Time for another journey back into the mists of royal history, magpies! Today, Queen Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom celebrates her 89th birthday, and in her honor, we’re charting the history of her very favorite sparkler: The Girls of Great Britain and Ireland Tiara.
December 1891: Princess Mary of Teck, the 24-year-old daughter of a German duke and a British princess, is considered by Queen Victoria to be one of the most suitable matches for her unmarried grandsons. Prince Albert Victor, Duke of Clarence and Avondale, is the eldest son of the Prince of Wales. Although he had wanted to marry Princess Hélène of Orléans, her Catholicism was an obstacle that couldn’t be surmounted. Albert Victor dutifully proposes to Mary in December, and the two become officially engaged and plan to marry the following February.
January 1892: Only a few weeks after proposing, Albert Victor contracts influenza. He dies just before his 28th birthday.
May 1893: Albert Victor’s younger brother, Prince George, Duke of York, is now his father’s heir. He hasn’t just taken his brother’s place in the line of succession; he’s also become close to his brother’s fiancee. He and Mary have bonded as they mourned, and in May, he proposes. She accepts.
June 1893: As Wolff and Co. is finishing Mary’s tiara, a tragedy strikes: the HMS Victoria, a British battleship, accidentally collides with another ship off the coast of Tripoli and sinks, killing more than 350 sailors. Mary asks Lady Eva’s committee to donate the surplus money they collected to a fund that had been established to support the widows and children of the sailors who died aboard the sunken ship.
July 1893: George and Mary are married in a ceremony at the Chapel Royal at St. James’s Palace in London. Wisely, Mary chooses to wear a different tiara — the one given to her by Queen Victoria — nestled in a wreath of flowers on her wedding day. But Mary, now Duchess of York, expresses delight at the committee’s present, declaring that it is one of her “most valued wedding gifts.”
July 1897: Mary wears the smaller, coronet setting of the tiara to the famous Devonshire House Ball, which celebrates Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee. As a feature of the party, the Duchess of Devonshire hired Lafayette to come and photograph the guests in a tent behind the house. The tiara is plainly visible in the photograph of Mary and George; she goes in costume as a lady from the court of Marguerite of Valois, while he goes as “the Queen’s Champion.” (Appropriately, Marguerite of Valois was portrayed by Mary’s mother-in-law, the future Queen Alexandra.)
January 1901: Queen Victoria dies. George is now the heir to the throne.
November 1901: George and Mary are created Prince and Princess of Wales.
May 1910: George’s father, King Edward VII, dies. George and Mary become King George V and Queen Mary of the United Kingdom. Wearing the tiara with its upright pearls, the new Queen Mary is painted by George C. Wilmshurst. The portrait is published in the Illustrated London News.
June 1911: Souvenir postcards for George and Mary’s coronation feature the queen wearing the tiara.
1914: Mary has the tiara altered by Garrard. The pearls are removed completely and replaced with 13 brilliant-cut diamonds (which had come from the dismantled County of Surrey Tiara). Mary has 13 of the pearls recycled by incorporating them into her new lover’s knot tiara. The base of the Girls of Great Britain and Ireland Tiara is also removed around this time so that it can be worn separately as a small diamond bandeau. Above, Mary is photographed in the tiara without its base, ca. 1920.
1935: Mary is photographed in the base-less version of the tiara by Hay Wrighton for a photographic album publication called Popular Personalities.
January 1936: George V dies, and Mary’s eldest son, David, becomes King Edward VIII.
December 1936: Edward VIII abdicates, and Mary’s second son, Bertie, becomes King George VI. Mary’s granddaughter, Princess Elizabeth, becomes the heir to the throne.
November 1947: Mary gives both the tiara and the bandeau base to Elizabeth as a wedding present. Elizabeth still reportedly calls the sparkler “Granny’s Tiara.”
May 1948: Elizabeth wears the tiara to the opera in Paris during a visit to France.
March 1950: Elizabeth wears the tiara to the Guildhall in London.
1951: Elizabeth wears the tiara in Malta.
September 1951: At a film premiere in London, Elizabeth pairs the tiara with a fur wrap.
October 1951: Elizabeth and Philip embark on a Canadian tour; she wears the tiara at the ballet in Winnepeg.
February 1952: George VI dies, and his daughter becomes Queen Elizabeth II. As queen, the tiara becomes something of a trademark piece for her. She wears it in portraits that appear on currency and stamps in the United Kingdom and throughout the Commonwealth.
June 1952: Elizabeth wears the tiara in Edinburgh during her first public appearance after her father’s funeral.
1952: Elizabeth wears the tiara to the royal film performance in Leicester Square.
October 1955: The tiara is Elizabeth’s choice for a film premiere starring another (future) royal: To Catch a Thief, featuring Grace Kelly
March 1956: The tiara accompanies Elizabeth, her mother, and her sister to the ballet at Covent Garden.
1957: Elizabeth poses in the tiara with the First Lady of France, Germaine Coty.
October 1957: Elizabeth wears the tiara to the White House during a visit to the United States.
May 1960: Elizabeth wears the tiara at a service held at St. Paul’s Cathedral.
1961: The tiara travels with Elizabeth on a trip to Pakistan.
1962: Elizabeth wears the tiara to the annual Royal Variety Performance.
November 1964: The tiara is Elizabeth’s choice for celebrating the Diamond Jubilee of the Royal Academy of the Dramatic Arts.
1965: The tiara sees Maria Callas perform in Puccini’s Tosca at Covent Garden.
1967: The Queen returns to Malta and, once again, brings the tiara with her.
1969: The bandeau base is finally reattached to the tiara, bringing the piece back to its original height. Elizabeth wears the tiara on a visit to Austria in May, and you can see that the piece has increased in height in the photograph above.
1970: Elizabeth pairs the tiara with jewels from the Delhi Durbar parure at a state banquet.
May 1972: Elizabeth wears the tiara at the Royal Variety Performance at the London Palladium.
1975: Elizabeth wears the tiara with pieces from the Brazilian Aquamarine parure.
November 1976: Elizabeth takes the tiara with her on a visit to Luxembourg.
1977: In New Zealand, Elizabeth gives a speech wearing the tiara and the Durbar emeralds.
1979: HM pairs the tiara with rubies at the theater.
October 1980: In Morocco, Elizabeth toasts King Hassan while wearing the tiara with diamond and pearl jewelry.
February 1982: Elizabeth wears the tiara at Claridge’s Hotel in London.
November 1983: Elizabeth wears the tiara with a pearl and diamond choker in Bangladesh.
March 1985: In Portugal, Elizabeth pairs the tiara with a rare outing of the Kent amethysts.
November 1987: Forty years after receiving the tiara from her grandmother, Elizabeth poses in it with Prince Philip for a fortieth wedding anniversary portrait at Windsor.
October 1989: Photographers snap a view of the back of the tiara, showing that it is generally not worn as a complete circlet, during a banquet in Malaysia.
June 1992: Elizabeth wears the tiara with diamonds in Paris.
1993: The tiara is now a century old. Elizabeth wears it with a pink gown to a banquet in Hungary.
1996: Elizabeth wears the tiara at a gala concert in the Czech Republic.
February 2000: Alongside Queen Margrethe II of Denmark, Elizabeth wears the tiara to a gala at the Natural History Museum in London.
April 2004: The tiara is Elizabeth’s choice for an important state visit to France, marking the hundredth anniversary of the Entente Cordiale.
November 2005: The tiara takes yet another trip to Malta.
May 2006: Elizabeth wears the tiara with the robes of the Order of the Bath.
May 2007: The tiara makes another trip to the White House during a state visit to the United States.
2010: Elizabeth wears the tiara during a tour of Canada.
2011: Elizabeth selects this tiara to wear at a state banquet during her
historic state visit to the Republic of Ireland. The tiara’s name takes
on extra significance during the visit, which strove to highlight the
cultural and economic ties between the two nations.
July 2014: During a state visit designed to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the D-Day landings, Elizabeth wears the tiara at a banquet in Paris.