16 August 2014

Saturday Sparkler: The Habsburg Fringe Tiara

With a name like “the Habsburg Fringe Tiara,” you’d be forgiven for thinking that this tiara was a part of the collection of the former imperial family of Austria. But this particular fringe belongs to another group of royals  -- the princely family of Liechtenstein. Since yesterday was the tiny principality's national day, let's have a look at their imperial tiara, shall we?

As with many diadems created for the women of the Habsburg family, this tiara was made in Vienna by Köchert, the family's court jeweler. It was made around 1890, during the reign of Emperor Franz Joseph I. The tiara was made in a very popular contemporary style, mimicking the diamond fringe tiaras worn at the court of the Romanovs in Russia. The halo-shape of these fringe tiaras is meant to mimic the kokoshnik headdresses worn by Russian women. (See my post on kokoshniks for a whole lot more on that!) Luxarazzi, which covers the Liechtenstein princely family as well as the royals of Luxembourg, notes that the tiara is made of "diamonds set in silver and gold." Like most fringe tiaras, this one can reportedly be converted to a necklace.

The tiara's construction date is potentially significant. A year before it was made, Franz Joseph's only son, Crown Prince Rudolf, died in a tragic double suicide. Rudolf's death meant that the new heir to the throne was Franz Joseph's younger brother, Archduke Karl Ludwig. Most sources argue that the tiara was probably made for Karl Ludwig's wife, Archduchess Maria Theresa.

Archduchess Maria Theresa of Austria (source)

The daughter of Manuel I of Portugal, Maria Theresa was Karl Ludwig's third wife; she was a relatively unimportant figure at the Habsburg court until Rudolf's death vaulted her husband into the position of heir presumptive. The wife of the new heir to an imperial throne would have needed brilliant jewels, and this tiara would certainly fit that description. Moreover, Crown Prince Rudolf's mother, Empress Sisi, withdrew from most public events after her son's death, so Maria Theresa effectively became the senior royal lady at the imperial court, apparently with this fringe tiara as a part of her jewelry collection.

In the end, Karl Ludwig and Maria Theresa did not become emperor and empress. In 1896, Karl Ludwig died, and his son, Archduke Franz Ferdinand, became the new heir. Although Maria Theresa had to basically retire from public functions after she was widowed, she remained hugely influential privately. She helped engineer the controversial marriage between Franz Ferdinand and Sophie Chotek, and she also worked to make sure that the 1903 wedding of her daughter, Archduchess Elisabeth Amalie, to Prince Alois of Liechtenstein was viewed as an equal, dynastic match.


Elisabeth Amalie's wedding made her a Princess of Liechtenstein; when she inherited her mother's tiara in 1944, it made the fringe a part of the Liechtenstein jewel collection, too. Elisabeth Amalie's son, who was named Franz Joseph after the Austrian emperor, inherited the Liechtenstein throne in 1938. Prince Franz Joseph's wife, Princess Gina, was photographed numerous times in the fringe tiara. Gina was also depicted wearing the tiara on a stamp issued in 1960 (pictured above).

The tiara has also been worn by more than one bride in the family. Countess Marie Aglaë of Wchinitz and Tettau wore it to marry Franz Joseph and Gina's eldest son, Prince Hans-Adam, in 1967. Four years later, the fringe tiara was worn by Isabelle de L'Arbre de Malander at her wedding to Franz Joseph and Gina's second son, Prince Philipp.

Today, the tiara is primarily worn by Hereditary Princess Sophie, the wife of Hans-Adam and Marie Aglaë's eldest son, Hereditary Prince Alois. Although the princely family has other tiaras, I'd classify this one as the grandest of the collection, so it's not surprising that Sophie brings it out for major royal events. In 2010, for example, she wore the tiara at the wedding of Crown Princess Victoria of Sweden. She also donned the diadem for the gala held the night before the investiture of King Willem-Alexander of the Netherlands in 2013 (pictured above).