25 October 2012

Tiara Thursday: The Five Aquamarine Tiara

The pre-wedding gala dinner in Luxembourg was great, wasn’t it? Of the night’s tiara surprises, the new-to-her tiara on the Countess of Wessex seems to have caused the most widespread confusion, so we’ll try to tackle that today. I’m calling it the Five Aquamarine Tiara, a name which is totally boring but conveys about all that we know for certain about this tiara: that it currently features five aquamarines set in a diamond surround. (It also differentiates this tiara from some of the other aquamarine tiaras in the family, which is key because this is about to get confusing.)
The Five Aquamarine Tiara
Sophie’s tiara was once worn by the Queen, but it was a piece that many jewel watchers (including me) assumed had been dismantled. Its reappearance has sparked a reexamination of what we do (and do not) know about the aquamarines in the Queen’s collection. And so before we can get to the Five Aquamarine Tiara, we must briefly discuss another one: the Queen’s Brazilian Aquamarine Tiara.
The Brazilian Aquamarine Tiara
Queen Elizabeth has an entire parure of aquamarines assembled from gifts from Brazil early in her reign, and it is headlined by a tiara she commissioned from Garrard. The last additions to this tiara were the fan-like scroll motifs between the larger stones. Of this last addition, the Royal Collection says: “In 1971 the tiara was adapted to take four scroll ornaments from an aquamarine and diamond jewel given to The Queen by the Governor of São Paulo in 1968.” Leslie Field’s The Queen’s Jewels adds that the jewel in question was described at the time as a "v-shaped ‘hair ornament’”.
The fan/scroll motifs in question
The question of which jewel was added to the Brazilian tiara is where the Five Aquamarine Tiara enters the discussion. It was worn by the Queen during a tour of Canada in 1970, and hadn’t been seen since then. The fact that it is aquamarine, could potentially be described as a “v-shaped hair ornament”, and was last seen in 1970 (prior to the 1971 changes) added up to an assumption that this was the gift from São Paulo that had been dismantled.
The Queen in the Five Aquamarine Tiara
Obviously, we now have to rethink that connection. I have seen people interpret the previously assumed connection between these two tiaras to mean that Sophie’s tiara is composed of pieces from the Brazilian Aquamarine Tiara in some sort of convertible manner, but if you look closely at the form of the Five Aquamarine Tiara and the “scrolls” in question on the Brazilian, you will see that this can’t be the case. The pieces are completely different. I’ve also seen people assume that the Brazilian tiara has been dismantled to recreate the Five Aquamarine Tiara, which I don't believe could be true either - the stones are different sizes, and the Queen still uses the Brazilian tiara.
The provenance of Sophie’s tiara remains a mystery. It’s possible, I suppose, that it could still be part of the Brazilian aquamarine set – perhaps it was once a larger tiara and was cut down to provide for the Brazilian Aquamarine Tiara, or perhaps there were more gifts included that we don’t know about.

But the theory that I am increasingly leaning toward is the one of total mystery: this tiara never had anything to do with the gifts from Brazil, and came from somewhere else. Maybe it has something to do with Canada (given the Queen’s initial outing), maybe it was a gift or inheritance from elsewhere, maybe it was one of Queen Mary’s treasures. A mystery.
Wherever it came from, it has now graced the Countess of Wessex’s head, we assume as a loan from the Queen. It’s sort of funny to me that this is the tiara she was allowed to wear, since she already has an aquamarine tiara, what I call the Wessex Aquamarine Tiara. (But then again I suppose when the Queen offers something to you, the proper response is “Thank you, ma’am”, and not, say, “Can I see something in an emerald?”) It suits her, though it has a particularly high base just like her wedding tiara, which can be unattractive when her tiara hair isn’t just so. Sophie’s necklace at the Luxembourg gala dinner was also on loan from the Queen, the King Faisal Necklace (click here to read about that on the Queen’s Jewel Vault). Her Majesty loaning things out is not an everyday occurrence, so this makes another interesting development apart from the tiara.

What’s your theory about this tiara?

Photos: Cour grand ducale/Getty Images/Rex