Friday, January 24, 2014

The Empire Diadem Hack!

Ever since I started doing regency reenactment I have been coveting an empire diadem.
Coral and pinchbeck diadem, early 19th century

They seem to have been extremely popular in France and to a lesser extent the rest of Europe.

pearl and pinchbeck purported to have belonged to Madame Recamier'

Garnet and pinchbeck comb

Diadems often came in jewelry sets called parures.

Everyone wore them from queens and empresses to the daughters and wives of the bourgeoisie. 

Victoria Duchess of Kent, mother of queen Victoria

Miniature on ivory of a girl wearing a coral parure with diadem

Woman wearing a pearl diadem, by Boilly

Unknown sitter and artist ca 1810. Wearing a pearl diadem.

They came in a myriad of styles from gold sent with real precious stones to pinch beck set with paste. But the single most popular style seems to have been pinch beck with coral, followed by pinch beck with pearls ( mostly faux pearls).

glass pearl and pinchbeck diadem, early 19th century
 But despite these diadems being all the rage back in the day they are rather scarce today. They are very hard to find especially in the United States, I come across them more often on European auction sites.They do sometimes come up on eBay or on the antiques website Ruby Lane. But they are always without fail way out of my price category. You can easily spend $800- 1000 on one on Ruby Lane, and while they tend to go cheaper on eBay( if one is lucky enough to find one) I have never seen one go for under $400. They tend to be cheaper in Europe but even there you can expect to pay at least $250 and thats usually for one in not so great condition. As a stay at home costume designer married to a post doc, I just can't justify paying that kind of money to buy something to put on my head so I can play pretty pretty princess...
So I have been trying to come up with a way to fake the empire diadem look.
This is harder than it would appear. Modern tiaras don't have the right shape. They tend to curve backward like a crown, but the diadems of the empire period where more crescent shaped and followed the curve of the head running from temple to temple. Also the decoration is all wrong, modern rhinestones are too sparkly to pass as 200 year old paste and the settings are all wrong coming mostly in very shiny silver tone, when back then gold was more the thing. A while back I did make a diadem out of a belly dance necklace that had a bunch of gold tone metal crescents on it.It's still available on eBay here 

Weird bellydance necklace I made a Diadem out of. only the top crescent is big enough though for a diadem. However,the smaller ones make nice hair combs

I took the necklace apart and simply wired a comb to the back, it actually looked pretty good and I think it works well for perhaps the earlier directoire style . But it wasn't quite the classic diadem look I wanted.

Somehow I don't seem to have any pictures of me wearing the belly dance necklace diadem, this is the best i could find.

Then about a month or 2 ago my friend Kat who is the queen of buying tiaras on eBay, found this tiara. From this seller on eBay

eaby picture

back view

The shape was perfect, the pearls too and surely something could be done about those rhinestones and the silver color. Besides the thing cost $10 so it wouldn't be a big loss if it didn't work out. So I ordered it.
It took a couple of weeks to come from china, but I wasn't disappointed once it came, the thing defiantly had potential. 

Tiara before I pimped it.

My first idea was to pry out the rhinestones and replace them with pearls. But it tuns out the rhinestones are glued on with some sort of magical glue that entirely resisted my attempts of prying the buggers out, not even acetone could soften the glue, now that's some hardcore jewelry glue! So there I was with this tiara that was just wear to sparkly for me to want to wear it for regency. Then I had an idea. I had some wax based gold leaf paste that you can just apply over just about anything to gild things. 

Rub on gold leaf paste
Perhaps it would work over the rhinestones? I wanted to gild the metal anyway so why not give it a try. So I did and it worked like a charm. I used a brush to apply the gilding being careful to not get it on the pearls. It was really easy and only took about 15 minutes. Then I let it dry for about and hour and voila!

After applying the gilding
The stuff covered the rhinestones and silver metal making it look like cut steel jewelry, only in gold. I'm not sure what the style is called but I'm 100% sure that I have seen gold toned cut steel jewelry. I do not know if gold toned cut steel was around in the early 19th century, but I know that cut steel jewelry was all the rage. 

Early 19th century cut steel diadem
I think the diadem turned out looking pretty awesome, and even if I'm not sure if they had the gold tone variety of cut steel in the early 19tje century, I'm just going to roll with it. Because when worn with a period hairstyle it looks very much like an authentic empire diadem. 

Looks pretty good with a period hairstyle and matching pearl jewelry.

Close up.
Besides,for $10 and 15 minutes of work applying the gilt, this is the cheapest, fastest and most authentic looking faux empire diadem known to man! I plan to buy more of the tiaras I used as the base and experiment with painting the rhinestones. I've seen some tutorials online where people have painted rhinestones with nail polish and it looks just like enamel. That could be really cool. Also I'm pretty sure they have the paste I used in silver color, which could perhaps yield a nice faux cut steel look. But it will have to wait because when I contacted the seller to do a bulk order they told me they where out and wouldn't have more until February.  So I will have to wait a bit to get more to do some more experiments and make some diadems for sale in my shop. Because even though I just told you how to make a knock off diadem, you should still totally buy one from my shop!


  1. Brilliant! I love the look you got, I might have to try this myself!

  2. Very well written, and very informative. The portraits you gave are awesome in the fact that they show how far back these are worn. You know I will TOTALLY buy from your shop...both a gold and a "cut steel" looking one. I love how you think things thru and get a good looking product. I've been happy with everything I've ever gotten from your shop.

    1. Thanks Julie! I'm so happy you like all my crazy stuff!

  3. Dear Julia,
    Brilliant :} Pun intended.
    Thanks so for sharing this with us.
    Like Julie Rockhold, I enjoy the treats bought from you at last year's festival.

    Very best, and hope you are well on the mend,