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  • Writer's pictureVictoria Regina

Q&A with Art Director Gary McMonnies, Queen Victoria’s sapphire coronet replica

Updated: Mar 7

© Gary McMonnies

Back in late January I contacted Gary Mcmonnies after I came across a phenomenal replica of Queen Victoria's sapphire coronet which he has listed on his Etsy store. As i am sure you are all aware, I collect and wear replica crowns, regalia and tiaras; I always have my eye on replicas and often spend countless hours scouring on the internet looking at them. I enquired about the coronet and we got talking, I asked Gary if he would be interested in doing a Q&A for my blog and he kindly agreed.

Collecting and wearing replicas is one thing but the actual construction and research is a whole minefield of information and skills. I was really interested in the sourcing and research it takes to produce in my eyes the best replica of Queen Victoria's coronet on the market. Here are the questions I asked Gary -

How did you begin creating/sourcing such marvelous replicas?

"It all started with finding out about the RUSSIAN SAPPHIRE WAVE TIARA and the story of finding the photo in a book from George F Kunz in the USGS archives. I loved the story and it introduced me to the history of these lost pieces of art.

I found the replica online be DeGrays collection, and was impressed by Fiona’s Etsy store and how she worked to make affordable replicas.

I had a lot of time off in 2022 and 2023, due to health and the Hollywood writers and actors strike, so I spent a lot of time at home, collecting books, and reading more and more histories. And I got my hands on a copy of Geoffrey Munn’s book on Tiaras and, lets just say the obsession had started to flourish!"

What kind of recourses do you use to help with your research of the designs?

" I have collected a large library of books and photos over the last two years. Not only on crowns and tiaras, but all jewelry history and design. I love Belle Epoque jewelry and and obsessed with leaves and foliage in precious metals. Which is ironic, because I am not a keen gardener at all. All the plants in my apartment last forever and are, well, plastic."

What has been your favourite piece to recreate?

"My favorite piece to model, so far was my first venture into 3D modeling a tiara, and it was the Greville Honeycombe Tiara, in its original design. I have only seen it worn in that form when it was just given to Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mum, when she wore it on a trip to South Africa, in Durban. I was born in South Africa and spent a lot of my time there living in Durban, so for me it felt like the right piece to try building. Also, it is mostly geometric shapes, and easy to start when playing for the first time in new 3D software. It turned out well, but I can always find room for improvement."

Have there been any construction challenges along the way?

"There has been numerous construction problems, to say the least! I do not have my own workshop at the moment so have to outsource the manufacture to different people. Each time it has been a VAST learning experience! Figuring out what prong height works well for the setters, what thickness of material is best for the size of stones, how to convey historical techniques and styles to people who have no experience, nor do they really care. Not to mention that these objects are worn at an angle and are not just cylindrical in shape. They have angles and curves to them! Conveying that is always difficult! Their top priority is getting the job done as fast and as cheap as possible. In my normal job, I am an Art Director for film and TV. I pay extreme attention to detail on everything!!! Having to compromise has been difficult to say the least. This is one of the reason that I will be setting up my own shop and keeping it in-house. So I can maintain a hight level of accuracy and also offer customizations and new designs."

Are you currently working on any replica pieces?

"I am working on several new projects. The Vladimir Tiara with pearls and emeralds, the Oriental (Indian) circlet with interchangeable rubies and opals, Queen Victoria’s Grand Regal Circlet, which in now stripped of it’s stones, the Portland Tiara, the French Meander tiara WITH a BEAUTIFUL copy of the Regent Diamond at the center, and my own more accurate version of the one that started it all, the Russian Sapphire Wave tiara with Old European Cut stones."

Do you only create crowns and tiaras or are you looking to adventure into different pieces of jewelry?

"I am wanting to do it ALL! In fact next week, I am meeting with a place that makes swords and suits of armor. Watch this space for future fun adventures in all things shiny and metal!"

Which piece has been the hardest to construct?

" It depends on how many you count as constructed. I have bought a few and changed stones to make them more accurate. I have drawn a few, and I have modified few. I have fully 3D modeled 4, and worked with modelers on 4 others. So I have played with a fair few. But none yet from start to finish by my own hand. That joy is yet to come.

The hardest to do was the Queen Victoria sapphire coronet! It is very simple in its design, and I was lucky enough to study the original at the V&A before I started the project. But it was my very first venture into this. I knew NOTHING! But I knew what I wanted to achieve. It was also my first time working with a manufacturer in China. And they learned very fast how pedantic I was. Which was not easy with the language barrier. But as with each one, I have learned a lot. I am so grateful for places like the V&A to put these pieces on display for the public see and learn from. Because they are art, as much as high fashion is wearable art. Art that not everyone gets to experience. A lot of people have said to me, that I am only “ripping off” other peoples work, and in a way, that is sort of true. But not everyone can wear an original. Not everyone can afford to have a halo made of gold, silver, platinum, diamonds and precious stones on their head at dinner. But hopefully we all can get to experience the feeling with something like a good replica.

"Throughout history, artists and designers have always learned from the ones that have gone before, by copying, and mimicking the artists of the past. It’s how we build technique and learn what works, and what doesn’t. And once we become comfortable, we have the courage to make our own designs and creations. Which I hope to do too. I cannot wait to make beautiful pieces that will bring people joy, either by owning a piece, or by viewing it on screen, where I hope to find a niche supplying historical replicas of a high standard for people, costumers, cosplayers, museums, theatre, film, tv and every drag king or queen who wants their own wearable art. Whether it be crown, tiara, kokoshnik or suit of armor."

You can purchase your very own replica of Queen Victoria's sapphire coronet over on Gary's Etsy store -

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