Although some of the jewels regularly worn by Queen Sofia of Spain will be passed to her daughter-in-law, Letizia, when the abdication of King Juan Carlos is completed, most of the tiaras worn regularly by Sofia are her own personal property. One of the sparklers that she will retain is her diamond floral tiara.
For many years, it was assumed that this tiara was much newer than it appeared to be. Conventional wisdom about the piece said that it had been made in 1962 at the request of the then-ruler of Spain, Francisco Franco, who gave it as a gift to Princess Sophia of Greece and Denmark on her marriage to Prince Juan Carlos of Spain. The jewelry house of Mellerio dits Meller was often put forward as a possible maker of the piece.
However, the Spanish court has confirmed that Franco purchased an antique piece for Sofia rather than commissioning a new one. The tiara was made in 1879 by a British jewelry firm, J.P. Collins, for King Alfonso XII of Spain. The piece was a gift for his new bride, Archduchess Maria Christina of Austria. The tiara stayed with the family for more than half a century, but when they went into exile in the 1930s, it was sold. Franco was later able to acquire the piece, and his gift for the new Spanish princess managed to reunite a lost royal tiara with its original owners.
The relationship between Franco and the future King Juan Carlos was complicated to say the least, but the tiara wasn’t exactly just from him — it was a gift to the bride from Franco on behalf of the people of Spain. It’s a convertible piece, able to be worn as a necklace or broken up into a series of brooches. Since the monarchy’s reestablishment in Spain, the tiara has been worn by all of the senior royal ladies: Queen Sofia, Princess Letizia, Infanta Elena, and Infanta Cristina, who even wore the sparkler on her wedding day in 1997 (pictured above).
In recent years, Letizia has worn the tiara frequently, including for a major appearance: the ceremonies for the inauguration of King Willem-Alexander of the Netherlands (pictured above). It will be very interesting to see if Queen Sofia continues to make her tiara collection available to her daughter-in-law after the abdication; I imagine she will indeed continue to share many of the lovely tiaras that she owns with the new queen.
Note: After I wrote this post, Letizia wore the diamond floral tiara for her last state banquet as Princess of Asturias. Queen Sofia wore (quite possibly for the very last time) “La Buena,” the fleur-de-lys tiara that is reserved for the Spanish queen, as well as a diamond necklace and earrings that will also likely be transferred to Letizia after the abdication.