25 October 2014

Saturday Sparkler: The Strathmore Rose Tiara

One of the more unusual floral tiaras in any royal collection, the Queen Mother’s Strathmore Rose Tiara is a piece that remains in the Windsor vaults but hasn’t been seen in public in years. Part of the reason for the tiara’s disappearing act may actually be connected not only with its large flowers but also with its early twentieth-century roots. (Ha!)

The tiara takes its name from the Queen Mother’s family — she was born Lady Elizabeth Bowes Lyon, daughter of the Earl of Strathmore and Kinghorne. When she married the Duke of York in 1923, she wasn’t yet destined to be queen, but her parents decided a new duchess needed a new tiara regardless. They gave her this floral piece, which was bought from Catchpole and Williams, a dealer based in London. In The Queen's Diamonds, Hugh Roberts notes that although the piece was purchased in the 1920s, it was made in England in the late nineteenth century. He also reveals that the flowers, which can be removed and worn as brooches, could originally be swapped-out for five collet-set sapphires.

Elizabeth wears the tiara, ca. 1926 (source)

Like many other ’20s tiaras, this one was initially worn low across the forehead. Some have argued that we’ve not seen the tiara for so long because, well, almost no one wears a tiara that way anymore. But images do exist of the Queen Mum wearing the piece atop her head, so it can be worn that way. The piece has two separate frames, one for bandeau-wearing and a traditional "top of the head" frame.

Others think the tiara may have simply fallen into disrepair in the many years since it’s had a public outing. (However, both of the most recent sightings of the tiara -- during the 2002 V&A exhibition and in The Queen's Diamonds -- showed it to be in decent shape.) The Queen Mum only wore the tiara in her younger days; later, she preferred more substantial sparklers. The current queen now owns the tiara, having inherited it from her mother, so it’s certainly possible that we may see it again one day. It was supposedly discussed as a potential wedding tiara for the Duchess of Cambridge back in 2011, and I could certainly see this tiara on a younger princess. (Maybe Princess Eugenie, pictured above, could exploit her resemblance to her late great-grandmother and select this as a bridal tiara?)