Like royalty themselves, imperial jewels are often rich with long and complex histories. Royal gems provide a way to better understand the origin of these illustrious families themselves. Up front and sparkly are the many bejeweled headwear types that royals enjoy wearing the world over.
Some rules apply – for European dynasties at least. Tiaras are traditionally not worn by unmarried ladies. When Sarah, Duchess of York entered London’s Westminster cathedral in 1986 to wed her prince, she wore a youthful circlet of flowers under her veil. When she emerged from the ceremony however, she had donned a shimmering diamond tiara. Technically brides are exempt from the ‘must-be-married’ rule on their own wedding day – during the ceremony itself. But on that particular day, Fergie made more of a point that she entered the church as a commoner – and emerged a royal.
Other rules apply for when to wear a tiara. It is tradition to wear them on formal occasions only after 5pm. Weddings give ladies another free pass since most royal weddings are held late mornings – so you can pop that on in the morning, ladies.
It must be fun and tradition-challenging to break with stodgy old rules, as we’ve observed on occasion. Some younger unmarried royal ladies have indeed taken to wearing a tiara – especially the delicate hair ‘accessory’ type tiaras, if you can call these priceless toppers an accessory. A hard rule that doesn’t ever seem to be broken is that tiaras are only for grown-ups – the little ones should not be caught running through palace corridors sporting bejeweled headgear. Sorry kiddos.
And here’s something else we can’t help but notice – and this one happens to be more of a habit than a rule. Regal jewels, and tiaras in particular, have a way of going around in the same family circles – whether the headpiece was loaned, bequeathed or gifted for a special occasion. Not to say that royals don’t actually pay for tiaras – they sometimes do. But since most all European royal houses are actually related, I suppose they make an extra effort to “keep it in the family” when a tiara does come to auction.
One such legendary tiara has certainly made the rounds within royal households for over a century or so. Originally dubbed the Marie Feodorovna’s Sapphire Bandeau, this lovely 19th century bandeau style headpiece was thought to originally belong to Marie, Empress of Russia. She had other titles besides this important moniker. Prior to her marriage she was Princess Dagmar of Denmark. Her notable siblings included Queen Alexandra of the United Kingdom, Denmark’s King Frederik VIII, and King George I of Greece.
Dowager Empress Marie (1847-1928) was known for her lavish jewel collection. As a result of the Russian Revolution (1917-1923), many of her pieces began popping up for sale during the 1920s.
Marie’s bandeau was composed of a very large removable central sapphire complemented by side diamonds arranged in a sun-ray motif – a very popular style during pre-World War I.
Britain’s Queen Mary was said to have purchased this lovely headpiece at a Paris auction in 1921 when it was offered by Princess Nicholas of Greece – yet we don’t know how she came into possession of it. Perhaps the Empress gave it to her. Princess Nicholas’ husband was Marie’s nephew.
Although the line of provenance grows sketchy as time went on, it seems that the tiara passed to Elizabeth II at Mary’s death. We’ve never seen the Queen photographed wearing it – but not all formal royal events are captured for the public to see. She did loan it to her sister Margaret who was photographed often wearing it in the 1950s and 1960s. It looks like she also wore the sapphire and main diamond part as a brooch from time to time.
Where is it now? Who knows? Well actually the Queen does – and we suspect it comes out of the vault on special occasions and simply may not meet with public scrutiny. Here’s to keeping things all in the family.