21 June 2014

Saturday Sparkler Special: Spanish Royal Tiaras

Queen Letizia and Queen Sofia of Spain

In the wake of King Felipe VI of Spain's proclamation on Thursday, there's been quite a bit of talk about the new jewelry that Queen Letizia will have access to in her new royal role. Some have even gone so far as to discuss the "crown jewels" that Letizia would "inherit" from Queen Sofia.

Here's the deal, though -- the tiaras, necklaces, and other jewels that the royal ladies in Spain wear aren't crown jewels. None of them are even state property. Every single piece belongs either to the family (in a sort of trust situation) or to the wearers themselves. In the interest of setting the record on Letizia's jewels straight -- and to let us marvel at royal tiaras, because what's more fun than that? -- here's the lowdown on each of the royal tiaras in Spain, including who owns them, who made them, and what happens to them post-abdication.

Queen Sofia at the wedding of Crown Prince Frederik of Denmark in 2004

The Pearl and Diamond Tiara

Owner: King Juan Carlos and Queen Sofia
Maker: Cartier, ca. 1920s
Materials: diamonds, pearls, platinum
Wearers: Queen Sofia, Infanta Cristina
Post-abdication: Still belongs to Juan Carlos and Sofia

The Cartier Pearl and Diamond Tiara is a piece from the collection of Queen Ena, the British princess who married King Alfonso XIII in 1906. (Ena is the great-grandmother of King Felipe VI.) In the 1920s, she had the jewelers at Cartier dismantle a tiara given to her by her mother-in-law as a wedding present. They reused the gemstones to construct this new tiara, which originally also had emeralds that could be worn in place of the pearls. Ena left the tiara to her daughter, Infanta Maria Cristina; however, after Maria Cristina's death in 1996, it was reacquired by King Juan Carlos for Queen Sofia. She lent the tiara to her daughter, Infanta Cristina, in 2010 for the wedding of Crown Princess Victoria of Sweden.

Juan Carlos and Sofia at their wedding in Athens in 1962

The Prussian Tiara

Owner: Queen Sofia
Maker: Koch, ca. 1913
Materials: diamonds, platinum
Wearers: Queen Sofia, Queen Letizia, Infanta Elena, Infanta Cristina
Post-abdication: Still belongs to Sofia

One of the most important tiaras in Queen Sofia's collection is her wedding tiara. Made in 1913 by the German jewelry firm Koch, it was a wedding gift from Kaiser Wilhelm II (Sofia's great-grandfather) to his daughter, Princess Viktoria Luise of Prussia (Sofia's grandmother). Viktoria Luise wore the tiara on her wedding day. She later gave the tiara to her daughter, Friederike, who married King Paul of Greece. Sofia received the tiara from her mother, and she wore it when she married Infante Juan Carlos of Spain in Athens in 1962. She's worn it throughout her reign, and she's lent it to her daughters and to her daughter-in-law. Letizia followed in her mother-in-law's (and great-grandmother-in-law's) footsteps, borrowing the piece to wear as her bridal tiara in 2004.

Queen Sofia at a state banquet for the president of Lebanon in 2009

The Diamond Floral Tiara

Owner: Queen Sofia
Maker: J.P. Collins, ca. 1879
Materials: diamonds
Wearers: Queen Sofia, Queen Letizia, Infanta Elena, Infanta Cristina
Post-abdication: Still belongs to Sofia

One of the oldest heirloom tiaras in Spanish royal hands, King Alfonso XII of Spain ordered this tiara from J.P. Collins in 1879 as a wedding present for his bride, Archduchess Maria Christina of Austria. (For years, Mellerio dits Meller was pegged as the house responsible for this tiara, but the Spanish court later confirmed Collins, a British jewelry firm, as the maker.) The tiara was sold when the royal family went into exile in the 1930s. In 1962, the piece was purchased by Francisco Franco, the Spanish head of state, as a wedding present from the people of Spain to Princess Sophia of Greece and Denmark, the new wife of Infante Juan Carlos. Sofia has owned the tiara ever since, though she has been generous in sharing it with her daughters (one of whom, Cristina, wore this as her wedding tiara) and her daughter-in-law.

Queen Sofia at a state banquet for the president of France in 2009

The Niarchos Rubies

Owner: Queen Sofia
Maker: Van Cleef & Arpels, ca. 1960s
Materials: rubies, diamonds, gold
Wearers: Queen Sofia
Post-abdication: Still belongs to Sofia

Another one of Queen Sofia's wedding presents was this parure of Van Cleef & Arpels ruby jewels, given to her by the Greek shipping magnate Stavros Niarchos. Sofia has worn the tiara in two versions: either with a single row of rubies and diamonds or a double strand. To my knowledge, she has not lent the tiara from this set to any of the other Spanish royal ladies.

Queen Sofia at King Carl XVI Gustaf of Spain's 50th birthday celebrations in 1996

The Mellerio Shell Tiara

Owner: Queen Sofia
Maker: Mellerio dits Meller, ca. 1867
Materials: diamonds, pearls
Wearers: Queen Sofia, Queen Letizia, Infanta Elena, Infanta Cristina, Infanta Margarita
Post-abdication: Still belongs to Sofia

Sofia's wedding present from her parents-in-law is the oldest tiara in her collection. The shell tiara was made by Mellerio in 1867 for Queen Isabella II of Spain, who gave it to her daughter, Infanta Isabella, as a wedding present. Infanta Isabella bequeathed the tiara to her nephew, King Alfonso XIII. His wife, Queen Ena, wore the tiara occasionally; she also loaned it to her daughter-in-law, Princess Maria Mercedes, the wife of her son, Juan (better known to us as the Count of Barcelona). In 1962, Ena, Juan, and Maria Mercedes jointly gifted the tiara to Sofia. She wore it for the first time at her pre-wedding ball, and she's gotten a lot of use out of it in the years since. She's also loaned it to her sister-in-law, Infanta Margarita, both of her daughters, and her daughter-in-law, Letizia.

Queen Sofia at a state banquet for the king of Saudi Arabia in 2007

The Diamond Loop Tiara

Owner: King Juan Carlos and Queen Sofia
Maker: Cartier, date unknown
Materials: diamonds, pearls, platinum
Wearers: Queen Sofia
Post-abdication: Still belongs to Juan Carlos and Sofia

One of the newer additions to Sofia's tiara arsenal is another heirloom piece. The pearl and diamond loop tiara was made by Cartier for Queen Maria Cristina, mother of King Alfonso XIII. He inherited the tiara from his mother, and in 1935, he gave it as a wedding present to his new daughter-in-law, Princess Maria Mercedes. While she owned the tiara until her death in 2000, she loaned it to her daughter, Infanta Pilar, as a bridal tiara in 1967. When Pilar's daughter, Simoneta, married in 1990, Maria Mercedes loaned the tiara to her as well. After his mother's death, Juan Carlos obtained the tiara, either via inheritance or by purchasing it from another family member (possibly Pilar). Queen Sofia (who also borrowed the tiara in the 1970s to wear to the Persepolis celebrations in Iran) has worn it twice since.

Queen Sofia at a state banquet for the president of Mexico in 2014

The Fleur-de-Lys Tiara

Owner: The Spanish monarch (King Felipe VI)
Maker: Ansorena, ca. 1906
Materials: diamonds
Wearers: The Spanish queen (or queen consort)
Post-abdication: Transfers to Letizia's collection

The grandest Spanish tiara -- called "La Buena," or "The Good One" by the family -- was Queen Ena's wedding tiara. It was a gift from her new husband, King Alfonso XIII, who had ordered the piece from Ansorena. The piece has only ever been worn in public by Spanish queens (and by Maria Mercedes, the Countess of Barcelona -- AKA the woman who should have been the Spanish queen while the family was in exile). Of all of the tiaras worn by Queen Sofia, this one is the only one that is now available exclusively for Queen Letizia to wear. It's one of the "joyas de pasar," a collection of jewels designated by Queen Ena in her will for the use of Spanish queens. Here's a list of the jewels that Queen Ena bequeathed specifically to the queens of Spain:

  • The fleur-de-lys tiara
  • A diamond collet necklace
  • A pair of diamond earrings
  • A pair of matching diamond bracelets
  • A diamond brooch with a pearl pendant
  • A single-stranded pearl necklace
  • A four-stranded pearl necklace
  • A gray pearl brooch with a pearl pendant

These are the only jewels that have automatically transferred to Letizia's jewel box following the abdication. That said, I think it's quite likely that we will continue to see her wearing jewels that belong to her mother-in-law. Letizia's jewelry collection is small (and possibly only includes one tiara, the rumored Ansorena piece that has never actually been seen in public), and she has only worn three tiaras so far: the Prussian, the Floral, and the Shell. All three were loaned to her by Sofia, and none of them have automatically become hers following the abdication.

Sofia has been generous in loaning jewels to all of the women in her family so far, and I wouldn't at all be surprised if Letizia continues to borrow pieces from her. Sofia might even choose eventually to give some of her jewels to her daughter-in-law. But Sofia's own personal jewels do not automatically become her daughter-in-law's property following the abdication, regardless of the claims of various magazines. Even if she's no longer the consort of the reigning king, Sofia's going to have plenty to do during her son's reign, and she's going to need her jewels!