02 January 2021

The Imperial Chrysanthemum Tiara

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For formal events at the imperial court of Japan, the women of the family wear tiara set exclusively with "white" gemstones—mostly diamonds and the occasional pearl. Today, I've got a closer look at one of my favorite all-diamond tiaras from the collection, which features an important imperial symbol in its design. The Imperial Chrysanthemum Tiara, worn by the country's empress, combines modern design sensibility with symbolism that dates back centuries.

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The stylized, sixteen-petaled chrysanthemum is one of the most important imperial symbols in Japan. It's used as an emblem of the imperial house, a national symbol, and the badge of the Order of the Chrysanthemum, the country's most senior chivalric order. The imperial throne is also adorned with a golden chrysanthemum; because of this, the phrase "the Chrysanthemum throne" is often used metonymically to reference the emperor and the monarchy (like the use of "the Crown" in various other countries, including Britain). It's no surprise, then, that that the imperial collection contains numerous pieces of jewelry with chrysanthemum designs, including earrings, brooches, and the Imperial Chrysanthemum Tiara.

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The tiara is one of the pieces reserved for the use of the Japanese empress. It was a favorite of Empress Nagako, who wore it often during her husband's reign. Above, she wears it for a portrait taken after the official "first audience" ceremony following the wedding of her son, Akihito, to Michiko Shoda in 1959.

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Nagako wore the tiara often for events like state banquets. Above, she drinks a toast with King Mohammed Zahir Shah, the last monarch of Afghanistan, during a state dinner at the Imperial Palace in Tokyo in 1969.

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When Emperor Akihito ascended to the Chrysanthemum throne in 1989, the tiara passed to his wife, Empress Michiko. She wore both the Imperial Chrysanthemum Tiara and the Meiji Tiara often during the early years of their reign, as well as the Chrysanthemum earrings and brooch.

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Like her mother-in-law before her, Michiko often wore the Chrysanthemum Tiara on diplomatic occasions. Here, she wears it with the chrysanthemum earrings for a banquet at the Guildhall during the couple's state visit to the United Kingdom in 1998. (In this photo, she's chatting with the Duchess of Gloucester, who is wearing Queen Mary's Honeysuckle Tiara.)

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This photo, which gives a good sense of the design and scale of the side of the tiara, was taken before a state dinner at the Imperial Palace in honor of Queen Margrethe II and Prince Henrik of Denmark in 2004. 

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And here, Empress Michiko wears the tiara for a state dinner at the palace in honor of the King of Morocco in 2005. This gala appearance was slightly unusual, in that Michiko wore jewels set with colored gems (an emerald and diamond brooch and bracelet).

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Empress Michiko also wore the tiara for important formal family occasions, including the wedding of her younger son, Crown Prince Fumihito, in 1990. Above, she wears the tiara for the "farewell audience" for her daughter, Princess Sayako, who became Mrs. Sayako Kuroda when she married a commoner in 2005.

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The tiara also became a recognizable sight on the empress during the annual New Year reception in Tokyo, including the appearance above from 2005. Empress Michiko suffered from health problems (especially neck issues) that made tiara-wearing increasingly uncomfortable as the years went on. She stopped wearing the Meiji Tiara, which was made in the nineteenth century out of heavy gold and silver, completely after a time. Instead, she chose to wear the Imperial Chrysanthemum Tiara or the Japanese Honeysuckle Tiara

Both of these tiaras seem to have been made later than the Meiji—the Honeysuckle was first worn for an imperial wedding in the 1920s—which means that they're quite possibly made of a lighter material, likely platinum. Additionally, both the Chrysanthemum and Honeysuckle Tiaras are able to be worn more like headbands, distributing the weight of the diadem differently on the head. (If you look back at the photos of Empress Nagako wearing the tiara, she liked to position the piece in a more upright manner, more like a coronet.)

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Empress Michiko wore the tiara for the New Year's celebration in January 2012; it was the last year that she wore a tiara at the event, and I don't believe we've seen the sparkler in public since. Here's hoping that, once more gala events are on the calendar for the new emperor and empress, Masako will give this one a whirl. She's already proven that she's more than up to the challenge of the Meiji!