26 May 2014

Queen Mary's Honeysuckle Tiara

Happy birthday to our Magpie of the Month (and, really, the patron saint of royal jewels), Queen Mary! Her Serene Highness Princess Victoria Mary of Teck was born on May 26, 1867. Even though she was technically a German princess (her father was the Duke of Teck, who was a sort-of member of the royal family of W├╝rttemberg), her mother was a British princess, and May was born in Kensington Palace. And we all know what her ultimate fate was: she was the wife of one king and the mother of two more, and the jewelry worn today by members of the British royal family would look a lot different had she not had her royal paws on the collection.

Mary wears the original version of the honeysuckle tiara for a postcard portrait [1]

Today, we're looking at our last spotlight piece (for this month, anyway) from Mary's own collection: her diamond honeysuckle tiara. The provenance of this tiara was a bit fuzzy for years. Some thought the piece was one of the items that came from the estate of Tsarina Marie Feodorovna of Russia (sister of Queen Alexandra). But although the piece does resemble some Romanov tiaras, that wasn't the case. It was actually commissioned by Mary herself shortly after she became queen.

Mary wears the taller original version of the tiara [2]

The tiara was made by E. Wolff & Co. on a commission from Garrard. Wolff & Co. also made several other major tiaras for the family, including the Cambridge Lover’s Knot, the Girls of Great Britain and Ireland, and the Connaught Diamond (now a part of the Bernadotte collection in Sweden). The original version of the honeysuckle tiara, completed in early 1914, featured a taller central element; Mary later had it shortened to its current iteration. The tiara also used some recycled royal diamonds, taken from the County of Surrey Tiara, which had been dismantled (and also used in the remodeling of the GGB&I Tiara).

The tiara has been an adaptable piece from the start, as the central element of the tiara is able to accommodate several different stones. Originally, it was designed to fit three different pieces: the Cullinan V diamond, a sapphire and diamond ornament, and a diamond element featuring a pink stone. That pink gemstone has been called a pink topaz, but it seems actually to be a kunzite, a stone that had been discovered only a decade before the tiara was made.

But although the tiara could be worn in so many different configurations, Mary didn’t really keep it all that long. In 1935, she offered the tiara to her new daughter-in-law, Lady Alice Montagu Douglas Scott, when she married Prince Henry, Duke of Gloucester. But before Mary gave the tiara away, she had a new diamond piece, which also features a honeysuckle design motif, created to fit the tiara’s central space. (You can see that extra diamond piece in the tiara, worn by the current Duchess of Gloucester, in the photo above.)

The Cullinan V, the sapphire, and the kunzite stayed with Mary, while the new diamond honeysuckle piece was given to Alice along with the tiara. In 1953, Alice inherited the kunzite element following Mary’s death. Exactly where the current third option, an emerald and diamond piece, comes into the picture is unclear, but those three — the honeysuckle, the kunzite, and the emerald — are the ones that remain with the tiara today.

Princess Alice eventually gave the tiara to her own daughter-in-law, Birgitte (the current Duchess of Gloucester), who has worn the sparkler in all of its forms for a number of years. Having the central element as a convertible piece is especially useful because it means the tiara can be coordinated with different colors of gala dresses; if you’re worried that your kunzite tiara will clash with your red gown, you can always swap it out. I do love when a tiara pulls its weight! And apparently, so does Birgitte. Even though she's a bit spoiled for choice, with six tiaras (yes, six!) in her collection [3], the honeysuckle is the piece that she's photographed in most often [4].

1. Image in the public domain due to age; source here.
2. Cropped version of an image in the public domain due to age; source here.
3. Because I know someone will ask, the six tiaras owned by the Duke and Duchess of Gloucester are: Queen Mary's honeysuckle tiara, Princess Marie Louise's Indian-inspired Cartier tiara, Queen Mary's Iveagh tiara, Queen Mary's turquoise tiara, Princess Alice's emerald and diamond tiara, and the all-diamond tiara last seen as a bridal tiara on the Countess of Ulster.
4. A version of this post originally appeared at A Tiara a Day in August 2013.