While many people recognize Alice’s car and mink coat for 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 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.
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 by partnering with Alice and 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 him a price range and the gems they wanted included, the main one to be a big 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 the center 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 lost, 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 mentioned she “jumped at the chance” to redesign the tiara.
Unfortunately, in 1999 the tiara was stolen, but the jewelers, still committed to the program, used the insurance money, to re-design the tiara. 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 her 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 Wisconsin 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.
The Alice tiara displays Wisconsin and the Alice program in a very special way. It gives the program a little something extra because of the gems and the thought that went into it.