While a crown encircles the whole head, a tiara elegantly frames it and does not join in a full circle. A tiara can be worn on the forehead, just above the eyebrows, as Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother wore the Strathmore tiara in her younger days, with a 1920s, flapper-like style; or properly upright and centred on the top of the head – see any official image of Queen Mary; or, as is the current style, laid back and more closely following the contours of the hair.
Queen Elizabeth II, this week marking her Platinum Jubilee on the throne, is no stranger to tiaras, with many in her personal jewellery collection. Each has a story to tell, often stretching into past centuries and to previous monarchs. For some, such obvious statements of status belong in the history books, but for others, they are very much of the here and now, to be worn with a modern twist and with a thread of irony woven through.
There is no irony, however, about the Queen Mary’s Lover’s Knot tiara (often incorrectly referred to as the Cambridge Lover’s Knot tiara). Its beautiful arc of diamond-encrusted lover’s bow-knots and 19 drop pearls originally sat below 19 pear-shaped pearls fixed upright. These were later removed. The tiara has been part of the Queen’s headwear since it was bequeathed to her by her grandmother Queen Mary in 1953.
The tiara was commissioned in 1913 by Queen Mary using the original Cambridge Lover’s Knot tiara as its model. The earlier tiara belonged to Princess Augusta of Hesse-Kassel, who went on to marry King George III’s seventh son, Adolphus, the Duke of Cambridge. This wonderful piece of jewellery was sold by Christie’s in 1981 and had not been seen until it returned to public view when it was worn by the Duchess of Mathilde to her niece’s wedding in 2018.
The jewels for the Queen Mary’s Lover’s Knot were sourced from existing pieces, among them the Ladies of England tiara, the Girls of Great Britain and Ireland tiara, and the Richmond and Women of Hampshire brooches. It was made by E. Wolfe & Co. – founded in 1850 and known in the jewellery trade as The Tiara Makers – to a design by Garrard. The tiara was finished in 1914.
In those early years of Queen Elizabeth II’s reign, it was seen frequently, from movie premieres to state visits. However, in 1981 she gave it on permanent loan to Lady Diana Spencer, as she was then, on her marriage to Prince Charles, the Prince of Wales. It appeared to be a favourite of Diana, the Princess of Wales, and was seen often. On her death in 1997, the tiara returned to the Queen’s collection and wasn’t seen again in public until Catherine, the Duchess of Cambridge, and of course married to Diana’s eldest son William, wore it to a reception at Buckingham Palace in 2015. Catherine has worn it several times since with as much grace as any royal predecessor.
For more on the symbolism and style of tiaras, take a look at Sotheby’s “Power & Image: Royal & Aristocratic Tiaras”, running until June 15, in London, an exhibition of more than 40 tiaras of British and European provenance. And to read more about one of the central characters in the story of so many of the Queen’s jewels, go to Garrard itself and “The Most-Loved Royal Wedding Tiara in History”.
Main image: Queen Elizabeth II in 1958 arriving at the premiere of the film 'Dunkirk' and wearing the Queen Mary’s Lover’s Knot tiara. Photo: PA Images/Alamy Stock Photo