21 May 2014

Queen Mary's Lover's Knot Tiara

Our penultimate look (this month, anyway) into the collection of Mary of Teck brings us to a piece of jewelry that, although she commissioned it herself, was actually made more famous by a subsequent wearer. The lover's knot tiara that Mary had made to resemble the tiara owned by her aunt, a Cambridge princess, is probably more recognizable to readers today as one of two tiaras worn by the late Diana, Princess of Wales. 

While the piece is definitely the most famous lover’s knot tiara today, it was originally a copy of another almost-identical sparkler that once belonged to the Cambridge family. The lover’s knot motif was very popular in the nineteenth century; the knots are the pretzel-like elements at the top of the tiara -- the part from which the pendant pearls are suspended. There are several lover's knot tiaras still existing today, including one that belongs to the Bavarian royal family and one that comes from the collection of the Patiala maharajas. Augusta of Hesse-Kassel, the first Duchess of Cambridge, received a lover’s knot tiara as a wedding gift in 1818.

Augusta loved her lover’s knot tiara, so much so that she chose to wear it at the coronation of her niece, Queen Victoria, in 1838. After Augusta’s death, the tiara was inherited by her daughter, Augusta Caroline; it was then passed along through the family before eventually being sold in 1981. But long before it was sold, the original Cambridge lover’s knot caught the eye of one of the most notorious royal jewel mongers around: Queen Mary. You’ll remember that Mary was a member of the Cambridge family herself; her mother was Princess Mary Adelaide of Cambridge, Augusta’s daughter.

The younger Mary often admired the family’s original lover’s knot tiara, which was then owned by her aunt, Augusta Caroline, the Grand Duchess of Mecklenburg-Strelitz. Since the original tiara wasn’t available for Mary to acquire, she went for the next best thing: she ordered Garrard to make a copy of it. The new lover's knot tiara was created in 1913. Originally Mary's tiara was topped with a row of upright pearls, making it even taller and grander than the present version; these are the same pearls that once sat atop the Girls of Great Britain and Ireland Tiara. Mary often wore the tiara with the upright pearls, but they were removable, and since Mary’s death, the tiara has not been worn with the upright pearls attached.

The tiara came into the collection of the current queen in 1953 on Queen Mary’s death. She wore the tiara, sans upright pearls, for many years. In 1981, she chose this tiara to give to her new daughter-in-law, Diana Spencer. Diana alternated between wearing this tiara and her family’s diamond tiara during her tenure as Princess of Wales, and several famous photographs of the princess feature the sparkler. (There were also reports that the weight of this tiara gave her headaches, which is why she often reverted to her family's tiara, though I'm not sure what the original source of that anecdote is.)

When Charles and Diana divorced in 1996, most sources state that she returned the tiara to the Queen. Basically, if that's true, although the Queen gave the tiara to her daughter-in-law, she essentially gave it to the Princess of Wales, not Lady Diana Spencer. When Diana vacated that title, she also apparently vacated the lover's knot tiara. She was able to keep personal gifts, but not official ones, and that apparently included this tiara. Other sources suggest that the tiara wasn't returned to the royal vaults until after Diana's death the following year. I'm not an expert on the dispersal of Diana's jewels following her death, and I welcome any and all reliable sources that would help clear up exactly how the lover's knot tiara returned to the Queen's collection. Regardless, virtually every source I've read agrees that that's where it is today.

Since then, the tiara has not been seen in public, though it remains a part of the queen’s collection. So here's the $25,000 question: who's going to wear it next? Will it be the current Duchess of Cambridge, Kate? That would be a nifty tribute to the Cambridge family who owned the original version of the tiara -- but with the comparisons between Diana and Kate already at almost overwhelming levels, would she want to wear a tiara so associated with her late mother-in-law? So maybe, then, Harry's wife will eventually be the one? But she'll certainly face the same comparisons, especially if (as Harry apparently prefers) she's a blond. Maybe it'll wait yet another generation? Will it be Diana's granddaughter (should she have one) who one day brings the lover's knot back out in public? I, for one, can't wait to find out! [1]

UPDATE: The Duchess of Cambridge debuted the Lover's Knot Tiara in December 2015 at the annual diplomatic reception. Click here for more details!

1. A version of this post originally appeared at A Tiara a Day in July 2013.