31 January 2014

Tiara Thursday (on a Friday): The Malteser Tiara

A day late, but we'll make up for that because this is a curious one:
The Malteser Tiara
As a diadem for use at state banquets and similar events, the Malteser or Maltese Cross Tiara is a bit of an oddity: four diamond crosses pattée on a diamond bandeau, sometimes worn by Queen Sonja with one cross as a brooch and the three remaining crosses at the front of the diadem, and sometimes worn as the bandeau alone (both options shown above). The cross motif is one that feels more appropriate for a coronet or crown to me, something with more symbolic purpose - and lo and behold, that is indeed how this tiara got its start. Sometimes you need the full history to make sense of a piece, and this is one such case.
Queen Alexandra with the diadem (she is also wearing Queen Victoria's Small Diamond Crown)
It was originally a British diadem, made for Queen Alexandra not long after her husband, King Edward VII, died. It was created as a subsitute for the George IV State Diadem, which she had to pass on to Queen Mary as the new queen consort, and carries the same symbolic feel. As worn by Alexandra, the removable crosses of the Malteser were separated by removable diamond fleur de lys motifs. The Cullinan VI stone, the marquise cut 11.5 carat diamond which was given to Alexandra as a gift by her husband, was detachably set in the front cross. (For more on the Cullinan Diamond and all its pieces, click here.)
A close up of Queen Alexandra's version. Again, Queen Victoria's Small Diamond Crown is behind.
When Queen Alexandra died, the circlet went to her daughter, Queen Maud of Norway. (The Cullinan VI and one large brilliant, however, stayed in Britain.) The tiara is still in Norway, and the Norwegian ladies have altered it to their tastes. The fleurs de lys were removed, and Maud used it with the four crosses only. She wore it back in Britain for the 1937 coronation of King George VI, which was a particularly appropriate choice.
Queen Maud
Today, the Malteser Tiara is worn by Queen Sonja. Sonja has taken to wearing three of the crosses at the very front, with the fourth used as a brooch; she also uses just the bandeau without any crosses. Sonja's daughter, Princess Märtha Louise, borrowed the bandeau when she was younger.
Queen Sonja in the current version with three crosses (and one as a brooch); Princess Märtha Louise in the bandeau only
It's easy to understand why the fleurs de lys were removed, and why Queen Sonja has played around with the cross placement to make this less crown-like; Maud and her husband Haakon VII wore crowns for their coronation in 1906, but the practice has since been discontinued. Unfortunately, I think you just can't shake that feeling entirely, and what you're left with is the rare tiara that might be more at home on the set of a film about the Crusades.

What say you: just right, or just odd?

P.S.: Yes, there are two posts today, so keep scrolling!

Photos: Scanpix/ANP/Royal Collection/Corbis