25 January 2014

Saturday Sparkler: The Nine Provinces Tiara

Astrid of Belgium wears the Nine Provinces Tiara [1]
For a royal house that has reigned over a country for more than a century, the Belgian royal family has a surprisingly small number of tiaras in their vaults. There are several reasons for this -- pieces have been sold, inherited by women who married into other families, etc. -- but the family has managed to hang on to one of their sparkliest heirloom pieces: the Nine Provinces Tiara, which is worn by the nation's queen.

Astrid of Belgium [2]
The tiara, which first belonged to Princess Astrid of Sweden, is approaching its ninetieth birthday. When Astrid married the future King Leopold III of Belgium, the sparkler was among her wedding presents. It was made in 1926 by Van Bever, a Belgian jeweler, and given to Astrid on behalf of the Belgian people. The original tiara was a meander bandeau topped by a series of diamonds on spikes. It was able to be worn with or without the top pieces from the start.

But Astrid innovated, adding a series of interlocking diamond arches over the top of the large diamonds, giving the entire tiara a far more solid appearance. Today, it is generally worn as a complete piece, although Queen Paola has worn the meander base of the tiara alone as a choker necklace. Additionally, the piece can be worn with the arches but without the diamond spikes, making it one of the most versatile royal tiaras in Belgian hands.

After Astrid's death in 1935, her husband, King Leopold III, inherited the tiara. His second wife, Lilian, never wore the complete piece, though she did wear various components of the tiara, including using the meander section as a bracelet. But the tiara itself has only been worn by Belgian queens. When Fabiola de Mora y Aragón married Leopold and Astrid's son, King Baudouin, in 1960, she received the piece, even wearing it on her wedding day.

When Baudouin died unexpectedly in 1993, the dowager queen passed the tiara to the new queen consort, Paola, who wore it until last year, when her husband abdicated in favor of their elder son. Today, the tiara is worn by Queen Mathilde, the first Belgian-born queen of the country. She posed in the tiara for her first official portrait as consort, although she chose to wear only the meander bandeau rather than the full version of the tiara. She'll continue to have sole use of the tiara until the day that her elder daughter, Elisabeth, becomes queen. She'll be the first ever queen regnant in Belgium should the monarchy survive to her accession [3].

1. Photograph available via Wikimedia Commons; source here.
2. Detail of Herman Richir's Portrait de la Reine Astrid; source here.
3. A version of this post originally appeared at A Tiara a Day in June 2013.