12 May 2014

Queen Mary's Fringe Tiara

Our second foray into the extensive jewelry collection of our Magpie of the Month, Mary of Teck, takes us to the tiara that became an important bridal diadem for the Windsor women in the twentieth century. Often confused with the many other fringe tiaras and necklaces in the royal collection, Queen Mary's fringe tiara is a piece that was created on her own commission.

This tiara is often misidentifed as the “George III Fringe Tiara” or the "Hanoverian Fringe Tiara." But don’t let the internet (and even some books) fool you — it’s not the same tiara! The so-called George III or Hanoverian Fringe was a fringe necklace that belonged to Queen Adelaide, the wife of William IV. It was worn in various ways (including as a tiara) by Queen Victoria, Queen Alexandra, Queen Mary, and Queen Elizabeth, and it is now the property of the current queen. But it’s a totally different piece. Hugh Roberts called Queen Adelaide's fringe a tiara of "less finely graduated form," noting that it is "now set as a necklace" (and presumably cannot be easily converted to be worn as a tiara). Queen Mary's fringe (worn above by the Queen Mother), on the other hand, he describes as a "new, smaller, neater and more modern-looking tiara" [1].

This fringe tiara is much newer than Queen Adelaide’s necklace. It was made of diamonds set in gold and silver by E. Wolff & Co. for Garrard in 1919. The diamonds are a bit older than that, though; they were a part of a necklace made by Collingwood that Queen Victoria gave to May as a wedding gift in 1893. But Queen Mary the jewelry innovator struck again, dismantling that gift and re-using the diamonds to make this fringe. We've talked in the past about how incredibly popular these diamond fringe tiaras were after they became fashionable at the imperial court of the Romanovs, and the current Windsor collections reflect that popularity. Along with this fringe tiara and Queen Adelaide's fringe necklace/tiara, the present Queen also has Queen Alexandra's fringe kokoshnik tiara, plus a diamond fringe necklace that once belonged to Princess Victoria (sister of George V) and the diamond fringe necklace that she received as a wedding present in 1947.

Mary gave the tiara to her daughter-in-law, Queen Elizabeth, in 1936; it was actually Elizabeth who loaned the tiara to her daughter, the future Elizabeth II, to wear at her wedding in 1947. By now many of you have probably heard the famous (and true) story about the tiara mishap at that wedding: when the tiara was placed on the bride’s head, it snapped and had to be quickly mended by a jeweler from Garrard before she could leave for Westminster Abbey. In the close-up photo of the bride above, you can see a small space between the center fringe and the larger spike immediately to its right; that space is a result of the hasty repair of the frame.

The second Windsor bride to don the tiara was Princess Anne, who wore the fringe at her wedding to Mark Phillips in 1973. Again, it was the Queen Mum who loaned the piece to her granddaughter. In the past, there's been speculation over why Elizabeth II didn't wear her wedding tiara regularly after her wedding day; the simplest answer is that it remained in her mother's jewel collection until the Queen Mother's death in 2002. Today, Elizabeth II is the owner of the piece, and in recent years, she has occasionally worn the fringe at white-tie events and in portraits -- notably, in New Zealand's Diamond Jubilee portrait, in which the tiara was misidentified as (you guessed it) the Hanoverian Fringe. D'oh! [2].

1. See The Queen's Diamonds, p. 188.
2. A version of this post originally appeared at A Tiara a Day in May 2013.