Queen Mary was instrumental in the creation of multiple tiaras, but one of her most classic commissions was today’s sparkler: her diamond honeysuckle tiara. The provenance of this tiara was a bit fuzzy for years. Some thought the piece was one of the items that came from the estate of Tsarina Marie Feodorovna of Russia (sister of Queen Alexandra). But although the shape of the piece does resemble some kokoshnik-style Romanov tiaras, that wasn’t the case. It was actually commissioned by Mary herself shortly after she became queen.
The tiara was made by E. Wolff and Co. on a commission from Garrard. They also made several other major tiaras for the family, including the Cambridge Lover’s Knot, the Girls of Great Britain and Ireland, and the Connaught Diamond (now a part of the Bernadotte collection in Sweden). The original version of the honeysuckle tiara, completed in early 1914, featured a taller central element; Mary later had it shortened to its current iteration. The tiara also used some recycled royal diamonds, taken from the County of Surrey Tiara, which had been dismantled (and also used in the remodeling of the Girls of Great Britain and Ireland Tiara).
The tiara has been an adaptable piece from the start, as the central element of the tiara is able to accommodate several different stones. Originally, it was designed to fit three different pieces: the Cullinan V diamond, a sapphire and diamond ornament, and a diamond element featuring a pink stone. That pink gemstone has been called a pink topaz, but it is apparently actually a kunzite, a stone that had been discovered only a decade before the tiara was made.
But although the tiara could be worn in so many different configurations, Mary didn’t really keep it all that long. In 1935, she offered the tiara to her new daughter-in-law, Lady Alice Montagu Douglas Scott, when she married Prince Henry, Duke of Gloucester. But before Mary gave the tiara away, she had a new diamond piece, which also features a honeysuckle design motif, created to fit the tiara’s central space.
The Cullinan V, the sapphire element, and the kunzite element stayed with Mary, while the new diamond honeysuckle piece was given to Alice along with the tiara. In 1953, Alice inherited the kunzite element following Mary’s death. Exactly where the current third option, an emerald and diamond piece, comes into the picture is unclear, but those three — the honeysuckle, the kunzite, and the emerald — are the ones that remain with the tiara today. All of the current elements are pictured in the collage above.
Princess Alice eventually gave the tiara to her own daughter-in-law, Birgitte (the current Duchess of Gloucester), who has worn the sparkler in all of its forms for a number of years. Having the central element as a convertible piece is especially useful because it means the tiara can be coordinated with different colors of gala dresses; if you’re worried that the pink kunzite in your tiara will clash with your red gown, you can always swap it out.
I do love when a tiara pulls its weight! And apparently, so does Birgitte. Even though she’s a bit spoiled for choice, with six tiaras (yes, six!) in her collection, the honeysuckle is the piece that she’s photographed in most often.