Today marks the 11th wedding anniversary of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge. To celebrate, I thought it was high time for us to take a new, updated look at the Duchess’s wedding tiara: the Queen’s Cartier Halo Tiara.
The tiara is a relatively small, minor one, but it has always been in the main line of the British royal family. Made by Cartier in the summer of 1936, it was purchased that November by King George VI (then still Duke of York) for his wife, Elizabeth (who we all know better as the Queen Mother). In The Queen’s Diamonds, Sir Hugh Roberts writes that the Duke bought the tiara from Cartier on November 18, 1936.
However, the Duchess of York wore the tiara in public for the first time before that date. She’s pictured above with the Duke on November 4, 1936, at a charity ball at Claridge’s in London to benefit the South London Hospital for Women. It was their first gala outing since the official ending of the lengthy court mourning period for the late King George V. Perhaps November 18 is simply when the bill with Cartier was fully settled?
During the early years of George VI’s reign, Queen Elizabeth was sometimes photographed in the jewel, which features large scroll elements arranged across a geometric band of diamonds (which is why it’s sometimes called the “Scroll Tiara”). Here, she wears the tiara with the Coronation Earrings and pearls in November 1937, for a special performance of Macbeth at the Old Vic in aid of the centenary fund of the Kings College Hospital. In the end, though, it never became one of her most frequently worn tiaras.
In the spring of 1944, Queen Elizabeth gave the Halo Tiara to her daughter, the current Queen, as an 18th birthday gift. Most of the bejeweled gifts that the young Princess Elizabeth received during the war years were hand-me-down pieces. On April 11, 1944, shortly before the birthday celebrations, Queen Elizabeth wrote to Queen Mary, noting, “I am giving Lilibet a small diamond tiara of my own for her 18th birthday, & Bertie [George VI] is giving her a little bracelet to wear now. It is almost impossible to buy anything good, but he may find something secondhand.” (The “something” he found was a pair of aquamarine clips, which had been commissioned before the war by his brother, the Duke of Kent.)
Princess Elizabeth is pictured above with her parents on her 18th birthday, which took place on April 21, 1944. She’s wearing her Grenadier Guards badge, and her mother wears a diamond thistle brooch (now worn by the Duchess of Cornwall) on her hat. The young Elizabeth never wore her birthday tiara in public. It’s not as if she had many chances early on, given the wartime austerity of her coming-of-age period.
Instead, Princess Elizabeth loaned the piece frequently to her younger sister, Princess Margaret, who made her first appearance in the piece during the inauguration celebrations for Queen Juliana of the Netherlands in September 1948. Margaret also wore the jewel at her sister’s June 1953 coronation. You can see her wearing the tiara here, sitting in a carriage beside the Queen Mother on Coronation Day.
The tiara really is the perfect size for a younger princess, and Margaret wore it often in the years before she married Antony Armstrong-Jones (when she graduated to something a touch bigger—the mighty Poltimore), as well as afterward. In this photograph, Margaret wears the Halo Tiara in April 1958 for dinner to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the Royal Air Force at Fighter Command HQ at Stanmore.
The next borrower of the tiara was the Queen’s daughter, Princess Anne, who also wore the tiara frequently before her marriage. Here, she makes her very first tiara appearance in public, wearing the Halo for the State Opening of Parliament in October 1967.
And here, she wears the tiara in New Zealand during a royal tour with her parents and elder brother in March 1970. Later, Anne also moved on to larger sparklers, including her own Festoon Tiara, her grandmother’s Meander Bandeau, and the interesting Aquamarine Pineflower Tiara (also originally a Cartier purchase by George VI for his wife).
Once Princess Anne moved on to bigger diadems, the Halo Tiara went into the vault, unseen for many years—until Kate Middleton arrived at Westminster Abbey for her royal wedding in 2011.
The Duchess of Cambridge’s choice of a bridal tiara is a clear signal that she wants her royal role to be patterned after that of the late Queen Mother. Kate also used another of her wedding jewels—her diamond earrings—to join together motifs from her birth and marital families.
The main shape of Kate’s wedding earrings mimics the scroll motif of the tiara, but the earrings also feature a diamond acorn, which comes from the Middleton family’s coat of arms.
Kate has worn the earrings on occasion in the eleven years since her royal wedding, but so far, we’ve only seen the tiara in exhibitions (like the big 2018 Cartier exhibition in Canberra, pictured above) and books during that time. Kate has also moved on, making Queen Mary’s Lover’s Knot Tiara her signature sparkler. The Cartier Halo Tiara really works best on a young princess, or in Kate’s case, on a commoner transitioning to a new royal life. Perhaps Princess Charlotte will be the next young royal lady to wear this tiara?