The wedding of Prince Harry with Meghan Markle gives us the opportunity to take a look at how diamond tiaras have dazzled monarchs and their fellow citizens
Right after Meghan Markle walks down the aisle in St. George’s Chapel at Windsor Castle and exchanges vows with Prince Harry, the American actress will become a member of the British Royal Family. And one of the questions to ask is if, on May 19, she will be wearing a diamond tiara.
If we have to pay attention to tradition, history reveals she most definitely will wear a diamond tiara in her hair, since that has been a part of the pomp and circumstance of royal weddings for well over 100 hundred years.
THE ORIGIN OF A TRADITION
Since the royal family’s history can be traced back to 1066, you may be wondering why the custom is only a century old. It’s because the invention of diamond tiaras is relatively recent.
Historians date the creation of diamond tiaras to the eighteenth century when diamonds were funneled to European courts from mines in Brazil. Howewer, it wasn’t until around 1870 that the diamond tiara swept into style for royal weddings in England, due to the abundant supply of diamonds discovered at the Kimberley Mine in South Africa.
Traditionally, a diamond tiara represented “the crowning of love and the loss of innocence” according to Geoffrey Munn, author of Tiaras: A History of Splendor. In the past, a noble woman wore a diamond tiara for the first time at her wedding. After the nuptials, the tiara was worn to special evening events as a symbol of a woman’s wedded status and position in society.
Some of the highest profile royal weddings of modern times show a variety of sensational diamond designs. They also reveal how their styling has shifted with fashions and trends, from the top of the head to the front of the brow. The individuality behind each one hints at the type of tiara Meghan might wear and where it could come from.
THE DIAMOND HALO TIARA
The diamond Halo tiara worn by Kate Middleton, more properly known as Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge, for her April 29, 2011 wedding to Prince William, was originally purchased from Cartier-London in 1936 by King George VI as a gift for his wife Queen Elizabeth.
The jewel was given to Queen Elizabeth II as an 18th birthday present in 1944, when she was still a princess. Over the years, the Queen has loaned the jewel to her sister Princess Margaret and her daughter Princess Anne as well as, of course, her granddaughter-in-law Kate Middleton.
The tiara has all the earmarks of the Art Deco movement with geometric baton shaped diamonds, topped by round diamonds punctuating the points between the scrolls along the top.
If Meghan Markle had wanted to wear the same jewel as the Duchess, she wouldn’t have been allowed, since the piece is on display at a Cartier exhibit in Australia throughout the summer.
THE SPENCER TIARA
The Spencer Tiara is likely to be one of her favorites, since it has become something of a sentimental choice for Meghan and her future husband. The diamond jewel belongs to Princess Diana’s family and is the piece she wore when she married Prince Charles in 1981.
The lyrical tiara, defined by an stylized flower and scroll motifs, is in fact a composition of several pieces assembled into one jewel. The central diamond and silver topped gold section in the front was made around 1919. Eighteen years later, crown jeweler Garrard assembled the tiara after he created components to echo the original design.
THE DIAMOND FRINGE TIARA
The diamond fringe tiara Queen Elizabeth wore for her wedding to Prince Philip in 1947 came from her mother’s collection of jewels, but originally belonged to her grandmother Queen Mary. The piece, designed also by Garrard in 1919, is sometimes referred to as the Russian Fringe tiara because the style originated in the courts of the Czars.
Like many fringe tiaras, the one Queen Elizabeth II wore on her wedding day can be worn as a necklace. The convertible quality led to a mishap just two hours before the royal wedding. When Elizabeth was getting dressed at Buckingham Palace and the fringe necklace was being fitted on its frame to be worn as a tiara, a part popped off. The staff and security whipped into action and the court jeweler in attendance received a police escort back to the workroom to quickly repair it.
While you may not think there was any chance Meghan Markle would wear the same diamond tiara the Queen wore at her wedding, there is actually precedent for the piece being loaned: In 1973, Princess Anne, the Queen’s only daughter, wore the jewel when she married her first husband Captain Mark Philips.
THE STRATHMORE TIARA
One tiara in the royal collection that could be a popular choice for Meghan is the Strathmore Tiara. The romantic jewel set with rose-cut diamonds was presented to Queen Elizabeth II’s mother—also named Elizabeth and known as the Queen Mother—by her father Lord Strathmore as a wedding present in 1923.
The remarkable floral design comes with two tiara frames. It can be worn in the traditional manner on top of the head or lower on the brow in a bandeau mode.
The jewel, currently in Queen Elizabeth’s collection, can also be disassembled and worn as five individual brooches.
THE DIAMOND POLTIMORE TIARA
The dramatic diamond tiara Princess Margaret wore for her wedding to Tony Armstrong Jones was purchased at Sotheby’s in 1959 for £5,500, almost $168,000 in today’s dollars.
Made by Garrard during the 1870s, the jewel was sold by descendants of Lady Poltimore, but it has never been revealed who bought it for Margaret. The Queen or Queen Mother could have purchased it as a wedding gift or Margaret could have bought it herself.
The Poltimore could be too dramatic for Meghan. Nevertheless, it is also not an option because Margaret’s children sold it in 2006 to raise funds to pay for their exorbitant inheritance taxes.
However, the fact that the piece was originally purchased for Margaret’s wedding, proves that the acquisition of a new tiara is a real option. Other evidence supporting this theory includes the fact that the Queen bought tiaras for Sarah Ferguson and Sophie Rhys Jones when the women married her sons Prince Andrew and Prince Edward, respectively.
While there are many wonderful estate jewelers in London where the Queen could shop for the wedding gift, Meghan is a woman of her times, so she is more likely to receive a modern tiara.
THE FRENCH ARE COMING.
THE BRITISH DON’T SURRENDER
One of the few great sources for modern tiaras is the French jeweler Chaumet. I know what you are thinking: A French jeweler? It might surprise you, but the British royal family has a history of shopping at French jewelers with boutiques in London.
Meghan recently acquired a pair of diamond earrings from Cartier that were very likely a wedding gift. The link with Chaumet goes back to the mid-nineteenth century when they opened a boutique in the city and Queen Victoria and Prince Albert became among the first royal clients.
Then again, the royal family could shop for Meghan at a non-traditional British source like Stephen Webster. The talented designer makes amazing diamond tiaras, and he also happens to be the Chairman at Garrard, the British jeweler responsible for so many historic pieces worn at royal weddings.
I reached Stephen in London trying to find out details on what Meghan might wear. “As a man whose office is adjacent to the Queen Mary room in the house of Garrard, named as such because Queen Mary would pop in for various crown and tiara fittings, I’m sure you are hoping I may have an inside track as to which tiara Meghan will be wearing,” he said. “Sadly, that’s not the case.”
There’s one thing I did get the discreet jeweler to agree on. On May 19, Meghan will appear at the St. George’s Chapel, on the Windsor Castle grounds, wearing a diamond tiara. “A crowd pleasing diamond tiara,” he added.