her own right from her grandfather, Sir Ernest Cassell. She was named Edwina after her godfather, Edward VII.

She met her future husband in India in 1922 when Louis Mountbatten was accompanying the Prince of Wales (later King Edward VIII). On St Valentine’s Day, Mountbatten proposed and they were married five months later.

As to who might buy the tiara, Sotheby’s has this to say: “Whilst tiaras have long been emblems of prestige and standing, it is only recently that they have come to enjoy the wide popularity and interest they do today. A must-have for every important occasion, they are worn by modern brides, movie stars and fashion icons.”

There has always been speculation about the precise nature of Lady Mountbatten’s close relationship with Nehru but Lord Mountbatten certainly was not jealous. He approved of their intimacy and, when his wife died, one of the first letters Mountbatten wrote was to Nehru.

When Lady Mountbatten’s body was taken to sea, the escorting ships included the Indian frigate Trishul, sent on Nehru’s express instructions. Mountbatten noted that this was “a really touching gesture which made a deep impression on everybody and would have given darling Edwina such particular satisfaction”.