12 January 2019

Queen Alexandra's Wedding Gift Parure

A colorized version of Edward VII and Alexandra's wedding portrait (Grand Ladies Site)

For many years, one of the biggest tiara mysteries surrounding the British royal family had to do with a showstopper tiara associated with one of the family's matriarchs, Queen Alexandra. But in recent years, much more has been revealed about the piece, which was part of a parure of jewels that Alexandra received as a wedding gift -- and its eventual fate.

A nineteenth-century illustration of the pearl and diamond parure

Most of you will probably be familiar with the tiara under its more commonly-used name: the Rundell Tiara. For quite a long time, the tiara was presumably referred to as such because it was believed to have been made by Rundell and Bridge. But while that jewelry house did supply pieces to the British royals, this tiara and its accompanying jewels were made by another familiar name: Garrard.

While the tiara was an all-diamond affair, it was a part of a larger diamond and pearl parure made by the company in 1862. The set included the tiara, a necklace, a brooch, and a pair of earrings. Interestingly, although the pieces were made as a set, there are few similarities in the design of the tiara (which was an all-diamond piece with knot and fleur-de-lis motifs) and the rest of the parure (which feature button-style pearl and diamond clusters and pear-shaped pearl pendants).

Alexandra wears the necklace, earrings, and brooch on her wedding day (Grand Ladies Site)

Alexandra wore the necklace, earrings, and brooch on her wedding day (but not the tiara -- she wore flowers in her hair instead, which you can see in the portrait above). You'll spot the brooch pinned on the bodice of her gown.

Alexandra wears the tiara with its fleur-de-lis and knot elements, ca. 1883 (Grand Ladies Site)

The parure was commissioned by the future Edward VII, then Prince of Wales, for his future bride, Princess Alexandra of Denmark. Interestingly -- perhaps because of the design differences between the tiara and the rest of the set -- Alexandra rarely wore the pieces together as a complete parure, choosing instead to pair each piece with different jewels.

Alexandra wears the star setting of the tiara and the brooch (Grand Ladies Site)

The tiara was an especially versatile piece for mixing and matching with other pieces. Three rows of diamonds made up a solid base, upon which were mounted a series of interchangeable elements. Alexandra commonly wore the tiara with large diamond fleur-de-lis elements interspersed with intricate interlocking diamond "knots." However, the tiara could also be worn without those bridge elements or with diamond stars worn in place of each of the fleur-de-lis.

Alexandra wears the necklace (hung with additional pendants), 1893 (Grand Ladies Site)

You'll often spot the wedding necklace included in a larger "stack" of necklaces, often hung with additional pendants, as it is here. (The two diamond pendants on either side of the central element are now diamond earrings worn by Queen Sonja of Norway.)

Alexandra wears the earrings in a portrait by Winterhalter, 1864 (Wikimedia Commons)

Alexandra chose to wear the earrings in an 1864 portrait commissioned by her mother-in-law, Queen Victoria, from Winterhalter.

Alexandra wears the brooch pinned to her gown, ca. 1880s (Grand Ladies Site)

And Alexandra wore the brooch more generally as well, both in its complete form (with all three pendants and clusters) and as just the central (detachable) cluster and pendant brooch.

Alexandra wears the tiara with just the fleur-de-lis elements and the brooch, which is partially visible (Grand Ladies Site)

Alexandra was the only member of the family ever photographed in her tiara. For some time, Windsor watchers hoped that the wedding gift tiara was simply gathering dust in the jewelry vaults and might someday make a reappearance in some form. But with the publication in 2012 of Hugh Roberts's important book, The Queen's Diamonds, the fate of the tiara has been made clear.

Roberts reports that although Alexandra did not have a will when she died in 1925, she did indicate items of jewelry that she wished to leave to each of her daughters. The Garrard tiara was inherited by Princess Victoria, Alexandra's second daughter. And unfortunately, Roberts also notes simply that the tiara was "disposed of" by Toria at some point. But while hopes to see the wedding gift tiara reappear have ultimately been dashed, the other parts of Alexandra's diamond and pearl parure remain securely today in royal hands today.

The Queen Mother wears the necklace at Princess Elizabeth's wedding, 1947 (Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

The brooch, necklace, and earrings were all inherited by Queen Mary on Alexandra's death. Mary gave the necklace to her daughter-in-law, Queen Elizabeth, and the piece became one of Elizabeth's favorite and most-worn necklaces. In November 1947, she chose to wear it for her daughter's royal wedding at Westminster Abbey.

The Duchess of Cambridge wears the necklace, October 2018 (John Stillwell - WPA Pool/Getty Images)

She kept and wore the necklace for the rest of her life, leaving it to her elder daughter, Queen Elizabeth II, in 2002. The necklace was most recently worn by another member of the royal family, the Duchess of Cambridge.

Chris Jackson/Getty Images

The brooch and the earrings passed directly from Queen Mary to Queen Elizabeth II in 1953. In recent years, she has worn the brooch and earrings more frequently, primarily for evening occasions. In November 2018, she chose the earrings for the annual Festival of Remembrance at the Royal Albert Hall, pairing them with Queen Mary's Richmond Brooch.

Chris Jackson/Getty Images

And the brooch has also made more appearances over the past five years. Above, the Queen wore it for another Festival of Remembrance, this time in November 2015.

Note: This is an updated and expanded version of an earlier post.