28 October 2017

Queen Mary's Sapphire Bandeau

Today, we're taking a closer look at one of the long-lost British tiaras that’s hopefully waiting patiently somewhere deep in the royal vaults: Queen Mary's Sapphire Bandeau.

Princess Toria of the United Kingdom, Queen Alexandra of the United Kingdom, and Empress Marie Feodorovna of Russia, pictured ca. 1903 (Wikimedia Commons)

You'll often see the tiara referenced by another name: Marie Feodorovna's Sapphire Bandeau. That name suggests that it comes from the Romanovs — Marie Feodorovna was, after all, Empress of Russia. But she had even wider royal connections that that. Before her marriage, she was Princess Dagmar of Denmark; her siblings included Queen Alexandra of the United Kingdom, King Frederik VIII of Denmark, and King George I of Greece. Her jewel collection was outstanding, and after the Russian Revolution, pieces began to pop up at sales and auctions all over Europe.

And no one liked a jewel sale more than Queen Mary. She reportedly bought the piece in 1921 at a Paris auction, where it had been offered for sale by the exiled Princess Nicholas of Greece. No one’s quite sure how Princess Nicholas (who was born Grand Duchess Elena Vladimirovna) got the tiara, but it is possible that Marie Feodorovna was involved. After all, Prince Nicholas was one of the empress’s Greek nephews. Perhaps she had given the tiara to the Nicholases when they married in Russia in 1902? Some have also suggested that Princess Nicholas inherited the tiara from her mother, Grand Duchess Maria Pavlovna, but ultimately, the provenance is unclear. Was it really one of the former empress's tiaras? Who was its first owner? Was it even really Russian? We simply don't seem to know.

Regardless, the tiara, which features distinctive sunray designs, was now Mary’s. (Had Princess Nicholas held on to it just a bit longer, it might have made its way to Britain anyway — one of her daughters was Princess Marina, who later married Queen Mary’s son, the Duke of Kent.) The central sapphire and diamond element of the tiara was removable, making it a more versatile piece; above, Mary wears it with the carved emerald brooch from the Delhi Durbar Parure. After Mary’s death, the tiara was apparently left to Queen Elizabeth II (along with all of the rest of Mary's personal property). The Queen has never worn it, at least not in public.

Instead, the Queen appears to have decided to loan the tiara to her younger sister, Princess Margaret. She wore the tiara often during the 1950s and 1960s. Above, she wears the tiara during the 1958 state visit of President Heuss of Germany, and below, she wears it to the wedding of Princess Astrid of Norway in 1961. (Warning: the GIF below features flash photography.) Margaret also appears to have worn the sapphire element separately as a brooch for decades.

Since then, the bandeau has disappeared into the tiara mists. It's one I've suggested as a possible out-of-the-box bridal option for Meghan Markle, but I'd also love to see this one on the Duchess of Cambridge, who wears sapphires particularly well. Here's hoping it's in the palace vaults, just waiting for another outing!