Like the appeal of a piece of string to a cat, a sparkling object has the power to capture my attention for hours on end. Add in a bit of history and you’ll see me only when I emerge for mozzarella sticks and Pellegrino.
Because of this, I asked The Court Jeweller‘s Ella Kay to select four royal tiaras to talk about. Now only is she a bauble genius, but she acted as one of the sparkle consultants for The Royal We by Heather Cocks and Jessica Morgan.
When was this created and for whom?
“There’s some debate about this, but most people believe it was made sometime between 1800-1820, either for Empress Josephine of France or her daughter, Queen Hortense of Holland. It’s usually attributed to Nitot, Napoleon’s court jeweler.”
What’s the story behind the cameo tiara?
“It’s one of the many tiaras that came to Sweden with Josephine of Leuchtenberg, Empress Josephine’s granddaughter. It ended up being inherited by a Swedish prince who had no children — but he gave it to the current king’s mother, Princess Sibylla, as a wedding present, so it stayed in the family.”
You usually see tiaras covered in diamonds, but not this one. Why is that?
“The French jewelers who created tiaras for the imperial court innovated quite a bit with materials. This one is made of gold, pearls, and carved cameos; Queen Hortense also had a tiara that included no precious stones at all, just carefully cut steel.
The cameos on the tiara tell the love story of Cupid and Psyche — which is appropriate, because the tiara has been worn by quite a few Swedish royal brides, including Queen Silvia and Crown Princess Victoria.”
DANISH RUBY PARURE TIARA
I love how this one is styled What’s the story behind this one?
“The set was originally made for Desiree Clary, who was once engaged to Napoleon. She actually wore it at his imperial coronation. The parure didn’t originally have a tiara — that was made later using pieces that were once haircombs. Crown Princess Mary wears it now, and she had it altered slightly a few years ago to fit her head, hence the way it balances.”
Any fun facts?
“The Scandinavian royals love to do pageants and performances for members of the family, and when Princess Benedikte was a child, she borrowed this parure from her mother to play Desiree Clary. The pictures are great — it was huge on a kid’s head!”
How many diamonds and stones are set in this tiara?
“I’m not sure there’s an accurate count! The parure plays a nifty trick with the rubies, though. As precious stones go, rubies tend to be fairly small — you don’t usually see rubies that are as large as some of the impressive sapphires and emeralds in royal collections — so this parure groups several small rubies together to make them look like they’re bigger single stones. Very clever!”
QUEEN ALEXANDRA’S KOKOSHNIK TIARA
This one looks familiar. Is it the Russian Fringe Tiara Elizabeth II wore on her wedding day?
“Nope — they’re similar, but not the same. Elizabeth II wore the fringe tiara that belonged to her grandmother, Queen Mary, at her wedding (below).”
“This one is also a Russian-style fringe tiara, but it belonged to the current Queen’s great-grandmother, Queen Alexandra. It’s about thirty years older than Queen Mary’s tiara.”
When was this created?
“It was a silver wedding anniversary present for Alexandra, made by Garrard in 1888. A committee of aristocratic women got together and decided to give her a joint anniversary gift. They asked her what she wanted, and she requested this specific style of tiara, because she liked the Russian kokoshnik tiaras worn by her sister, who was Empress Marie Feodorovna of Russia. Alexandra liked the tiara so much that she wore it at her son’s wedding in 1893.”
DUTCH SAPPHIRE PARURE TIARA
I LOVE THIS ONE! It’s what Queen Maxima wore at Willem-Alexander”s inauguration and her recent visit to Denmark, right?
“Yes! Isn’t it great? Maxima actually wore a slightly smaller version at Willem-Alexander’s inauguration, but when she brought it to Denmark recently, she wore it with the full diamond piece at the top.”
Who did this originally belong to?
“Queen Emma of the Netherlands, the second wife of King Willem III. Emma deserved these sapphires and more for her service to the Dutch monarchy. She married a widowed king who was more than forty years older than her — and who was reportedly fairly cruel and terrible — and secured the Dutch royal succession by giving birth to his only surviving child, Queen Wilhelmina.
“Seriously, if anything, Emma should have gotten even more sapphires than she did!”