Detractors were loud in the beginning, and they had reason.
Why would someone well versed in designing fine jewelry opt to work with costume jewelry? The answer lies in the people who have worn Tommy and Tanya Cain’s handcrafted pieces.
Drew Brees. Val Kilmer. Will Ferrell. Hugh Laurie. Andy Garcia. John C. Reilly, all of whom where kings of New Orleans’ super krewes.
And so many more.
Then there are krewe royalty throughout the region who make special trips to the couple’s small shop on Shell Road in Mobile, Alabama, the city where the first Mardi Gras was celebrated in the New World. That’s where Dynasty Crowns has been standing for 40 years, becoming the source of custom-made crown jewels for some 200 krewes in Alabama, Florida, Texas and towns and cities throughout Louisiana, including Baton Rouge, New Orleans, Lafayette, Alexandria and Shreveport.
Among the royalty is David D’Aquin, king of the Mystic Krewe of Apollo in 2020, formerly of Baton Rouge and Lafayette, now living in Atlanta. One of the most interesting elements of his path to royalty was his visit to Dynasty Crowns.
“It was unique and unreal,” D’Aquin said. “They even showed me how to properly address the royal subjects with my scepter and they told me how to perfect my royal walk.”
D’Aquin said his visit to Dynasty Crowns was over the top and way more than he expected.
“When you go, they take your picture. You leave with a framed picture of yourself. They measure you. You have to pick what kind of band you want. They said I had a perfectly shaped head!” D’Aquin said. “I never really thought about the shape of my head until I had to get a crown for it.”
D’Aquin’s experience is part of why the Cains’ shop has become the go-to place for Mardi Gras royalty.
“We’re in a wonderful business — and we have a ball, let me tell you,” Tommy Cain said. “My family’s in the fine jewelry business, and when I told them I was going into the fun business of costume jewelry, they laughed at me. I’m the one laughing now. The costume jewelry came through for me.”
But the Cains’ creations are more than just costume jewelry. They’re the crowns worn by kings and queens on krewe ball nights and in parades, the scepters waved to greet their crowds.
Long after all the confetti falls, the crowns are the keepsake pieces krewe royalty hold onto — the pieces resting on shelves in living rooms to serve as reminders of those shining moments.
“People often wonder what the purpose of the scepter is,” Tanya Cain said. “It’s a sign of authority.”
Tanya Cain explained that, historically, people of importance presented in front of a group often have some type of staff.
Mardi Gras kings and queens use scepters to address their subjects as they make their walk and the crowd goes wild.
“How do you acknowledge them? How do you engage? Well, you raised the royal scepter,” Tanya Cain said. “What’s that saying, ‘Hello, welcome to my ball?’ And, it engages you with the crowd. It’s basically almost like a handshake.”
Dynasty Crowns carries as many scepters as it does crowns from which to choose, and no two of its wares are exactly alike.
But Dynasty Crown’s story didn’t begin with crowns and scepters. Its first pieces were crystal pins sold at jewelry shows in New Orleans.
“My husband’s grandfather was a fine jeweler,” Tanya Cain said. “My husband worked with his grandfather and set diamonds and handcrafted fine jewelry.”
The pins simply spelled out “Queen” or “King” underlined by the current year in Swarovski crystals ordered from Austria. The business still sources its crystals from Austria, which proved to be beneficial during the COVID pandemic.
Other costume jewelry makers were ordering their crystals from China during this time of supply chain problems, causing many businesses to close.
“We kept ordering ours from Austria, and we didn’t have any problems at all,” Tommy Cain said.
Back in the beginning, the couple owned a strip mall and opened Crown Dynasty in one of its five shops.
Their shop was more of a workshop than a store at its start, meaning it wasn’t open to the public. But that didn’t stop a young woman from walking in with a request.
“She was stopping by one of the shops in the strip, and she knocked on the door and said, ‘I know you handcraft pins and jewelry. What about a crown?'” Tanya Cain said.
The Cains thought about it. “Why not a crown?”
“So, we kind of skinned our knees a little bit, but we learned, and my husband with all of his knowledge on just jewelry itself, helped us to propel that,” Tanya Cain said. “And the next thing you know, we’re making crowns, and it just took off. There was such a need for that, and it is a limited business, but we have captured it, and we love it.”
It wasn’t long before the Cains stopped attending jewelry shows and started running their shop full-time. Tanya Cain recruited her parents to work in Dynasty Crowns, and the two couples worked together to create one-of-a-kind crowns, scepters and jewelry.
These days, the Cains work alone in the shop. Tanya Cain’s dad died in 2021, and her mom retired, prompting them to scale back on a few of the crown jewel services they offer to festivals.
Festivals often requested their logos be incorporated into their queens’ crowns.
“There are only the two of us, and that is so time consuming,” Tanya Cain said. “We just can’t do that anymore.”
The couple does continue to offer personalized service to all royalty walking through their doors, from choosing a crown to shaping the sparkly wonder to fit an individual head.
Consultation visits are by appointment only, beginning with the Cains offering their clients a glass of wine or bottled water.
“We want everybody to feel comfortable,” Tanya Cain said.
A client is then asked to choose a crown from one of many on the shelves.
“What I usually do first is to let them know everything is handcrafted here,” Tanya Cain said. “Our shop is small, but everything we have is top of the line. We’ll walk them through, and I take them from the very beginning of how a crown or a scepter is made. I’ll show them where we actually do the work and show them the process, and they love that.”
After that, the Cains guide their clients to the front room, where awaits a rounded table — nicknamed the “keep-me table” — and full-length mirror. That’s where the fun begins.
A client chooses a crown, then Tanya Cain selects a few others.
“I put all of the crowns on the ‘keep-me table,’ and they start trying them on,” she said. “It’s like a process of elimination, and it can be a bit overwhelming at first, because how often do you wear a crown? My husband and I are always amazed, because nine times out of 10, they’ll choose the first crown they chose when they came in.”
After that comes the serious work.
“We have to make it comfortable, because everybody’s head shape is different,” she said. “Most people’s heads are oval, so we’ll shape them oval when we’re making them. But once the client tries the crown on, we sometimes have to tweak it a bit.”
All crowns and scepters are made of metal, and all crystals are soldered, which makes each piece stronger, giving it staying power.
“The kings and queens are going to wear their crowns more than once,” Tanya Cain said. “They’ll be wearing them at the balls and the parades and maybe a few other events.”
Then comes the best part of the process. Once the final choice is made and the fittings and adjustments done, clients sit in Dynasty Crowns’ royal chair to have their photos made.
“Our crowns are usually priced right under $2,000,” Tanya Cain said. “A lot of our clients are spending $50,000 to $70,000 on the whole shebang, so the crown is probably the least costly item they’ll buy. It’s also their crowning glory.”
The Cains also request their royalty to send photos from balls and parades, where crowns and scepters are paired with royal garb to place in Dynasty Crowns’ gallery at dynastycollection.com.
“Everybody that comes to us are new,” Tanya Cain said. “But that’s the thing about our business — everybody is brand new, and they’ve never been king or queen before. So we basically build on our reputation and by word-of-mouth.”
As for any detractors, well, no one is laughing at Tommy Cain’s choice of costume jewelry design now.
“It’s what I love,” he said. “And the Mardi Gras world is a perfect world.”
Have you ever reigned as Mardi Gras royalty in one of Dynasty Crowns crowns or a crown by another creator?
Send us photos of yourself wearing a crown — and tell us a bit about your reign, including when, where and an interesting tidbit from your time as Mardi Gras royalty.
Email the photo, details and your phone number to [email protected].
Jan Risher contributed to this report.
- Keep your jewelry safe and secure with the best jewelry boxes.
- Jewellery with 'Nazi links' set to fetch €136 million at auction
- Jewelry/Fashion Happenings Around Manhattan
- Jewellery with Nazi links set to fetch $150mn at auction
- Statement Collective Launches Sustainable Jewellery Line for Fashion-Forward Customers