Bridal tiaras: the wedding accessory du jour as five vintage tiaras head to auction at Sotheby's Geneva

With five vintage tiaras up for auction at Sotheby's Geneva this spring, we chart the unstoppable rise of bridal tiaras.

The so-called Downton Abbey tiara dates back to the 1800s and is pavé set with 45ct of old-cut diamonds. Currently for sale at Bentley & Skinner, it was originally given to Princess Louise on her wedding day in 1889 and, more recently, was worn by Lady Ma

By Åse Anderson

Every little girl hunting through the dressing-up box for a sparkly headpiece to top off her Cinderella costume knows that tiaras are guaranteed to make you feel like a princess.

From elaborate vintage tiaras to contemporary headbands, bridal tiaras are the pièce de résistance of your wedding outfit, beautifully framing your face and complementing your dress. If you still need convincing, just look back at the images of Kate Middleton's wedding day and picture her Alexander McQueen bridal gown without the stunning 1930s' Cartier tiara lent to her by the Queen.

Take a closer look at the tiara worn by Kate Middleton

If you're dreaming of a vintage tiara similar to the Duchess of Cambridge, Sotheby's Geneva will be auctioning a remarkable five tiaras on 12 May as part of its Magnificent Jewels sale, including a Cartier diamond tiara dating, like Kate's, from the 1930s.

With a pre-sale estimate of $306,000-505,000, the breathtaking tiara is one of five tiaras going under the hammer at the spring jewellery auction.

Dating back to different eras and in a range of styles, the remarkable line-up includes a diamond tiara from the 1880s, which was worn by the 12th Countess of Mar at the coronation of King Edward VII in 1902. With a design inspired by the fan-shaped "tiara russe" head ornaments sported by the Russian kokoshniks, it can also be worn as a necklace.

Sotheby's Geneva will also present another transformable diamond tiara/necklace dating back to the late 19th century, as well as a mid-19th century ruby and diamond tiara, and an emerald and diamond tiara from the early 20th century.

Read more about Sotheby's Magnificent Jewels sale

The concept of tiaras dates back to the Ancient Greek and Egyptian Empires when these elaborate headpieces were strictly reserved for both sexes of royalty and nobility.

French Emperor Napoleon was a huge fan of tiaras and wore a golden crown of laurel leaves at his coronation in 1804. The laurel, with its soft, gentle leaves, is still a classic design for a wedding tiara as it lends the headpiece an ethereal, organic feel.

The introduction of wedding tiaras coincided with the rise of democracy in the 1800s. These bejewelled headpieces were no longer the preserve of a self-appointed elite, and tiaras were increasingly worn as fashion statements in both Europe and the United States.

One of the most awe-inspiring tiaras we have seen recently is the Georgian bridal tiara that featured in the hugely popular TV series Downton Abbey.

Fans of the long-running period drama will have seen the 45ct diamond tiara adorning the head of Lady Mary Crawley, played by Michelle Dockery, on her wedding day.

Dating back to the early 1800s, it was given to Princess Louise, the eldest daughter of King Edward VII, by the Sassoon family when she married the 6th Earl of Fife in 1889. Pavé set with old-cut diamonds, the garland tiara can be converted into two brooches.

Officially named the Myrtle Tiara because of the spray of leaves adorning it, the intricate headpiece is now more commonly known as the Downton Tiara and is currently on sale at antique jewellery specialist Bentley & Skinner for £125,000.

Marrying the old with the new, Fred Leighton has afixed a 1950s winged Victory brooch to a contemporary, diamond-studded headband, making this little piece of history the very definition of modern vintage.

If you want something really special for your wedding day, a bespoke tiara is the way to go. Cornish jewellery designer Mirri Damer welcomes commissions for one-of-a-kind bridal tiaras after creating the stunning headpiece worn by Dawn French earlier this year when the comedian was appointed Chancellor of Falmouth University.

Working closely with Dawn and the university's fashion department, Mirri designed a crown inspired by "blasted heath", the term used to describe the windswept trees along the Cornish coastline. The floral motif is based on the Gorse flower commonly found in Cornwall, and the crown is set with Serpentine - a Cornish semi-precious stone found on the Lizard peninsula - as well as tiny seashells. 

Read more about this year's most fashionable bridal accessory