16 November 2017

Tiara Thursday: Queen Mary's Fringe Tiara, Revisited

The diamond fringe tiara, based on the traditional Russian kokoshnik headdress, is an essential tiara design. Given how prevalent the design has been, it's no surprise the huge British royal collection includes multiple examples; there are at least three fringe necklaces and/or tiaras in the Queen's possession today. It's also no surprise that these examples are easy to get mixed up.

Queen Mary's Fringe Tiara
Queen Mary's Fringe Tiara is probably the most famous British fringe, thanks to its use as Queen Elizabeth II's wedding tiara in 1947 (although it didn’t exactly behave during its shining moment, managing to break on the young bride – but more on that in a second). Queen Mary had the tiara created after another diamond fringe in the collection apparently didn't suit her needs. The two fringes are still regularly confused.

Two different fringe tiaras: Queen Mary wears Queen Adelaide's Fringe Necklace as a tiara on the left and she wears Queen Mary's Fringe Tiara on the right
Queen Mary originally used a piece called Queen Adelaide's Fringe Necklace. Adelaide's Fringe was made in 1831 for the wife of William IV from diamonds previously used by George III. That necklace was inherited by Queen Victoria, who used it as a tiara and a dress ornament. Queen Victoria designated Queen Adelaide's Fringe as an heirloom of the Crown and it has been worn by queens ever since: Queen Alexandra used it as a dress ornament, Queen Mary wore it as a tiara right after George V took the throne, Queen Elizabeth (later the Queen Mother) used it as a necklace. It is now with the Queen, who is not known to have worn it publicly. Because of the confusion with Adelaide's necklace/tiara, Queen Mary's Fringe Tiara has often been referred to as the King George III Fringe Tiara or the Hanoverian Fringe Tiara. (The difference between the two was not really clarified until the publication of The Queen's Diamonds by Hugh Roberts in 2012.)

A sketch of the necklace dismantled to make Queen Mary's Fringe Tiara, a wedding gift from Queen Victoria; Mary wore it in her hair on her wedding day (right), and it is strikingly similar to another wedding gift, the Surrey Fringe Tiara.
Despite having Queen Adelaide's Fringe at her disposal, Queen Mary decided to commission a new piece that was a little tidier in the graduation of its bars and had fewer diamond bars overall, likely making it easier to wear. Queen Mary's Fringe Tiara was made by E. Wolff & Co. for Garrard & Co. in 1919 and includes 47 diamond bars separated by smaller diamond spikes. As was her usual practice, Mary had an existing jewel dismantled to make the new piece: a Collingwood & Co. stylized diamond fringe necklace she received as a wedding gift from Queen Victoria in 1893. Mary's Fringe Tiara can be removed from its frame for use as a necklace.

Queen Elizabeth
In 1936, Queen Mary gave her fringe tiara to Queen Elizabeth, who wore it regularly during George VI's reign. Queen Elizabeth loaned the tiara to her daughter, Princess Elizabeth (now, of course, Queen Elizabeth II), to wear when she married Lieutenant Philip Mountbatten on November 20, 1947.

Princess Elizabeth
It turned out to be a bit of a problematic wedding tiara selection. On the big day, the tiara suddenly broke while the bride was getting ready. The Queen herself can be overheard telling the story in the video below, while touring the Buckingham Palace exhibition of the Duchess of Cambridge’s wedding gown in 2011, with the Duchess and officials from the Royal Collection.

After the Duchess of Cambridge explains that her wedding team had to experiment with ways to attach her tiara and veil, ultimately sewing the veil to the Cartier Halo Tiara (to which the Queen responds, “Oh yes, one has to do that, in case it comes off,”) the Queen tells the story of how she suddenly learned Queen Mary’s Fringe Tiara was also a necklace, at the most inopportune time: “The catch, which I didn’t know existed, it suddenly went [gestures with her hands]. And I didn’t know it was a necklace, you see…I thought I’d broken it…we stuck it all together again, but I was rather alarmed…” According to the book Garrard: The Crown Jewelers for 150 Years, the mother of the bride kept the calm by remarking, “We have two hours and there are other tiaras.”

Luckily, being a VIP royal bride affords you all the help you need in just such a pickle, and Garrard was able to solve the problem. “I think he taped up the spring,” the Queen recalled. The Garrard book reports that the frame snapped and was taken by police escort to their workroom for a quick fix. You can tell that the tiara had problems in the wedding pictures, because its strict symmetrical design is a little bit off at the center.

Princess Anne
That little mishap didn't put the royal family off of using Queen Mary's Fringe Tiara as a wedding tiara, although it did ensure that the Crown Jeweler was on hand next time, just in case. Princess Anne borrowed the tiara from Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother for her wedding to Captain Mark Phillips in 1973.

Double fringes: Queen Elizabeth II wears Queen Mary's Fringe Tiara and the City of London Fringe Necklace. (A complete rundown of the jewels in this portrait can be found here at the Vault.)
The tiara then disappeared into the Queen Mother's vault for several decades as she spent her later years switching between the Greville Tiara and the Oriental Circlet. Queen Mary's Fringe Tiara was inherited by Queen Elizabeth II on her mother's death in 2002. She has worn it a couple of times since, but it hasn't unseated any of her regulars as a favorite.

It’s such a versatile piece and I always think fringes have a modern edge, despite the fact that this one's a century old. My diamond fringe-loving heart would love to see it used more often, and I continue to cross my fingers that it will become one of her increasingly frequent loans to family members.

Who would you like to see give this one a spin?