26 February 2013

Readers' Ultimate Tiaras: Pick Your Big Gun

Naturally, in a month of massive tiaras, the second little poll in pursuit of your collective ultimate tiara collection must be this:

Pick your favorite big gun tiara!

A good tiara collection needs a headliner, don't you think? One whopper, one giant/big/large, awe-inspiring and slightly stupefying diadem to lead the way, to be brought out for the V.I.P. occasions. This is another extremely subjective category - you have to define what constitutes a big gun tiara for yourself.

Do you define it purely on size? The bigger the better?
Giant tiaras on, left to right: Gloria, Dowager Princess Thurn and Taxis; Queen Marie of Romania; Diane, Duchess of Württemberg

What about relative importance in a collection? Take the Swedish collection, for example. Several of their tiaras could probably qualify on size alone, but there's a clear leader: the Braganza Tiara, only brought out for certain occasions. And then there are the tiaras which serve these days as specifically queen's tiaras, like the Fleur de Lys Tiara from Spain or Empress Joséphine's Emerald Tiara from Norway, giving them added importance relative to the rest.

Are you judging on pure carat power? It's hard to beat the solid fortress of diamonds contained in the Luxembourg Empire Tiara, or the size of just the headline diamond in the Stuart Tiara.

And so on, and so on. Here are a few more that we've featured before that might fit the bill:

And now I leave it to you, as I know you have something else in mind that I didn't catch here. I shall leave you to ponder - we will return on Friday, when we'll have our regular Thursday tiara feature delayed one day. And yup, it will be another big gun!

As a reminder, your collection has one member already: Queen Alexandra's Kokoshnik Tiara.

Ready to vote for your favorite?
-Vote for one tiara in the comments. (If you're mentioning multiple tiaras in your comment, indicate which one gets your vote, or I will just count the first one.)
-I will also count the number of "likes" or up arrows on those comments, so you can vote that way too.
-Non-royal tiaras and tiaras that no longer exist are fair game too.

UPDATE: Thank you for all your contributions! Voting is now closed.

Photos: Getty Images/Wikipedia/The Royal Forums/Polfoto/Corbis

25 February 2013

Weekly Royal Fashion Awards: February 17-23

Best in I'm Not Gonna Say It
The Duchess of Cambridge
Visiting Hope House treatment center
Seriously, please, I'm begging you. Don't say it, that word, the one everyone has to use when talking about our friend Kate these days. My former pet peeve with the b-word (you know, that one that starts with a b and ends with a p) has blossomed into...whatever's bigger than a pet peeve. A farm animal peeve. I don't like talking about people's stomachs, but I do like this wrap dress.

Best in Fancy
Princess Letizia
Attending a cultural awards ceremony
My my, aren't we looking fancy with our little beading and whatnot?

Best in Purse
Crown Princess Mary
Attending events for a conference on global inequality
Purple Prada alert! Best thing about the week.

Best in Hats
Princess Mathilde and the Belgian Royal Family
Attending the annual mass to remember deceased family members
Well done on your anti-fascinator turnout, Belgian royals. It's been quite some time since we've seen this many legit hats in one royal gathering, no? 

Best in Institutions
Crown Princess Victoria
At a palace reception
It should just be a basic shift dress, one of those can't-go-wrong pieces...and yet I'm detecting a flair of institutional nurse, circa 1948.

And an Honorable Mention to...
Princess Estelle
Somebody turned the big 0-1 this week! Expressive as ever, Estelle's cuteness is multiplied because she is wearing the same dress her mother wore to celebrate her first birthday. Double awwws.

Who did you like last week?

Photos: Getty Images/BestImage/Abaca/Stella/Kungahuset

22 February 2013

Flashback Friday: Scandinavian Engagement Rings

Next up in our mini-series on royal engagement rings we're heading north to our Scandinavian friends and their mix of sentimental and patriotic rings. Sweden, Norway, and Denmark here we come!

Queen Silvia of Sweden
Silvia Sommerlath's engagement ring is a simple ring, probably more like what many of us (particularly those most familiar with the American tradition) might expect from an e-ring. It's a single solitaire diamond, estimated by some to be in the neighborhood of two carats, and is said to have belonged to King Carl Gustaf's mother Princess Sibylla - she died a few years before the couple's engagement. Silvia now wears the ring with others on the same finger, including a ruby ring.

Crown Princess Victoria of Sweden
Victoria's ring, reportedly from court jeweler W.A. Bolin, is much like her mother's - so similar, in fact, that some wondered in the days after the engagement if it actually was Silvia's. (It isn't.) Victoria paired the classic ring with her diamond wedding band, but lately she hasn't worn much of either ring.

Princess Madeleine of Sweden
Madeleine has been the (at least partially unlucky, I suppose) recipient of two engagement rings in recent years. Her first, from Jonas Bergström in 2009, was a rectangular diamond set horizontally - but of course that engagement was broken following rumors of cheating on Jonas' part. In 2012 her engagement to Christopher O'Neill was announced, and the official photos gave us a glimpse of another sparkling diamond. This one appears to be an Asscher cut diamond on a diamond band, and it automatically jumped up on my list of favorite royal e-rings. Oh yes, I'd wear one exactly like this in a heartbeat.

Crown Princess Märtha, Queen Sonja, and Crown Princess Mette-Marit of Norway
Crown Prince Harald of Norway gave Sonja Haraldsen an interesting diamond and ruby ring that belonged to his late mother, Crown Princess Märtha. Sonja carried on the tradition, giving the ring to her son Haakon when he proposed to Mette-Marit Tjessem Høiby. Mette-Marit wears it occasionally these days; she is more consistently spotted in a three stone diamond ring usually said to have been a gift from her husband.

Princess Märtha Louise of Norway
Märtha Louise's ring seems a bit unconventional to traditional tastes, but that's pretty fitting for the princess herself. The white gold ring studded with diamonds forming lilies was designed by fiancé Ari Behn's grandfather, Andreas Solberg. Ari has one too, but Märtha's includes two additional tiny ruby hearts.

Queen Margrethe of Denmark
This Van Cleef & Arpels ring features two entwined large diamonds - unusual and a bit over the top, just like its wearer Queen Margrethe, and well chosen by her equally interesting husband, Prince Henrik.

Crown Princess Mary of Denmark
Mary Donaldson's engagement ring from Crown Prince Frederik is in the colors of the Danish flag: an emerald cut diamond flanked by emerald cut rubies. She wore it like that, alongside her diamond wedding band, for several years; and then, in early 2012, she upgraded. The ring now includes an extra diamond on either side of the rubies (the bottom close up, above), which I think makes it look a little more complete. A lovely design change.

Alexandra, Countess of Frederiksborg
Flag rings run in the family, apparently. Frederik's brother Prince Joachim presented his first wife, Alexandra Manley, with a faceted center diamond with a cabochon ruby on either side, set in 18 carat gold. Joachim and Alexandra are now married to other people, of course, and Alexandra has a diamond ring surrounded by diamond bands from her second husband, Martin Jørgensen.

Princess Marie of Denmark
Joachim wasn't done giving flag rings, though. His second wife, Marie Cavallier, received a literal interpretation of the flag of her home country, France: one sapphire, one diamond, and one ruby on an intricate wide gold band from Mette Rosgaard (who frequently uses the giraffe-like pattern of the band). Marie does not wear it all the time, but she does use it. It is, by far, my least favorite royal engagement ring...sometimes the inspiration is just a touch too literal.

Which one is your favorite?

Photos: Getty Images/Scanpix/Kungahuset/Corbis/Reuters /BilledBladet/Sipa Press

21 February 2013

Tiara Thursday: The Fleur de Lys Tiara

In all the tiaras we've covered so far, we've dealt with a handful of Spanish tiaras - but somehow, we haven't gotten around to covering their most important one, a fact usually mentioned when this whopper tiara is requested. Let's fix that today, shall we?
The Fleur de Lys Tiara
Another tiara from the collection of Queen Victoria Eugenia of Spain, this big gun was a wedding present from her husband King Alfonso XIII in 1906. It was made that same year by Ansorena of Madrid, which had been the court jeweler since 1860. The tiara features three large fleur de lys motifs, each filled with large round diamonds, and connected by swirls and scrolls including more significantly sized diamonds. It's set in platinum, which is fortunate for its users since platinum is said to be the lightest of the metals typically used in tiara construction. It generally goes by a very simple name, the Fleur de Lys Tiara - the fleur de lys is a significant symbol in heraldry, generally speaking, but is also a symbol of the House of Bourbon.
Queen Victoria Eugenia
Victoria Eugenia (or Ena, as she was informally known) wore the tiara on her wedding day in a closed, coronet style - perfect to perch on top of her hair as was the fashion at the time. But in 1910, she had it opened up at the back, and now it sits lower on the head.
The Countess of Barcelona
The tiara went with her into exile, and she continued to wear it for the rest of her life. Ena loaned it to her daughter-in-law, the Countess of Barcelona, on a few occasions - most notably, for the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II in 1953. The tiara went into the possession of the Count and Countess after Queen Victoria Eugenia's death, and when the Spanish throne was restored in 1975 with their son Juan Carlos as king, they gave the grand jewel to his wife Sofia to be worn once again by a Queen of Spain.
Queen Sofia
As I said, it's easy to call this the most important tiara in the Spanish collection - it's got size, symbolism, and history. But more than that, Queen Sofia treats it like the headline tiara. Its appearances are carefully chosen, for events like state visits from fellow monarchs. And it is not shared with her daughters or daughter-in-law, as other tiaras in her collection are; this is a queen's tiara. I believe it was last spotted in 2008, when Sofia wore it on a state visit to Japan, and it's hard to say when it might be seen again - the Spanish royals haven't had a tiara event for a few years.

Where does this rank on your list of favorite Spanish tiaras?

Photos: Casa Real/Geoffrey Munn/Life/Getty Images/Thai Monarchy

20 February 2013

Wedding Wednesday: Princess Benedikte's Gown

 HRH Princess Benedikte of Denmark and HH Prince Richard of Sayn-Wittgenstein-Berleburg
February 3, 1968
Fredensborg, Denmark

Much like the wedding of younger child Princess Margriet we recently looked at, the timing of Princess Benedikte's wedding put it directly in the shadow of the wedding of her older sister, the future queen. Benedikte's engagement to Prince Richard was announced a few months before the wedding of Margrethe and Henrik, and the wedding was held several months after. It was a lower key affair, held in the Chapel of Fredensborg Palace, but the dress was just as grand.
Benedikte's gown was the second royal wedding dress in only a few months and the third in only a few years for Danish couturier Jørgen Bender, who created the gowns for both of Benedikte's sisters, Margrethe and Anne-Marie. (Later, he would also design wedding gowns for Benedikte's daughter Alexandra and another Princess Alexandra too.)
The gown is made of white silk with long sleeves, a slim skirt, and a grand royal train extending from the shoulders. The high waist is accented with two small bows, each adorned with a diamond star. The dress shares similarities with those of Benedikte's sisters, as they were not only a product of the same designer but also of the same time period, with its distinctive style.
The three sisters: Margrethe, Benedikte, and Anne-Marie
They also share accessories, as the Danish royal family have multiple wedding traditions. Benedikte wore the Khedive of Egypt Tiara, as all female descendants of her mother Queen Ingrid have done; she also wore the family wedding veil, which comes (as does the Khedive) from Ingrid's mother Princess Margaret of Connaught and has been worn by all female descendants plus Crown Princess Mary. Benedikte also used the additional lace from Margaret's gift as adornment on her dress, just visible in panels on the side.
Benedikte and Richard have three children, Gustav, Alexandra, and Nathalie, and three grandchildren. She still plays an active role in the Danish royal house and we see the couple at royal events regularly.

Which dress is your favorite: Margrethe, Benedikte, or Anne-Marie?

Photos: Polfoto/The Royal Forums/Getty Images

19 February 2013

Royal Trend Watch: Ski Bunnies Galore

It's winter holiday time, and our royals have headed for the slopes. And you know what that means, don't you? A dose of royal kid shenanigans, that's what. But the question is: who wins the royal ski bunny competition?

Frederik and Mary and their fantastic four headed for Verbier, where they win because of poufs and animal hats. And because of Isabella, of course - she's made of win and she can't help it. Click here to see a photoset and here to see a video.

Video: Joachim and Marie and family
Joachim and Marie and their own fantastic four holiday in Villars, where they won the royal slope competition because BABY SUNGLASSES I MEAN COME ON ARE YOU KIDDING ME. Click here to see more photos.

And finally, the Dutch royal family headed for their regular vacation in Lech.
Video: In Lech
The fact that Beatrix, Willem-Alexander, Máxima, the A-team, and the rest of the Dutch family (who weren't present at the photocall) are in Lech alone is enough of a win - it was one year ago that Prince Friso was trapped in an avalanche here, leaving him in a coma. But they seemed relaxed and happy, soaking up a bit of family time before the abdication. Good on them, I say. (Click here for a photoset.)

Who's your favorite royal ski bunny?

Photos: Abaca/Getty Images

18 February 2013

Weekly Royal Fashion Awards: February 10-16

Best of the Week
Princess Letizia
Meeting with the members of the national handball team; attending the accreditation ceremony for honorary Spain "Brand Ambassadors"; at a reception for the President of Guatemala; opening the ARCO Contemporary Art Fair; attending a conference and visiting Wordskills Spain
She wore my favorite color for her in my favorite silhouette for her! Red, red, red. Did anything else happen this week? Doesn't matter.

Best in Standard
Princess Máxima
Opening the Women's Inc. conference
Well, yup, there you go. Classic Máx, right down to the unnecessarily matched accessories. Then it was off for the annual ski vacation - we'll check in with our royals on the slopes tomorrow.

Best Return
Crown Princess Mette-Marit
At the inauguration of the Northern Light Cathedral; audience with President Bill Clinton
Nice to see her out and about in Norway again. And that's about all I have to say about that.

And an Honorable Mention to...
Princess Madeleine
Attending a concert of the Royal Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra in New York City
For whatever reason, I didn't recognize Madeleine here at first. Must be the pulled back hair. But I'm with the program now, and I'm really liking her take on the lady tuxedo. If you ask me, when she's bringing her A game, she's got one of the best takes on young princess chic out there.

Who did you like last week?

Photos: Getty Images//Dagen/Kronprinsparet

15 February 2013

Flashback Friday: Mediterranean Engagement Rings

For the next installment in our royal engagement ring mini-series, we're heading to the shores of the Mediterranean for some of the royal (and princely) rings of their current (and former) monarchies. Ready?

Princess Grace of Monaco
It's only natural to start with the most famous of the bunch - perhaps the second most famous royal engagement ring, after the Diana/Kate sapphire gumdrop, maybe? The e-ring that Grace Kelly is best known for is the 10.47 carat emerald cut trinket from Cartier, a ring so luxurious it doubled as a film prop for her role in High Society. The ring - set in platinum, with a baguette diamond on either side of the main stone - has been on display with various exhibits on the princess in the past years. But actually, it wasn't her first: Prince Rainier originally presented Grace with a much simpler Cartier eternity band of rubies and diamonds (the colors of the Monegasque flag), which she happily showed off at their engagement announcement (that's it in the picture on the left, above). Later he upgraded to the mega-diamond; some versions of the story say Rainier quickly changed the ring after realizing the size of the rocks most Hollywood stars received, but others say that the ruby and diamond ring was a friendship ring and placeholder for the larger diamond ring, which was not ready. Either way, the famous ring is one of my very favorite royal engagement rings - big like a royal ring should be, but not ostentatiously humongous.

Princess Charlene of Monaco
When Prince Albert announced his engagement to Charlene Wittstock, a photo was released showing an enormous diamond ring (left, above). But when Charlene was finally photographed wearing the ring in real life, it appeared much smaller. Though some believe she has two rings, one large and one smaller, I think the engagement portrait suffered a bit of a Photoshop fail in an effort to add in a ring that wasn't complete (the jeweler had to be called back from vacation the day before the official announcement so that Albert could pick out a ring). The ring provided by Maison Repossi is called Téthys, a 3 carat pear-shaped diamond with brilliant diamonds embellishing the sides, set in gray gold. It remains mostly unworn by Charlene, who doesn't wear much jewelry.

Princess Caroline of Monaco
For her first marriage to Philippe Junot, Princess Caroline received a Ceylon sapphire ring with a diamond trillion on either side. Of course, she's been married twice since, so this is a thing of the past.

Tatiana Santo Domingo
There was no formal press conference to mark the engagement of Andrea Casiraghi, son of Princess Caroline, and Tatiana Santo Domingo. That means there was no "show us your ring" shot to be sure, but she was pictured with a pretty hefty ring following the engagement.

Queen Anne-Marie of Greece
We have a bit of a sapphire ring tradition in the Greek royal family as we did with the Windsors: Anne-Marie wore a double sapphire ring, each surrounded by diamonds, when her engagement was announced to Constantine of Greece.

Princess Marie-Chantal of Greece
Crown Prince Pavlos used a cabochon sapphire that belonged to his mother, Queen Anne-Marie, and added a heart-shaped diamond on the side when he proposed to Marie-Chantal Miller.

Princess Tatiana of Greece
Prince Nikolaos also proposed with a sapphire that was a gift from mum Anne-Marie, and added a diamond surround.

Princess Alexia of Greece
Alexia's ring, unlike the sapphires of her family members, is a simple and starkly modern single diamond on a wide band. Her husband Carlos Morales Quintana is an architect, which is fitting.

Queen Sofia of Spain
Some say Sofia received an engagement ring from Juan Carlos, the future King of Spain; others say it was a bracelet, which is a different engagement tradition. Some say she received both. Apparently the proposal involved JC tossing the bauble, whatever it was, at her. "Catch!" Anyway, I don't know that she wears any particular engagement jewel on a regular basis today, but she has a tendency to wear multiple bracelets and rings at any given time.

Infanta Elena of Spain
Elena turned up at the announcement of her engagement to Jaime de Marichalar wearing a ring containing a sizable diamond said to have been taken from a tiara belonging to her future husband's family. The couple are now divorced, though.

Infanta Cristina of Spain
Cristina's ring from future husband Iñaki Urdangarín was a simple eternity band. It's somewhat similar to the ring Cristina's brother Felipe would later present to his bride - which is ironic, sort of, now that Cristina and her husband are all wrapped up in the saga of the Princess of Asturias' engagement ring.

The Princess of Asturias
The eternity ring Felipe gave Letizia came from Suarez jewelers, with a reported value of €3000. In addition to the ring, which contains 16 baguette diamonds and a white gold band on either side, Felipe gave Letizia a necklace from the family collection; she gave him a pair of sapphire cufflinks and a book. Up until a few months ago, the ring and her yellow gold wedding band could both be spotted on Letizia's hand, but they have been missing lately. Though not wearing one's engagement or wedding ring is not an uncommon thing, in Letizia's case it's all tied up in the big scandal the Spanish royal family is dealing with right now.

They've been fighting scandal on a few fronts for the past year or two, really; the King was caught enjoying an extravagant trip to hunt elephants in Botswana last year, during a trying time for the Spanish economy. (Oh, and his alleged mistress was with him. Oh, and it was all supposed to be done under the rader - until he broke his hip and had to fly home for an operation. Oops.) But that's not the biggest threat to the royal goodwill that comes from the role the King played in guiding Spain to a democracy following the death of General Franco. No, the biggest problem seems to be Iñaki Urdangarín.

Since late 2011, Iñaki's been under investigation for corruption. He and his former business partner are accused of embezzling public funds, diverting them for their private profit through the Noos Institute, the supposedly nonprofit organization he once chaired which arranged events for regional governments. He's persona non grata, basically, at royal events (Cristina's not around much either these days), and he's been removed from the royal website, but the problem is not solved. The investigation keeps growing - and Letizia's ring is one of the things that's been drawn into the mess.

A book on Urdangarín published last year stated that Felipe asked his sister Cristina to pick up the engagement ring from the jeweler (this makes sense, since his engagement was top secret). But supposedly Cristina was sick, so she asked her husband to handle it. The book alleges that it was paid for with the Noos credit card...and there's your problem. Allegations go further too, saying that Iñaki may have refused to allow Felipe to pay him back. Letizia stopped wearing her rings when this came about, which is a hard coincidence to ignore. Even if this is false, the association alone seems to be enough to warrant ditching the ring. (She also stopped wearing her wedding ring, but Felipe still wears his. She avoids most jewelry, even more now that Spain's economy is hurting, and she's been seen to remove or fiddle with her rings following events with lots of handshaking. Maybe she wasn't terribly averse to going ringless, we have no way of knowing.) What a mess, huh?

Anyway. That's that for today's installment. Until next week...

Which one is your favorite here?

Photos: Palais Princier/Cartier/Getty Images/Maison Repossi/AFP/Suarez/PPE

14 February 2013

Tiara Thursday: Queen Fabiola's Spanish Wedding Gift Tiara

Queen Fabiola's Spanish Wedding Gift Tiara
When Spain's Doña Fabiola de Mora y Aragón married Belgium's King Baudouin in 1960, she received a tiara from the Spanish government. This isn't the only royal tiara out there presented by General Franco (the Spanish head of state at the time) - Queen Sofia received one as well. In Fabiola's case, it was a particularly useful gift, because Belgium was running a little low in the tiara department.
A delighted Mrs. Franco presents the gift to Fabiola
As Queen, Fabiola had just three tiaras to use: the Nine Provinces Tiara, a small diamond necklace tiara, and this one. Luckily for Fabiola, this one performs enough tricks to create two different tiaras and a necklace in three different colors. That makes it one of the most convertible tiaras out there, a fact usually mentioned when people request a feature on this baby - and this is a frequently requested Thursday treat.
The largest form of the tiara
In its full format, it features leaf-like floral ornaments on top of a tall base, resembling some of the coronets from Spanish nobility (the Duchess of Alba has been photographed in a similar piece). It's tall and imposing this way, with the feel of a crown, and it would certainly qualify as a big gun tiara. A smaller tiara can be created by assembling just the leaf elements on a base, or they can be suspended from a necklace.
The smaller form of the tiara
The centers of the leaves are single colored gems: aquamarines, green stones, or red stones. The red and green options are usually listed as rubies and emeralds, but not everyone is convinced that's correct. There's a rather surreal tale involving the previous owners which leads to doubt about the stones in this tiara.
In necklace form
So the story goes that a group of nuns owned the diadem before it was acquired for Fabiola. According to the tale, the nuns sold some of the stones to raise money for charity, and replaced them with fakes. Supposedly this was not discovered until the tiara was in Fabiola's possession, at which time a switch had to be made - which makes it seem rather unbelievable, but memorable nevertheless.
Later appearances
Fabiola has generally stayed away from tiaras in her widowhood. The last time this was worn as a tiara was in 2000 and 2001, during state visits from Spain and Sweden. She wore the tiara in the smaller aquamarine version, which seemed to be her preference. It is her personal property (unless she's already made other arrangements), and many have wondered what might become of it after Fabiola's passing. The speculation was renewed earlier this year when news emerged of a foundation formed to handle Fabiola's assets after her death. Fabiola said that it was only intended to deal with her private fortune and not any public funds, but it still caused such a stink as a tax dodging scheme that she dropped the whole idea. Who knows what that means for any other arrangements Fabiola may have made or would have made. And so when - or if, and on who - we'll see this tiara again remains a mystery.

Which version of this tiara is your favorite?

Photos: Getty Images/DPA/Corbis/Polfoto