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The Japanese imperial vaults are packed with jewels set with glittering diamonds and luminous pearls, but none are more important or impressive than the diadem reserved for the empress: the Meiji Tiara.
One of the most important Western-style jewels in the imperial vaults, this grand diamond scroll tiara was made in the late nineteenth-century, likely by a European jeweler. Empress Haruko of Japan was the first member of the family to wear the tiara, following the official incorporation of Western dress at the imperial court in 1887. The tiara can be worn with at least two sets of toppers: a set of large round diamonds, and a set of diamond star elements, which were popularized during the period by the fashionable Empress Sisi of Austria. In the portrait above, Empress Haruko wears the tiara with the diamond stars.
Next, the tiara passed to Empress Sadako, whose husband, Emperor Yoshihito, ascended to the throne in 1912. She wore the tiara in one of the first formal portraits taken of her in Western-style dress, following the imperial accession. You’ll note that she chose to wear the tiara with the round diamond toppers rather than the diamond stars.
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The next Japanese empress consort, Empress Nagako, was photographed wearing the tiara in all three of its settings. She wore the piece with the diamond stars above in November 1963 for a state banquet at the Imperial Palace in honor of President Lubke of the Federal Republic of Germany.
In October 1971, Empress Nagako wore the tiara with the round diamond toppers for a state banquet during the imperial couple’s state visit to the United Kingdom.
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And in October 1975, she wore the tiara without either the stars or the round diamonds for a state dinner with President and Mrs. Ford at the White House in Washington, D.C.
Empress Nagako’s elder son, Akihito, ascended to the throne in 1989. Accordingly, she passed the tiara on to her daughter-in-law, the new Empress Michiko. She wore the piece with the round diamond toppers for a portrait released ahead of the imperial enthronement in November 1990.
Though the Japanese imperial couple wears traditional dress for the actual enthronement, recent tradition has seen them change into Western-style clothes and jewelry for the celebrations that follow. Above, Michiko wears the Meiji Tiara ahead of the enthronement parade through Tokyo in November 1990.
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And here’s Empress Michiko wearing the tiara during the parade itself.
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In June 1993, Empress Michiko wore the tiara during the celebrations of the wedding of her son, Naruhito, and Masako Owada. Michiko wore the tiara exclusively with the round diamond toppers; the stars haven’t been seen since the reign of her father-in-law.
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Empress Michiko often chose the tiara for important occasions, like state visits, especially early in her husband’s reign. Above, she wears the tiara for a state banquet in Tokyo during the Belgian state visit in October 1996. But as the years went on, Michiko developed health problems that made wearing heavy tiaras uncomfortable, and she exchanged this one for lighter sparklers (and eventually stopped wearing them completely).
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In May 2019, the tiara passed to a new wearer. Emperor Akihito abdicated in favor of his elder son, who became Emperor Naruhito. His wife, the new Empress Masako, debuted the Meiji Tiara on the day of his ascension to the throne.
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Since then, Masako has worn the tiara in public on several occasions. She donned it for the banquet celebrating the couple’s imperial enthronement in October 2019.
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The next month, in November 2019, she wore it for the enthronement parade through the streets of Tokyo.
And in January 2020, she wore it for the New Year’s reception at the Imperial Palace in Tokyo, pairing it with other glittering diamond jewels from the family collection.