On Christmas Day in 1888, Queen Emma of the Netherlands received an astonishing gift: one of the most magnificent parures of jewelry ever owned by a member of the Dutch royal family. Today, we’ve got a closer look at this royal ruby tiara and its coordinating jewels. If only we could all get something similar under the tree today!
Queen Emma’s journey to joining the Dutch royal family was an interesting one. In 1878, the widowed King Willem III of the Netherlands was on the hunt for a new bride. The 61-year-old king made a visit to Waldeck and Pyrmont, where the sovereign prince had three eligible daughters. The eldest, Princess Pauline, was not interested. She turned Willem’s proposal down flat. So he focused his attentions on the next eldest unmarried daughter, Princess Emma. She had just turned 20, and by all accounts, she was serious and sensible with a strong religious conviction. Though there was a four-decade age difference between them, Emma was persuaded that accepting the king’s proposal was her royal duty.
The engagement of the king and the young princess was announced in September 1878, and they were wed on January 7, 1879. The new Queen of the Netherlands inherited two stepsons: Prince Willem and Prince Alexander. Prince Willem, the heir to the throne, died in June 1879, just a few months after Emma’s wedding. He’d thrown himself into a wild life of debauchery in Paris after his father had refused to allow him to marry the woman he loved, Countess Mathilde of Limburg-Stirum.
Suddenly, the succession in the Netherlands was increasingly precarious. Prince Alexander became the new heir to the Dutch throne. He was greeted with relieved sighs, as he was much more traditional and duty-focused than his elder brother had been. Meanwhile, Queen Emma also did her duty, providing King Willem with another child and further securing the future of the monarchy. Princess Wilhelmina, who would be the couple’s only child, was born on August 31, 1880.
They couldn’t have known then just how important Wilhelmina would become. In 1884, Prince Alexander contracted typhus. He died that June at the age of 32, making Wilhelmina heir to the Dutch throne. While King Willem continued to hope that Queen Emma would give birth to a son, eventually everyone realized that Wilhelmina would one day inherit her father’s throne. Queen Emma was more than just a queen consort now—she was also the mother of the future monarch.
Appropriately, as Queen Emma’s status within the kingdom increased, King Willem lavished her with increasingly magnificent royal jewels. For her Christmas present in December 1888, he ordered her a suite of jewels from Mellerio dits Meller, the famous French jewelry firm. The set included several pieces: a tiara, a necklace, a bracelet, a brooch, a stomacher, a pair of earrings, and a fan. Some have attributed the design of the suite, with its gorgeous scroll, cluster, and festoon motifs, to the renowned tiara master Oscar Massin. The quality of the gemstones used in the parure, as well as the design of the entire set, meant that it was a pricey gift indeed. King Willem spent a whole lot of money—something in the neighborhood of $2.5 million USD, if my calculations are correct—to have the set made for his wife. The size of the rubies alone makes the incredible figure seem somewhat plausible to me.
Queen Emma wore the jewels for the rest of her life. In this official portrait, taken later in her life, she wears the tiara with a court veil. She also pinned the stomacher on the bodice of her gown and wore the bracelet from the set.
Only a few years after giving Emma the ruby parure, King Willem passed away. He died on November 23, 1890, at the age of 73. Their daughter, Wilhelmina, became the new Queen of the Netherlands. But at the time, Wilhelmina was only ten years old. Queen Emma was appointed regent for her daughter. She became a respected and efficient ruler, paving the way to make a smooth transition into Wilhelmina’s reign a decade later. Once the young Queen Wilhelmina became a teenager, Emma devised a sort of preparatory course for her daughter, helping her to learn in real time what she would need to do once she turned 18 and took over as monarch.
Queen Wilhelmina officially reigned in the Netherlands from 1898, when she reached the age of majority, until her abdication in 1948. Queen Emma remained close to her daughter, and later on, to her granddaughter, Queen Juliana. When Emma died in March 1934, the ruby parure was inherited by Queen Wilhelmina. She wore the set in an official portrait in 1937, paying a lovely bejeweled tribute to her late mother.
Queen Wilhelmina also shared the parure with her daughter, Queen Juliana. After the abdication in 1948, Queen Juliana was inaugurated in a grand series of festivities in September 1948. For the actual inauguration ceremony, Queen Juliana wore the earrings and the large stomacher from her grandmother’s ruby parure. She would go on to wear the full parure often. Above, in 1976, Queen Juliana poses for a formal photograph wearing the tiara, necklace, earrings, and brooch from the ruby set.
And in this formal photograph, taken in January 1980, she wears almost the complete parure: tiara, necklace, earrings, brooch, stomacher, and bracelet. The image was taken as Juliana prepared for her own abdication, ceding the throne to her eldest daughter, Princess Beatrix.
Over the years, Beatrix would also frequently wear pieces from her great-grandmother’s ruby parure. Here, she wears the tiara and the earrings from the suite for a state banquet during the Chilean state visit to the Netherlands in May 2009.
Perhaps the most enthusiastic wearer of the set in recent years, however, has been Beatrix’s daughter-in-law, Queen Maxima. She began borrowing parts of the set during her mother-in-law’s reign. Here, in April 2006, she wears the tiara and earrings from the parure (and the brooch from the Ruby Peacock Parure) for King Carl Gustaf XVI of Sweden’s 60th birthday celebrations in Stockholm.
And here, in October 2012, she wears the tiara, earrings, and necklace at a gala held the night before the royal wedding of Hereditary Grand Duke Guillaume and Hereditary Grand Duchess Stephanie of Luxembourg. (Interestingly, the Netherlands and Luxembourg used to be ruled jointly by the Dutch royal family. But when Willem III died in 1890 without a male heir, the succession rules in Luxembourg at the time didn’t allow Queen Wilhelmina to become ruler of the grand duchy. Instead, the job passed to a cousin, Duke Adolphe of Nassau. His descendants still sit on the throne in Luxembourg today.)
Queen Maxima made one of her most splendid appearances in the tiara back in June 2015, at the royal wedding of Prince Carl Philip and Princess Sofia of Sweden in Stockholm. She wore the tiara, earrings, necklace, and bracelet from the parure for the occasion. She also carried a fan, but not the bejeweled one from the parure; that piece is too fragile to use.
And recently, we had a glimpse of the tiara’s future. Princess Amalia, eldest daughter of King Willem-Alexander and Queen Maxima, celebrated her 18th birthday this month. In a biography commissioned to mark the milestone, she revealed that she absolutely loves tiaras. This image, taken in October 2012 as Maxima was preparing to wear the tiara in Luxembourg, shows a young Amalia balancing Queen Emma’s heirloom Christmas gift tiara on her small head. I can’t wait to see her wear the tiara properly one day in the future!