One hundred fifty-four years ago this week, Princess Victoria Mary of Teck was born at Kensington Palace. Nicknamed “May” after her birth month, Mary would ultimately become Queen Mary of the United Kingdom. We’re going to celebrate one of the greatest British royal jewelry lovers of all time this week, starting off with an intriguing missing tiara from her collection: her Sapphire Sunray Bandeau.
The tiara’s early years are somewhat shrouded in mystery. The first royal pictured wearing it is Queen Mary, who donned in the later years of her husband’s reign. A flexible diamond bandeau with a sunray design, the jewel features a central sapphire and diamond cluster ornament, which can be removed and worn separately as a brooch. (Other brooches can also be worn with the bandeau. Queen Mary notably once wore it with the carved emerald brooch from the Delhi Durbar Parure.) The tiara is shaped like a small Russian kokoshnik—and, according one of the only print sources that has discussed the tiara’s history, that’s because it is indeed a Russian tiara.
The source of the Russian provenance information, as you might have guessed, is Leslie Field. In The Queen’s Jewels, published in the 1980s, Field discusses the jewels purchased by Queen Mary from the estate of the late Dowager Empress Marie Feodorovna of Russia. She notes that Queen Mary’s “small V-shaped tiara with a large centre sapphire had also belonged to the Empress.” Field doesn’t cite a source for her claim, but it’s certainly possible. Mary did buy several other pieces of jewelry from Marie Feodorovna’s estate, but there are records available documenting most of those purchases. There are no public records, to my knowledge, of the purchase of a small diamond bandeau-style tiara with a sunray design and a central sapphire. Ultimately, we just don’t have enough information to document the provenance of the piece with any kind of certainty.
Field offers us one more piece of information about the bandeau: “Queen Mary left the tiara to Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother, who has never worn it in public, but loaned it to Princess Margaret for a number of years.” Indeed, Princess Margaret wore the sunray bandeau with its sapphire center ornament often both before and after her marriage in 1960. In the spring of 1958, she packed it in her luggage for a tour of the Caribbean. She wore the tiara (with diamond and sapphire earrings now worn by Lady Sarah Chatto) for a dinner at Government House in Trinidad in April 1958.
Here’s another view of Margaret’s ensemble from the same dinner in Trinidad. Her dress was described by contemporary reporters as “powder blue, covered with blue and silver lace, [and] re-embroidered with silver, diamonds and sapphires.” Her jewels also include the Lady Mount Stephen Necklace, a diamond floral brooch, and a pair of pearl bracelets.
During the same Caribbean tour, Margaret also wore the sunray tiara for a dinner and garden party in George Town in the Bahamas. She paired it with the same sapphire earrings, the Lady Mount Stephen Necklace, one of her cross brooches, and a pair of sparkling bracelets. She also wore the tiara during a state visit from President Heuss of Germany the same year, and three years later at the wedding of Princess Astrid of Norway.
Margaret also wore the brooch separately for both daytime and evening occasions. Above, she wears it to watch a performance by The Shadows at Hackney Youth Club in London in March 1962.
So, where are the brooch and the tiara now? We don’t know, but my best guess is that they’re residing in the royal vaults. If the jewels belonged to the Queen Mother, they were inherited by the Queen in 2002. If they belonged to Princess Margaret, they weren’t sold as part of the grand auction at Christie’s after her death, so they’re either back with the Queen or with one of Margaret’s children. Either way, I very much hope that we’ll see the tiara make another public appearance at some point in the future!