21 April 2016

Tiara Thursday: The Girls of Great Britain & Ireland Tiara, Revisited

The 90th birthday of Queen Elizabeth II falls on a Thursday, so how could we not use this auspicious occasion to revisit her very favorite tiara? It’s practically our sworn duty. (Today’s the big day, so happy birthday, Your Maj! Full birthday event and portrait coverage happening over at the Vault.)

The Girls of Great Britain and Ireland Tiara
The Girls of Great Britain and Ireland Tiara was one of many wedding gifts given to Princess Victoria Mary of Teck (known by many as May, and later as Queen Mary) when she married the future King George V in 1893. You’ll never guess who gave it to her...that’s right, it was the girls of Great Britain and Ireland. Specifically, a committee of them chaired by Lady Eva Greville (not the same lady as the Greville bequest, mind you). The committee raised around £5,000 and purchased this tiara from Garrard before donating the remainder of the funds to charity at the Princess’ request. Quoted in The Queen’s Diamonds by Hugh Roberts, Queen Mary wrote to Lady Eva that the tiara “will ever be one of my most valued wedding gifts.” She did not lie.

Queen Mary, wearing the tiara with the original pearls
Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons (1, 2)
The tiara is a diamond design of festoons and scrolls set on a bandeau base of round and lozenge-shaped diamonds. It was originally topped with nine large pearl finials, and could be worn as a necklace or used in a smaller coronet style. In the hands of Queen Mary, always fond of a jewel makeover, the original version did not last forever. In 1914, she removed the pearl finials (they went to the new Cambridge Lover's Knot Tiara) and replaced them with simpler diamond collets (taken from the dismantled Surrey Fringe Tiara); she also removed the base of the tiara and used it as a separate headband.

The tiara, as given to Princess Elizabeth
In 1947, Mary gave the tiara to her granddaughter Princess Elizabeth as a wedding present, and the Queen is said to affectionately call it “Granny’s tiara” to this day. Right away, with tiara occasions coming back in vogue after the war, this became a frequently worn piece.

The Queen wears the tiara without the bandeau base and with her sapphire necklace and earrings from her father
Associated Press via Wikimedia Commons
Though the bandeau base was also given to her as a wedding present, the Queen has indicated that she did not know the two pieces belonged together until after Queen Mary’s death in 1953. She told the story while she was filmed sitting for a portrait: “When my grandmother gave me the tiara for a wedding present, I only discovered after I had succeeded and got into her safe, that I realized she’d taken the base off it…So it’s back on again…I suppose that she thought, you know, the child’s only 21, doesn’t need a very big one. And anyway, she had mountains of hair, too, she had that very tall way of wearing her hair, so she needed something very high.” (You can see the exchange, with now-disgraced entertainer and painter Rolf Harris, in this video.)

At the White House, 2007
White House/Eric Draper/Wikimedia Commons
In 1969, the Queen added the base back on to the tiara, and it’s been the same ever since. Though she'd already been queen for some time when she added it back in, it seems a fitting queenly makeover. 

“The Queen is the only person who can put on a tiara with one hand, while walking down stairs,” Princess Margaret once said. Of all the tiaras in her collection, there’s none the Queen has more experience attaching than the Girls Tiara, which is said to be light and easy to wear. “Granny’s tiara” has appeared on stamps, on currency, and in portraits. It was the tiara of choice for the Queen’s historic 2011 state visit to Ireland, as it has been for countless other state visits and gala occasions. Thanks to the frequency with which the Queen wears it, the Girls of Great Britain and Ireland Tiara is as close to iconic as a tiara can get.

Video: The tiara sparkles at the 2014 Singapore state banquet. See a complete breakdown of her jewels at this event here

We last discussed the tiara when it came out as the winner in a little poll of your favorite tiaras in 2011. It was and is my absolute favorite too; I fall in love with new tiaras all the time, but in the end, I can never argue with the perfection of this diamond beauty.

Your favorite: yes or no?

Photos: Royal Collection/Queen Elizabeth II unless otherwise noted