It's always a sad day when we have to bid farewell to a grand royal lady. Yesterday, Queen Fabiola of Belgium died in Brussels at the age of 86. Born a Spanish aristocrat, Fabiola married King Baudouin of the Belgians in 1960. She was the aunt of both King Philippe of the Belgians and Grand Duke Henri of Luxembourg. Today, we're going to remember Fabiola -- queen consort, aunt, sister, nurse, author, philanthropist, and patron -- by marveling at her most glittering piece of jewelry: her convertible diamond tiara.
The Spanish Wedding Gift Tiara is named as a such because it was a) a wedding gift, and b) was given to Fabiola by the then-leader of Spain, Generalissimo Franco, and his wife, Carmen. The Spanish head of state gave the new queen a tiara because she was born into an aristocratic Spanish family — her maiden name was Doña Fabiola de Mora y Aragón, and her godmother was Queen Ena of Spain. Coincidentally, Carmen Franco delivered the tiara to Fabiola exactly 54 years ago today, on December 6, 1960. Fabiola wore the tiara in public for the first time at the reception held the night before her wedding.
Fabiola was working as a nurse when she met King Baudouin through her connections to the Spanish royal family. The two hit it off, and the rest is history. She went from nurse to queen when the pair married in 1960. (Fabiola chose to wear a different tiara at her wedding: the Nine Provinces Tiara that had belonged to her husband's late mother, Queen Astrid.)
The piece can be worn not only in three different configurations but also with three different sets of colored gemstones. The tiara is a feat of construction, endlessly adaptable and yet still balanced and lovely. It can be worn as a large but elegant wreath tiara. The leaf elements can also be worn upright, transforming the piece into a coronet.
Even better, Fabiola also wore the elements as pendants on a necklace; she's wearing one of them on her necklace in the photo above, from a 1978 reception in Brussels.
The center of each diamond leaf element is studded with a gemstone, and those too are interchangeable. The piece can be worn with rubies, emeralds, or aquamarines. Add in Fabiola’s impressive bouffant, and you’ve got a truly remarkable tiara.
Fabiola continued to wear the tiara even after Baudouin's sudden death in 1993. I believe the 2005 Polish state visit, pictured above, was the last time she wore the piece in public, as a necklace with aquamarine center stones. Appropriately, she wore the piece as a tiara at the Spanish state visit in 2000..
It’s a good piece to have if you’re a royal woman who, like the ladies of the Belgian royal family, doesn’t have tons of tiaras at your disposal. There are two major Belgian tiaras being used by the current queen (the Nine Provinces and the laurel wreath), two in the personal collection of the late Queen Fabiola (this tiara and the small Wolfers Tiara, which is also convertible), and one (the art deco bandeau) in the hands of Queen Paola. Princess Astrid and Princess Claire also each have one or two tiaras of their own.
Many, including me, hope that Fabiola decided to bequeath her tiaras to her niece-in-law, Queen Mathilde. As Mathilde has been seen in other small pieces of jewelry from Fabiola’s collection, I’d say it’s a good possibility that she decided to do exactly that. Keeping Fabiola's tiara in the family, and having it worn in public by the queen, would be a wonderful way to honor Fabiola's legacy in Belgium. We'll have to wait to see how Fabiola arranged the inheritance of her jewels, but if Mathilde and Philippe did indeed inherit this piece, I have a feeling we'll see Mathilde wearing it soon as a way to remember a beloved member of the family.