Most of the tiaras worn by Queen Elizabeth II were inherited from her sparkling royal relatives, but there are a few pieces she’s added to the collection herself. One of them is today’s tiara, the Burmese Ruby, which she commissioned in the 1970s.
In the early 1970s, Queen Elizabeth II had a collection of tiaras with a range of colorful stones, but she lacked a sparkler set with rubies. Red is, after all, one of the national colors of more than one nation of the United Kingdom, as well as of many other nations around the world, so having a red tiara to combine with order sashes and other decorations is important.
Elizabeth turned to Garrard to make a new tiara to round out her collection. Like many other royal pieces, the new ruby and diamond tiara was created using stones from another tiara that had been dismantled. In this case, the sacrificial lamb was the Nizam of Hyderabad Tiara, a diamond floral tiara that the queen received as a wedding gift from an Indian prince. The Nizam had asked Elizabeth to choose a wedding present herself from Cartier.
Elizabeth selected a diamond floral tiara and necklace that had been made in the 1930s. She wore the tiara in public at the beginning of her reign (pictured above), but she eventually abandoned it, reportedly because it was difficult to wear. After the tiara was dismantled, diamonds were used by Garrard to make the new diamond and ruby tiara. (She kept the detachable brooches and the necklace; see close-ups of the necklace over here.)
The reason that the Queen needed a new ruby tiara is a little unusual. When she succeeded to the throne in 1953, she should have taken possession of all of the jewels designated as “heirlooms of the crown” by previous monarchs and their spouses. This collection includes the Indian Circlet, which was made for Queen Victoria. That tiara was originally set with opals, which were replaced with rubies by a superstitious Queen Alexandra in the early twentieth century.
But in 1953, the circlet was still one of the favorite tiaras of Elizabeth’s mother. The new Queen Mother was a young widow in her 50s, and she had decades of royal duties ahead of her. Rather than taking the circlet from her mother, the Queen decided to let her keep the piece (and a few other crown heirlooms) and use other jewels instead. Most of these pieces stayed with the Queen Mother for the rest of her life, so Elizabeth didn’t inherit (or begin wearing) them until 2002.
With the ruby circlet still living in the Queen Mother’s safe, the new ruby tiara was completed for Queen Elizabeth II by Garrard in 1973. The rubies used in the making of the new piece were also a wedding gift. Elizabeth received them from the people of Burma. The gift included precisely 96 rubies, all of which are now set in the tiara. The Burmese people believe that rubies help protect the wearer from the 96 diseases that can afflict the human body, and they definitely wanted to ensure that Elizabeth remained hale and hearty.
The rubies and diamonds in the tiara were set in a series of rose motifs, and if you know your English history, you’ll recognize a heraldic rose that combines white and red petals as the Tudor rose. Queen Elizabeth wore her new ruby tiara often, especially in the years just after it was made. Above, she wears it in February 1977 in New Zealand during her Silver Jubilee tour.
And here, a bit later, she wears the tiara for a state banquet during the South Korean state visit to the UK in 2004.
She also wore the tiara during a state visit to Slovenia in the autumn of 2009.
Queen Elizabeth II’s final appearance in the Burmese Ruby Tiara came in June 2019, when she wore it for the American state banquet at Buckingham Palace. On that occasion, she paired the tiara with the Crown Ruby Necklace and Earrings, both heirlooms of the crown that had been handed back after the Queen Mother’s passing in 2002.
After Elizabeth’s own passing in 2022, the ruby tiara and jewels were inherited by her son, King Charles III. His wife, Queen Camilla, made her first appearance in the tiara at the South Korean state banquet at Buckingham Palace in November 2023. On that occasion, like her mother-in-law before her, she paired the tiara with the Crown Ruby Necklace.