01 September 2016

Tiara Thursday: The Spencer Tiara, Revisited

As the 19th anniversary of her passing is marked, we’ll revisit a tiara she made famous…

The Spencer Tiara belongs to the family of the late Diana, Princess of Wales, but it was worn so often by her that some people assume it is a royal piece (see: the many instances of this tiara appearing on lists as a possible option for the Duchess of Cambridge). It’s not the only tiara owned by the Spencer family, but it is by far the best known, thanks to that royal association.

The Spencer Tiara
The tiara is made from pieces of varying ages and different jewelers. The oldest pieces are said to have come from a tiara that belonged to Frances, Viscountess Montagu, and were passed down to Lady Sarah Spencer (1838-1919), daughter of the 4th Earl Spencer. It was also Lady Sarah Spencer that gave the center element of the tiara as a wedding gift to Lady Cynthia Hamilton when she married Viscount Althorp, the future 7th Earl Spencer, in 1919. Cynthia was Diana’s grandmother and Lady of the Bedchamber to Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother. In the 1930s, Garrard was commissioned to make four additional pieces, and the tiara’s final shape came together.

Video: Charles and Diana's wedding
That final shape includes diamonds in silver settings mounted in gold in various floral shapes: stylized tulips, star-shaped flowers, and scrolling foliage. It was worn by both of Lady Diana Spencer’s older sisters, Jane and Sarah, at their weddings; in 1989, it was worn by Victoria Lockwood for her wedding to Diana’s brother, Charles, 9th Earl Spencer.

The most memorable wedding appearance, obviously – and the appearance that brought this tiara to the public’s attention – was on Diana herself, for her 1981 wedding to the Prince of Wales. She wore it with her blusher veil attached separately to the front instead of dragging over the top of the tiara. She kept the veil down throughout her wedding ceremony and had the makeup artist cut the front portion off while signing the register.

1983, with sapphires that were a wedding gift from the Saudi crown prince
As the Princess of Wales, Diana continued to wear her family’s tiara, borrowing it first from her father and then from her brother (an arrangement that was rumored to have caused some family friction). The Queen loaned her the Cambridge Lover’s Knot Tiara, which was heavier and trickier to wear because of those moving pearl pendants, so the Spencer Tiara was a lighter and easier second option. These were the only two tiaras she wore.

Video: Diana wears the tiara in Canada in 1983, on her 22nd birthday
It’s no surprise this tiara embedded itself so thoroughly in so many memories. The design is feminine and whimsical, as though it might once have been a doodle around the edges of a fairy tale page – the perfect accompaniment for a young princess in a poufy evening gown. I think it did her a bit of a disservice later on, though, once the poufy gowns were gone and that young princess had matured and transformed. (And on a totally superficial note – much more our wheelhouse here – some of her later hairstyles managed to cover up a significant number of those diamonds.)

1993, wearing the Art Deco Emerald Choker
The tiara went back to the Spencer family and was sent on tour along with Diana’s wedding gown for some years, so perhaps some of you have seen it in person. We originally covered it in 2011, when it made your list of favorite tiaras, and I wonder if it would still make that list.

Always a favorite, or no?

One little postscript here, because though we haven’t seen the Spencer Tiara used since the days of Diana, it does have a doppelgänger on the current royal scene.
Princess Ursula of Bavaria has attended a couple of events wearing a tiara that always makes me do a serious double take. Scroll tiaras never really go out of fashion, I guess.