We talked briefly earlier about this sparkler from the collection of our Magpie of the Month, Queen Sofia of Spain, but it’s such an interesting piece that it’s definitely worth a fuller discussion of its history. The diamond loop tiara made by Cartier for a Habsburg queen has also been a bridal tiara for one branch of the Spanish royal family; today, it’s back in the hands of the (former) monarch’s wife.
For a royal family that has faced serious upheaval in the last century, the Borbóns of Spain have managed to hang on to some serious heirloom tiaras. That’s been possible in part because the family has largely maintained personal possession of their jewels rather than consigning them to an official collection of crown jewels. It also means that many tiaras, like the loop tiara, meandered a bit through the family before arriving in the hands of its current owners.
The tiara, which is made of diamonds and pearls set in platinum, was originally made by Cartier for a nineteenth-century Spanish queen: Maria Cristina, the Austrian-born wife of King Alfonso XII. When Alfonso died, Maria Cristina was pregnant with the future King Alfonso XIII. Because of this, she was not only a queen consort but also a queen regent, as she ruled the country from her husband’s death until their son turned sixteen.
Alfonso XIII received the Cartier tiara from his mother. In 1935, he gave the sparkler to his new daughter-in-law, Princess María Mercedes of Bourbon-Two Sicilies, when she married his third son, Infante Juan. Juan and María Mercedes would have been the king and queen of Spain had the monarchy not been abolished in the wake of the Spanish Civil War. When Franco decided to restore the monarchy on his death, he passed over Juan in favor of his son, Juan Carlos. Juan eventually did formally relinquish his claim on the throne, but only two years after his son had become king; in turn, Juan Carlos made his father the Count of Barcelona, which was traditionally a title held by Spanish kings. (He also buried his father under the title of Juan III with the full honors of a king of Spain.)
Although she loaned the piece to her daughter-in-law, Sofia, for the ’70s-era Persepolis celebrations in Tehran, María Mercedes retained the tiara even after the monarchy was restored in 1975. (She relinquished another tiara, which was specifically earmarked for Spanish queens, to the new Queen Sofia that year — but more on that later.) In 1967, she had loaned the piece to her daughter, Infanta Pilar, to wear at her wedding; she also loaned the tiara to her granddaughter, Pilar’s daughter Simoneta, when she married in 1990.
When María Mercedes died in 2000, Juan Carlos was able to obtain the tiara. Whether he inherited it or purchased it from another member of the family, perhaps Pilar, hasn’t really been made clear. Given the six years that elapsed between the Countess of Barcelona’s death and Queen Sofia’s first appearance in the tiara afterward (at a 2006 state banquet in Norway), it wouldn’t surprise me if there were some deals being done. Today, the tiara is worn by Queen Sofia, returning it to the main line of the royal family. Because of its extensive history within the Spanish royal family, I wouldn’t be surprised if this tiara is eventually made a part of the collection of the new Spanish queen, Letizia.