15 November 2012

Tiara Thursday: The Modern Sapphire Tiara

The Modern Sapphire Tiara
This tiara goes by several names, often the George VI Sapphire Tiara or some version of that. But while it does belong in an assembled parure of sorts with the George VI sapphires – a necklace and earrings given to the Queen by her father as a wedding present, which you can read more about on the Jewel Vault – this was a separate piece added by the Queen. Though the origins of the piece itself are not modern, it is a modern addition to the Queen's collection, hence the name I use: the Modern Sapphire Tiara.
Princess Louise of Belgium
This tiara traces back to Princess Louise of Belgium (1858-1924), who was the daughter of King Leopold II and the wife of Prince Ferdinand Philipp of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha. Louise can be seen in photographs wearing what we know today as the Queen’s tiara, but she wears it as either a necklace or a dress ornament (it’s pinned to the neck of her dress in the above photograph). When you look at the current tiara, you can indeed detect a bit of pointiness - the tell-tale look of a converted necklace instead of something designed specifically to be a tiara.
Louise was a scandalous figure with a string of lovers who left her husband and ended up estranged from her family and in serious financial trouble. She had to sell jewels, among other things, to recover her debt. Presumably, this is how the sapphire and diamond necklace ended up in the general marketplace, where it was ultimately acquired for the Queen and turned into a tiara.
The tiara and a bracelet were added to the Queen’s collection in 1963 to round out the assembled parure of sapphires. Together with the Burmese Ruby Tiara, it is one of the more significant jewels the Queen has added to her collection during her reign. And while you can quibble with the success of either design – personally, I harbor animosity towards the Burmese, but have always quite liked this one – I think this add was a smart one. The most significant royal sapphire set was the Cambridge sapphires, and Queen Mary gave those to the Kent branch of the family. Creating a full sapphire set filled a hole in the collection, just as adding the Burmese tiara filled a ruby void in the Queen's collection at the time.

What do you think: is this a successful addition to the collection?

Photos: Getty Images/Corbis