05 September 2015

Saturday Sparkler: The Burmese Ruby Tiara

One of the newest tiaras in the Windsor collection, which is comprised largely of heirlooms from generations past, is this one: the Burmese Ruby Tiara. Aside from the Oriental Circlet, this is the only major ruby tiara worn by the current queen, and it’s a piece not without controversy among the tiara lovers of the world.

Part of the reason that the piece is divisive can be traced to its construction. Like many other pieces, this tiara was created using stones from another tiara that had been dismantled. In this case, the sacrificial lamb was the Nizam of Hyderabad Tiara, a diamond floral tiara that the queen received as a wedding gift. The Nizam was an Indian king, and, in my mind, he gave Elizabeth one of the best wedding gifts of all: he instructed Cartier to let the princess choose whatever she wanted from their collection from her gift. Kind of like the royal equivalent of a gift card to your favorite store today, I suppose?

Anyway — Elizabeth went to Cartier and selected a floral tiara and necklace that had been made in the 1930s. The pieces were all diamond, and the tiara included sections that could be detached and worn as brooches. Lil wore the tiara in public at the beginning of her reign, but in the early 1970s, she had it dismantled. The diamonds were used to make the diamond and ruby tiara we’re looking at today. (She kept the detachable brooches and the necklace, by the by.)

The new tiara was made by Garrard in 1973. The rubies used in the making of the new piece were also a wedding gift; Elizabeth received them from the people of Burma. The gift included precisely 96 rubies, all of which are now set in the tiara. The Burmese people believe that rubies help protect the wearer from the 96 diseases that can afflict the human body — they definitely wanted to ensure that Elizabeth remained hale and hearty. The rubies and diamonds were set in a series of rose motifs, and if you know your English history, you’ll recognize a heraldic rose that combines white and red petals as the Tudor rose.

Ultimately, the tiara is much more modern than many of the pieces in the Windsor collection, and many seem to find it not precisely to their tiara tastes. But the tiara continues to be worn regularly by the queen today, and it doesn’t seem like it will be headed for the vaults any time soon.