21 May 2016

The Nine Provinces Tiara

Queen Fabiola wears the Nine Provinces Tiara (Photo: Ted West/Central Press/Getty Images)

For a royal house that has reigned over a country for more than a century, the Belgian royal family has a surprisingly small number of tiaras in their vaults. There are several reasons for this -- pieces have been sold, inherited by women who married into other families, etc. -- but the family has managed to hang on to one of their sparkliest heirloom pieces: the Nine Provinces Tiara, which is worn by the nation's queen.

Queen Astrid wears the tiara (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

The tiara, which first belonged to Princess Astrid of Sweden, is approaching its ninetieth birthday. When Astrid married the future King Leopold III of Belgium, the sparkler was among her wedding presents. It was made in 1926 by Van Bever, a Belgian jeweler, and given to Astrid on behalf of the Belgian people.

The original tiara was a meander bandeau topped by a series of large, round diamonds (which, in some lights, appear to have a slight yellow cast) on spikes. It was able to be worn with or without the top pieces from the start.

Portrait of Queen Astrid wearing the tiara by Herman Richir (Image: Wikimedia Commons)

But Astrid innovated, adding a series of interlocking diamond arches over the top of the large diamonds, giving the entire tiara a far more solid appearance. Today, it is generally worn as a complete piece, although Queen Paola has worn the meander base of the tiara alone as a choker necklace. Additionally, the piece can be worn with the arches but without the diamond spikes, making it one of the most versatile royal tiaras in Belgian hands.

After Astrid's death in 1935, her husband, King Leopold III, inherited the tiara. His second wife, Lilian, never wore the complete piece, though she did wear various components of the tiara, including using the meander section as a bandeau tiara (as shown above) and as a bracelet.

Queen Fabiola wears the tiara on her wedding day (Photo: AFP/Getty Images)

But the complete, full tiara has still only been worn by Belgian queens. When Fabiola de Mora y Aragón married Leopold and Astrid's son, King Baudouin, in 1960, she received the piece, even wearing it on her wedding day.

Fabiola wore the tiara in various forms throughout her reign. Above, you can see her wearing the piece in a particularly unusual way: with the interlocking arches but without the large round diamonds.

Queen Paola wears the tiara (Photo: Mark Renders/Getty Images)

When Baudouin died unexpectedly in 1993, Queen Fabiola passed the tiara to the new queen consort, Paola, who wore it until 2013, when her husband abdicated in favor of their elder son. During her time as Belgium's queen, Paola mainly alternated the Nine Provinces Tiara with the Art Deco Bandeau that she received as a gift from her father-in-law. On at least one occasion -- the Danish royal wedding in 2004 -- she wore the bandeau base of the Nine Provinces Tiara as a choker necklace.

Today, the tiara is worn by Queen Mathilde, the first Belgian-born queen of the country. She posed in the tiara for her first official portrait as consort, although she chose to wear only the meander bandeau rather than the full version of the tiara. She tends to wear the bandeau more often than the full tiara, but she does sometimes wear the complete piece.

Queen Mathilde wears the bandeau base of the tiara (Photo: Ian Gavan/Getty Images)

Mathilde will continue to have sole use of the tiara until the day that her elder daughter, Elisabeth, becomes queen. Elisabeth will be the first ever queen regnant in Belgium should the monarchy survive to her accession.

Note: This is an updated version of an earlier post with new text/images.