One of the most timeless and elegant of all of Queen Elizabeth II’s tiaras is the diamond kokoshnik that belonged to her great-grandmother, Queen Alexandra. Today, we’re tracking the history of this sparkler, which started off as a controversial present and ended up as a state banquet staple.
Empress Marie Feodorovna wears the tiara used as the model for Alexandra’s tiara
1888: The Prince and Princess of Wales, later King Edward VII and Queen Alexandra, celebrate their silver wedding anniversary. A group of aristocratic women, calling themselves the “Ladies of Society,” decide to give the princess a tiara to mark the occasion. Although there are squabbles among the committee, they raise the necessary funding and commission Garrard to make the piece. Alexandra requests that it be made in the style of a Russian kokoshnik tiara worn by her sister, Empress Marie Feodorovna of Russia (pictured above), and Garrard creates a diamond fringe tiara, set in white and yellow gold, that mimics the halo shape of the traditional Russian kokoshnik. Maria, Lady Ailesbury presents the tiara, which could also be worn as a necklace, to the princess.
Alexandra, wearing the tiara, with her daughters on George and Mary’s wedding day in 1893
1893: Alexandra’s son, the Duke of York (later King George V), marries Princess Mary of Teck on July 6 at the Chapel Royal, St. James’s Palace. Alexandra wears the tiara on the wedding day, apparently adding a diamond bracelet to supplement the base of the piece.
Alexandra, wearing the tiara, poses with her mother and daughter at the 1893 royal wedding
1895: According to Hugh Roberts, Alexandra has the base of the tiara altered.
1901: Queen Victoria dies in January, and Alexandra becomes queen consort. From this point on, Alexandra is mainly photographed wearing either Queen Victoria’s small diamond circlet or her own larger regal circlet (now in the collection of the Norwegian royal family). Her tiaras, including the kokoshnik, are no longer prominently featured in portraits.
1925: Alexandra dies. She leaves the kokoshnik tiara to her daughter-in-law, Queen Mary.
Mary wears the tiara in a photograph taken ca. 1934 (not in the 1920s, as Getty suggests)
1934: Queen Mary poses for a series of photographic portraits taken by Hay Wrightson in London. In some of the images, she wears the kokoshnik tiara with Alexandra’s collier resille and the regalia of the Order of the Garter.
Mary wears the tiara in an illustration from George V and Edward VIII, ca. 1936
1936: After the death of King George V, the new king, Edward VIII, abdicates less than a year into his reign. George and Mary’s second son, Bertie, becomes King George VI. Although she hands a great deal of jewelry over to the new queen consort, Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon, Mary retains the kokoshnik tiara, as it is one of her personal possessions rather than an heirloom of the crown. An illustration of Mary wearing the kokoshnik tiara is even included in George V and Edward VIII: A Royal Souvenir, a book that was intended as a souvenir for Edward VIII’s coronation service.
1953: Queen Mary dies. She bequeaths the kokoshnik tiara to her granddaughter, Queen Elizabeth II, who begins wearing the piece on a very regular basis.
1954: Elizabeth wears the tiara to the state opening of parliament in Melbourne, Australia, in February.
1958: Elizabeth wears the kokoshnik, plus Queen Alexandra’s Dagmar necklace, to a dinner at the German embassy in London in October. (Alexandra had a life-long antipathy for Germany because of the Danish-German territorial conflicts of the nineteenth century, so I think wearing two of her most important jewels to the German embassy was high irony.)
1959: Elizabeth loans the kokoshnik tiara to Christie’s in London for a special exhibit, “The Ageless Diamond.”
1961: The kokoshnik tiara is paired with a veil and pearls for an official visit to meet with Pope John XXIII at the Vatican in May.
1961: The tiara makes another foreign appearance in November, when Elizabeth wears it to a state dinner during a visit to Ghana.
1964: Elizabeth wears the tiara on her way to the Dorchester Hotel for a dinner during the state visit from Sudan in June. With her jewels, she’s also wearing Sudan’s Chain of Honour, which she received during this visit.
1967: The kokoshnik tiara (assisted, I think, by the Brazilian aquamarines) even manages to steal the show from Bob Hope after a royal performance in London.
1967: During a November visit to Malta, Elizabeth wears the tiara at a ball in Valletta.
1969: Elizabeth selects the tiara to meet with the Commonwealth Prime Ministers at Buckingham Palace.
1972: The sheer glittering power of the kokoshnik is apparent during the state visit from the Netherlands, where it easily out-shines impressive sparklers like the Queen Mum’s Boucheron tiara and the tiara from the Dutch sapphire parure.
1975: Elizabeth pairs the tiara with major diamonds, including Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee necklace, during a state visit to Mexico.
1981: During a state visit to Sri Lanka in October, Elizabeth wears the tiara with two Victorian pieces: the Coronation Necklace and Earrings.
1983: Sapphires and reading glasses are paired with the tiara during a state banquet in India.
1990: One hundred two years after its creation, the tiara provides an appropriate amount of ice for a state visit to Iceland in June.
1992: A glimpse of a brown velvet base is visible in this photograph from a state visit to Germany; soon the tiara’s base would be wrapped in light gray velvet.
1993: The tiara appears during the state visit from Malaysia in November.
2002: The kokoshnik is paired with a diamond fringe necklace at a dinner in Jamaica in February.
2008: The versatility of this tiara means that it can be paired with a number of colorful gemstones, including the ruby necklace worn during this state visit to Turkey.