It takes an American village to make a crown for Miss Denmark.
Mary van der Aa, a jewelry designer from Michigan who works mainly in Tucson, Ariz., is part of a talented team creating the crown - a far cry from the “brass and glass” variety. The crown is made of solid sterling silver with 1,400 handset stones including a 4.50ct umbalite garnet in the center, as well as blue topaz and cubic zirconia for spectacular sparkle. It’s a one-of-a-kind regal masterpiece valued at $25,000, fully assembled by hand.
“It’s probably one of the only pageant crowns made of real metal and stones,” Mary says. “It’s a pretty exciting venture for sure! The process started a year ago in July in Denmark. We have 16 different tiers to individually install, and a headband that was done in four pieces. It’s been crazy.
“The weight of it is a factor. Most beauty pageant queens are not substantial-size women, and she’s going to be wearing a 5-pound crown on her head? It was another thing we had to think of, had to do a little trimming here and there. As we learn, we’re making adjustments along the way. We’re perfecting it now, and we’re excited about getting it out to them.
“We’ve never done anything this big before. Of the 1,400 stones, all set by hand, the smallest ones are 2mm, which is small for a bench jeweler. I’m happy other bench jewelers are doing that part! It takes a long time. But it’s coming.”
Mary, a GIA-trained, independent designer and bench jeweler, has worked closely with Park Avenue Jewelers and Tucson Todd’s Gems, both in Tucson, for five years. Park Avenue Jewelers landed the project via a relative who lives in Denmark. “He was approached with a contract; he called us and said, ‘Do you want to go in on this?’ We said hell yes! Let’s make a crown! So we went over to Denmark and discussed the design and got things under way.”
Mary was honored to do the design. “I’m the only girl on the team, so I’m the one who’s thinking about how Miss Denmark’s hair is going to look in it, how will she be able to secure it to her head – the little details. With a crown this big, you think how do you put it on your head and get it to stay there? I thought we need to install little components on the inside now so she can attach a bobby pin or something. I’ve never been in a beauty pageant myself, never worn a crown, so we’re winging it as we go along!
“A lot of people wouldn’t know what goes into a crown. They wouldn’t think about the tiers, the details, like the beautiful fishtail design. I’ve done a lot of design work in my life but never a crown. But I like to make things that are one of a kind, and I thought if I can do these other things, I can design a crown. I can’t wait to see it on Miss Denmark one day! It’s really cool, a whole other world.”
While designing the crown, Mary tried to think of symbolic elements special to Denmark. “A big thing for Denmark is The Little Mermaid (a fairytale by Danish author Hans Christian Andersen) and I thought it would be a good idea to put a mermaid on the front of the crown,” Mary says. “It’s very tasteful, don’t get me wrong! Our friend Paul does beautiful hand carving in wax. So he designed and carved this beautiful mermaid sitting on a rock, holding a big gemstone that’s red,” a garnet custom-cut by Todd Wacks Jr. of Tucson Todd’s Gems. “It’s the crowning piece of it.”
Here’s the team, as described by Mary:
- Alive Design, Roskilde, Denmark, Danish representation
- Mary van der Aa, “Crown Design”, Port Huron, Mich. Full crown design including sketches, development, research, technical aspects and all intellectual property, www.maryvanderaa.com.
- Paul Vermylen III- From Gems to Jewelry, “Mermaid”, Cold Spring Harbor, N.Y. Design and creation of mermaid including design, lost wax carving, casting, development and finishing, www.paulvermylen.com.
- Park Avenue Jewelers, “Production”, Tucson, Ariz. Coordination, manufacturing and finished assembly/completion of crown, stone-setting, major funding, www.parkavenuejewelers.com.
- Tucson Todd’s Gems, “Gemstones”, Tucson, Ariz. All gemstones including custom-cut 4.50ct umbalite garnet center stone, www.pastelpyrope.com.
|The crown will contain 16 tiers individually installed and a headband done in 4 pieces.|
“We’re all aspiring artists, GIA trained,” Mary says of her team. “We all worked really hard on this; it’s been a project of passion for us. It’s huge. We’re hoping that other pageants may want crowns and maybe we can create a bunch of different ones!
“No money is really being made; it’s just an ambitious endeavor. Hopefully, it will pay off in the future. It’s definitely interesting being our first time doing this, with all of the little challenges that arise. We took a little of everyone’s talents together to make something beautiful!”
Mary says the crown should be ready in time for Miss Denmark to wear in next year’s pageant, and pageants beyond. “The crown will be in Denmark 25 years for the pageant, then it may be donated to a museum or come back to the States for display.”
We can’t wait to see the finished piece.