The Three Crowns of the Iranian Crown Jewels

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The Three Crowns of the Iranian Crown Jewels

Crowns were a distinctive head ornament worn by kings, queens and monarchs since ancient times, as an emblem or symbol of power and glory. The wearing of a crown was believed to confer on the monarch power and authority over his or her subjects and in this respect supplements a similar function performed by the royal seat or the throne of a monarch. The inauguration of a new sovereign into office was usually accompanied by rituals and ceremonies peculiar to the culture of the sovereign’s domain, that eventually led to the placing of the crown, the symbol of regal authority, on the head of the sovereign, while the sovereign was seated on the throne; a ceremony usually referred to as coronation. Such ceremonies were much-publicized events that took place in the presence of a large gathering of the sovereign’s subjects belonging to all walks of life, prominent among whom are the clergy, who invoke the blessings of God on the sovereign. In addition to the crown, the sovereign may be presented with a distinctive robe, such as a jewel studded robe and a scepter or sword during the occasion. In the Christian world the rituals of the coronation were derived from the description of anointing and crowning of Saul and the kings of Israel, from the old testament. Accordingly the sovereign was anointed with holy oil and received the crown and royal insignia from the clergy.

Over the years crowns evolved from simple garlands or wreaths of leaves or flowers placed over the head, to open circular bands of metals such as gold and silver with decorative engravings, later adorned with jewels. Two semi-circular bands or arches perpendicular to one another was later incorporated on the circular band, which also became broader. This crown was usually worn over a cap made of soft material. Eventually the cap was incorporated into the crown reinforced by the semi-circular arches. Sometimes an aigrette was also added to the crown to give it a more flamboyant look. The value and beauty of a throne depends on the designs or motifs used on the frame and the type and quality of jewels used to adorn it. The commonly used jewels are diamonds, pearls, emeralds, spinels, rubies and sapphires. The metal used in crowns are usually gold and silver or a mixture of the two known as white gold.

Significance of the Crown and Coronation in the World’s most ancient empire

In the history of Iran, one of the world’s most ancient empires that lasted for over 2,500 years, the crown and coronation had great symbolic significance for the monarchies. The crowns were studded with the most expensive and rarest jewels, like diamonds, emeralds, rubies, pearls etc. The coronation was also a very elaborate affair carried out with great pomp and pageantry. The monarchs attached great importance to their coronation, and had elaborate ceremonies, planned well in advance paying attention to the minutest details. The ceremonies reached their greatest glory during the time of Fath Ali Shah (1797-1834), who was noted for his extravagance, and presided over one of the most splendorous courts in the history of the Iranian monarchy. Two of the most important items in the fabulous collection of jewels, are the jewel studded thrones, the Naderi Throne and the Sun Throne; both designed and constructed during the reign of Fath Ali Shah.

The most ancient  empire in the world finally came to an end in 1979, after the Iranian Islamic Revolution, when the country was declared an Islamic Repulic. However, 12 years before this in 1967, the whole world was witness to one of the grandest coronation ceremonies ever held, which brought to life the ancient glory of this empire, when the last of the long line of monarchs, Mohammed Reza Shah Pahlavi was crowned the Shah of Iran, while his queen consort Empress Farah Diba was crowned the first empress in the history of Iran.

The three crowns in the Museum of the Treasury of National Iranian Jewels

Among the extraordinary collection of jewels in the Museum of the Treasury of National Iranian Jewels there are three famous crowns. These are 1) The Kiani Crown 2) The Pahlavi Crown and 3) The Empress’ Crown. The Kiani Crown was constructed on the orders of Fath Ali Shah, and perhaps used for his coronation. The Pahlavi Crown was constructed for the coronation of Shah Reza Pahlavi, in 1925, and was used again for the coronation of his son Mohammed Reza Shah Pahlavi in 1967. The Empress’ Crown was especially made by Van Cleef & Arpels for the coronation of Empress Farah Diba in 1967.

The Kiani Crown

The Kiani Crown which is made of red velvet has a height of 32 cm without the aigrette and a diameter of 19.5 cm, at the base which is equivalent to a circumference of 61 cm.. The diameter of the crown gradually increases towards the top of the crown to give the traditional shape of a crown. The outer frame of the crown ends in a wavy edge with alternative crests and troughs. The wavy edge of the crown is not the uppermost part of the crown. Inner to this edge arise the semi-circular “cap” of the crown also made of velvet and supported by two semicircular bands perpendicular to one another.

The outer frame of the crown has three horizontal rows of pearls going right round the circumference of the crown. One row is at the lower edge, a second below the wavy edge, and a third somewhere in the middle. Between the upper and middle horizontal rows of pearls, more closely studded pearls in roughly hexagonal areas, form a beautiful pattern right round the circumference of the crown. The wavy edge of the outer frame is also studded with pearls. The two edges of the semi-circular bands supporting the cap of the crown are also lined with pearls. In all the total number of pearls found on the crown is about 1,800, so much so that one could characterize the Kiani Crown as essentially a “Crown of Pearls.”

The Kiani Crown

Besides pearls, other jewels found on the crown are rubies, spinels, emeralds and diamonds. The total number of rubies and spinels (both red in color) found on the crown are around 1,800, and these are interspersed between the pearls in symmetrical patterns. A large number of diamonds are also found on the crown, in mosaic patterns centered around large rubies or spinels between the two lower horizontal rows of pearls. There are also about 300 emeralds in the crown, but they are found mainly in the aigrette. The term aigrette means a spray of feathers or gems worn on a hat or crown. The aigrette of the Kiani crown can be mounted or dismantled from the crown as and when the need arises. The base of the aigrette is shaped like a butterfly, with the largest emerald on the crown, weighing around 80 carats situated in the center. The emerald studded plumes of the aigrette radiate from this butterfly-like base.

The Kiani Crown made on the orders of Fath Ali Shah is undoubtedly one of the most fabulous crowns ever made in the history of the monarchies of the world, and is a testimony to the excesses of the Qajar Shahs who were always inclined towards pompous behavior.

During the coronation of Reza Shah Pahlavi, the officer of the Cossack Brigade who installed himself as the absolute monarch of Iran, after staging a coup that abolished the democratically elected National Consultative Assembly and ousted the nominal Head-of-State Ahmed Shah, the last of the rulers of the Qajar dynasty, a special crown was designed and constructed for the occasion held in 1925. But, Reza Shah Pahlavi ordered that Fath Ali Shah’s Kiani Crown should also be brought for the occasion and placed on a special pedestal, during his coronation ceremony. The idea behind the presence of the Kiani Crown at the coronation ceremony was to give a semblance of legitimacy to his ascension of the Iranian throne, being a complete outsider, and not a descendant of the Qajar dynasty. In any case this was not the first time such usurpation of power had taken place in the history of Iran. A precedent was set in 1736, when Nadir Qoli Beg of the Afsharid tribe ousted the young Abbas III from the throne and installed himself as the absolute monarch of Iran.

The Pahlavi Crown

The Pahlavi Crown is a modern crown designed and manufactured in 1925 on the orders of Reza Khan, who subsequently ascended the Iranian throne as Reza Shah Pahlavi in 1925, but the design of the crown was based on a motif of the Sassanid Dynasty that ruled Iran between the 3rd to 7th centuries AD.

The difficult task of designing and manufacturing the crown was assigned to a group of experienced Iranian jewelers, under the supervision of Haj Siraj-ed-Din, an experienced jewelry manufacturer, who was a previous national of Soviet Uzbekistan, and had been employed by the Emir of Bukhara, but later emigrated from the Soviet Union to Iran. A variety of loose gemstones such as diamonds, pearls, emeralds and sapphires that were available in the royal treasury were used for this purpose

The crown has a height of 29.8 cm excluding the aigrette, and a diameter of 19.8 cm equivalent to a circumference of 62 cm. The lower half of the crown which fits on to the head has the same diameter of 19.8 cm, but the upper half gradually increases in diameter taking the traditional shape of a crown. The upper edge of the outer frame of the crown is wavy forming four main crests and four main troughs. The “cap” of the crown is supported by several semi-circular bands.

Pahlavi crown

The crown is made up of red velvet, gold and silver, and encrusted with jewels. The main motif of the crown is the jeweled sunburst with a large 60-carat brilliant-cut yellow diamond in the center. The sun is a symbol which signifies the Aryan origin of the Iranian people. The total weight of the crown is 2.08 Kg. Unlike the Kiani Crown which is mainly made up of natural pearls, the Pahlavi Crown is predominantly made up of diamonds. There are 3,380 diamonds on the crown, with a total weight of 1,144 carats, the largest of which is the 60-carat yellow diamond described above. There are 369 strikingly similar natural pearls on the crown arranged horizontally in three rows right round the circumference of the crown. One of the rows is at the lower edge, one along the wavy edge, and one somewhere in the middle, along the upper edge of the lower half.. There are also 5 emeralds in the crown, the largest of which is 100 carats.

An aigrette with a combination of a jeweled motif and natural plumes is fixed to the front crest of the crown, vertically above the jeweled sunburst.

The Pahlavi Crown was not only used for the coronation of Reza Shah Pahlavi in April 1925, but also for the coronation of his son and successor Mohammed Reza Shah Pahlavi, when he finally decided to have his coronation after postponing it for more than 25 years, in 1967,

The Empress’ Crown

Mohammed Reza Shah Pahlavi who ascended the throne in 1941, vowed not to have his coronation until he was able to bring growth and development to his country, and emancipate his people socially, economically and educationally. To achieve these goals he launched the “white revolution”, and when his ambitious programs began to show results and his popularity had increased in the country, he finally decided to hold his coronation on October 26th 1967, 25 years after he ascended the throne. The coronation ceremony also had a triple significance, as it represented not only the coronation of the Shah, but also for the first time in the history of Iran, the coronation of the Queen consort of the Shah, as Empress, and the declaration of the Shah’s son Prince Reza Cyrus as the Crown Prince of Iran, with the Empress or Shahbanou acting as regent, in case of the Shah’s death before the Crown Prince attains maturity.

As it was for the first time in 2,500 years, the wife of the Shah was being crowned, a special crown was to be made for this occasion, and the honor of manufacturing the crown fell to the famous Parisian jewelry firm of Van Cleef & Arpels.

Empress Crown

The gems used for this unique crown were selected from the loose gems found in the royal Iranian treasury. The entire crown is made of green velvet and white gold. The crown was a little narrower at the base and wider at the top. There are a total of 38 emeralds, 105 pearls, 34 rubies, 2 spinels and 1469 diamonds on the crown. The total weight of the crown is 1.481 Kg. The crown has a motif of the sunburst in the front, with the largest emerald weighing 91.32 carats at the center, surrounded by a row of smaller white diamonds. The rays of the sun are represented by six large natural pearls originating from the center. The pearls alternate with rubies, seven in all and each ruby is surrounded by a row of smaller white diamonds. Below the large central emerald of the sunburst, is another large emerald, also surrounded by smaller white diamonds. There are four rows of small white diamonds running right round the circumference of the crown. Two of these rows are horizontal rows parallel to one another and closer to the base of the crown. The other two are closely parallel spiral rows above the horizontal rows and running right round the crown. The spiral rows originate from either side of the second largest emerald below the sunburst. More pearls and rubies are placed in symmetrical positions on the crown. The two large spinels seem to be placed as the centerpiece of a different motif on either side of the crown. The two large spinels are approximately 83 carats each.

Overall the Empress’ crown appear to be beautiful but relatively simple when compared to the more elaborate counterparts, the Kiani and Pahlavi Crowns.

On October 26, 1967, after the religious ceremonies, the Shah stood up from the Naderi throne, and received the coronation regalia, such as the emerald belt, the royal sword, and the jewel studded imperial robe. Then the officer carrying the Imperial Crown of Iran (Pahlavi Crown) approached the Shah, who received the crown from him, and while still standing in front of the Naderi Throne facing the invited guests, placed it on his head, and crowned himself, as Napoleon Bonaparte did in 1804, at the time of his coronation. Finally the royal scepter was handed over to him, and the rituals of the Shah’s coronation ceremony was over.

Immediately after this, the Shah’s queen consort, Farah Diba who was seated on a ceremonial chair on his right stood up and walked slowly towards her husband. An officer carrying the Empress’ crown now moved towards the Shah, who received the crown from him, and subsequently placed it on the head of his consort, crowning her as the Empress of Iran, the first time ever in the 2,500 year history of Iran, a Shah’s consort had been crowned as Empress.