The tiara: A display of rich history and Wisconsin beauty

Crystal Siemers-Peterman
Crystal Siemers Peterman

With the anticipation of the 71st Alice in Dairyland Finals in Adams County and the recent announcement of the Top Candidates, the road to becoming our state’s next agricultural ambassador is exciting and rewarding. The journey to becoming Alice is known as one of the most intensive and public job interview processes in Wisconsin. The choice to apply for Alice in Dairyland is a substantial decision and takes dedication throughout the entire process.

While many people recognize Alice’s vehicle and mink coat as their connection to Wisconsin and agriculture, several often question the connection of the tiara to the Alice program.

In addition to agriculture, Wisconsin has a strong heritage in mining. In fact, Wisconsin’s lead and zinc mines, now largely abandoned, initially spurred much of our state’s settlement. The importance of this industry and our mining heritage is not only acknowledged with a miner on our state flag, but also the lead mines of southwest Wisconsin were instrumental in the development of our state’s nickname the Badger State.

Mineral collectors have been mining our state's resources since the 1840s when they burrowed into hillsides, like badgers, to make their homes. In addition to the zinc and lead mines, Wisconsin is also home to common minerals like quartz. Quartz is not mined commercially, but many mineral collectors have found exquisite pieces that often end up in custom jewelry. Quartz is one of the most abundant elements on earth and comes in a variety of stunning colors. When it has a rich purple color it is known as amethyst, and when they are a golden yellow color they are called citrine. 

The tiara worn by Alice in Dairyland increases visibility and comes with a long, rich history.

In 1984, the Wisconsin Jewelers Association discussed the visibility of Alice in Dairyland and recognized her as the most significant voice on behalf of Wisconsin. The “Jewelers” felt that partnering with Alice would increase her visibility and impact while telling the story of agriculture and Wisconsin. To show their support of the Alice program, they decided to present Alice with a 14k gold tiara, rather than the rhinestone one the program had used for 36 years. 

Tony Denardo, of Anderson Denardo Jewelers, Marinette, designed the first tiara created especially for the Alice program. Denardo was chosen to design the tiara while working for Condon Jewelers in Madison because of his experience in jewelry setting and design. The Wisconsin Jewelers Association gave Denardo a price range and the gems they wanted included, the main one to be a large amethyst. 

The first tiara truly was “something special” for the Alice program. The 14 karat yellow gold tiara featured eight native Wisconsin gems, and the top was set with a natural Wisconsin Mississippi fresh water pearl. The center was a 21 carat amethyst, surrounded by a pair of citrines, amethysts and golden beryl.

Years prior, Alice kept her $100 crown but now with the new tiara, Alice would be presented with an amethyst as a pendant to commemorate her year. According to Mae Knowles, Alice in Dairyland advisor when the tiara was presented, the new tiara had a lot more authority than the rhinestone tiara.

“It doesn’t look like a lot of the crowns others use,” Knowles said.

About six years later the tiara was misplaced and this time Karin Burg, from the Corner Studio in Sheboygan Falls, re-created the tiara making only slight changes - removing the pearl and adding diamonds to fully encircle the center scallop.  Serving as the only goldsmith on the Wisconsin Jewelers Association board, Burg stated she “jumped at the chance” to redesign the tiara. 

In 1999, a new design was necessary and this time Burg modernized the tiara by softening the scallops, reducing the height and again adding more diamonds. The number of scallops and “swinging stones” also were reduced. However, the stones that were selected still represented Wisconsin. The amethyst and citrine included are indigenous to Wisconsin. It took Burg a couple of weeks to create the tiara making every piece by hand. Burg added more diamonds and set them in platinum.

In 2004, the Alice program contacted the Midwest Jewelers Association about creating a brooch for Alice to wear on occasions when the tiara wasn’t quite appropriate – when touring farms or processing plants. The brooch is a replica of the tiara and was created by Goodman’s Jewelers of Madison. While the tiara is still an important marketing tool for Alice when telling the story of agriculture, the brooch adds flexibility to the position.

As Wisconsin’s 70th Alice in Dairyland, it is an absolute honor to wear this beautiful piece of art that increases Alice’s visibility and impact while telling the story of Wisconsin agriculture. Thank you, Midwest Jewelers Association for being such an exceptional partner to the Alice in Dairyland program.

Join me May 17 -19 in Adams County to celebrate the 71st Alice in Dairyland Finals. Candidates, media and visitors from across the state will visit Adams County to find plenty of agriculture and adventure.