September is a month full of royal birthdays and milestones. Last weekend, Queen Paola of Belgium, the mother of King Philippe of the Belgians, turned 84. To celebrate, we’ve got a glittering roundup of the royal jewels she’s worn over the years. Enjoy!
When Paola Ruffo di Calabria, an Italian aristocrat, married Prince Albert of Belgium in 1959, she never expected to become Queen of the Belgians. Albert was a younger brother of King Baudouin, who would go on to marry the following year, and he was not expected to become king. Albert and Paola, who held the titles of Prince and Princess of Liège, were still important senior members of the family, and they made numerous appearances on the family’s behalf.
Above, not quite a year after their wedding, Princess Paola wears her diamond festoon necklace and her golden serpent bracelet during a state visit from the Dutch royal family in May 1960. (Paola had recently given birth to her first child, Philippe.) Beside her, Princess Beatrix of the Netherlands wears Queen Emma’s Diamond Tiara and the Dutch Diamond Festoon Necklace.
Later that year, in December 1960, Paola wore a striking fur-trimmed brocade gown for the wedding of her brother-in-law, King Baudouin, and Fabiola de Mora y Aragón. Above, she leaves the cathedral after the wedding on the arm of Fabiola’s brother-in-law, the Marqués of Aguilar.
One of Paola’s wedding gifts from her father-in-law, King Leopold III, was a sparkling diamond bandeau-style tiara with a striking Art Deco design. The tiara had been made for Leopold’s mother, Queen Elisabeth. It’s been Paola’s primary tiara ever since. Above, she wears it with pearl drop earrings at the Waterloo Ball in Brussels in June 1965.
In March 1966, Princess Paola brought the Art Deco Bandeau with her to Amsterdam, wearing it for a grand ball held ahead of the wedding of Princess Beatrix and Prince Claus of the Netherlands. (We discussed the ball recently over here!)
For a reception in Brussels for officials from Luxembourg in October 1967, Princess Paola got inventive with her jewelry. She wore a diamond necklace as a tiara, nestling it in a dramatic hairstyle. Pearl drop earrings completed the look.
For this appearance, in August 1968, Paola wore her diamond festoon necklace with the Art Deco Bandeau and her pearl drop earrings.
On October 31, 1968, Paola was glamorous in pearl earrings and a fur jacket for the premiere of the Western film Shalako, which starred Sean Connery and Brigitte Bardot. The princess and the actor were photographed together at the event.
Albert and Paola’s marriage went through a serious crisis in the late ’60s and early ’70s. Albert had a long affair with a Belgian aristocrat, which resulted in the birth of a daughter, Delphine Boel (now Princess Delphine of Belgium). Albert and Paola separated, and they were on the brink of ending the marriage entirely. After divorce papers were drawn up, the couple reconciled.
By the 1980s, the couple’s marriage had been saved. Above, in October 1983, they appear together in Brussels at an official reception for President Mitterand of France. Paola wears pearls and her convertible diamond necklace.
And then, in the summer of 1993, the unthinkable happened. King Baudouin suddenly had a heart attack and died at the age of 62. Because Baudouin and Fabiola had not had children of their own, Albert and Paola’s elder son, Philippe, had been groomed to become his uncle’s heir. Instead, though, Albert succeeded his brother, becoming King Albert II of the Belgians. (The Belgian prime minister announced that the succession was part of the “spirit of continuity” that the country needed.)
At the age of 55, Paola became Queen of the Belgians. Along with the title, she also inherited the right to wear the grandest tiara in the family vaults: the Nine Provinces Tiara. Above, Queen Paola wears the tiara in Tokyo during a state visit to Japan in October 1996. (Empress Michiko of Japan wears the Meiji Tiara.)
Though she was now the highest-ranking royal woman in Belgium, Queen Paola kept her gala jewels simple and minimal, choosing to use only a small selection of jewels. These included two diamond necklaces (the diamond festoon necklace and the convertible diamond necklace), two tiaras (the Nine Provinces Tiara and Queen Elisabeth’s Art Deco Bandeau), and a few bracelets and pairs of earrings.
Above, for a dinner held the night before the Dutch royal wedding in February 2002, Paola wears her convertible necklace with a favorite set of earrings: her diamond and pearl half-moon earrings. The earrings had been in her jewelry box for almost half a century.
In May 2003, Albert and Paola welcomed fellow royals to Belgium who were also close cousins. King Harald V and Queen Sonja of Norway made a state visit to Brussels. (Harald and Albert are first cousins; their mothers, Crown Princess Martha of Norway and Queen Astrid of Belgium, were sisters.) Queen Paola wore the Nine Provinces Tiara for the banquet, pairing it with her half-moon earrings and her convertible diamond necklace.
Queen Paola wore both of her tiaras in Copenhagen for the Danish royal wedding in May 2004. She wore the Art Deco Bandeau atop her hair, and the meander base of the Nine Provinces Tiara as a choker necklace. She also wore her half-moon earrings and several bracelets.
In October 2004, when the President of Poland made a state visit to Belgium, Queen Paola wore the Art Deco Bandeau with the half-moon earrings and the convertible diamond necklace for a state banquet.
She wore the same tiara and necklace combination in October 2005 during a state visit from the President of Portugal, though this time she swapped out the half-moon earrings for simpler diamond earrings.
When fellow monarchs came to visit, however, it was usually the Nine Provinces Tiara that Paola brought along to state banquets. When Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands visited (wearing the family sapphires) in June 2006, Paola wore the Nine Provinces Tiara with the half-moon earrings and her diamond festoon necklace. She also wore bracelets on both wrists, including her golden serpent bracelet. (If you scroll back to the top of the post, you’ll spot Paola wearing the same necklace and bracelet beside Beatrix at a gala almost fifty years earlier!)
For a visit from Grand Duke Henri and Grand Duchess Maria Teresa of Luxembourg in March 2007, she brought out the big jewels again: the Nine Provinces Tiara, the half-moon earrings, the convertible diamond necklace, and the serpent bracelet. (This was another family reunion: Grand Duke Henri is King Albert II’s nephew.) Maria Teresa also brought along some major jewels, including the Luxembourg Empire Tiara, the Diamond Epaulette Brooch, and a diamond and emerald necklace that had belonged to Queen Astrid of Belgium.
For the Swedish royal wedding in June 2010, Queen Paola wore the Art Deco Bandeau with diamond drop earrings, the diamond festoon necklace, and the golden serpent bracelet, plus additional gold bracelets.
Queen Paola’s husband, King Albert II, abdicated in favor of their son, King Philippe, in July 2013. The final major gala appearance of their twenty-year reign came in October 2012, at a pre-wedding gala for their great-nephew, Hereditary Grand Duke Guillaume of Luxembourg. For this last important tiara appearance, Queen Paola reached for familiar, favorite jewels: the Art Deco Bandeau, the half-moon earrings, and the diamond festoon necklace, as well as several bracelets, including that iconic golden serpent.
Today, she has handed her tiaras over to the next generation. The Nine Provinces Tiara is now worn by her daughter-in-law, Queen Mathilde of the Belgians, while the Art Deco Bandeau is worn by her daughter, Princess Astrid of Belgium.