On this date in 1960, Princess Margaret of the United Kingdom arrived at Westminster Abbey for her royal wedding, wearing a remarkable diamond tiara that became iconic. Today, in honor of the anniversary, let’s talk a little bit about the Poltimore Tiara.
The tiara originally came from an aristocratic English family. Its first documented wearer was Florence Bampfylde, wife of the 2nd Baron Poltimore. The tiara was made for Lady Poltimore around 1870, and she wore the jewel throughout her lifetime. Here, she wears the tiara with her robes for the 1902 coronation of King Edward VII and Queen Alexandra.
Two generations later, Florence’s descendants decided to sell the tiara, which could also be converted to wear as a necklace. The individual diamond elements of the tiara could also be separated and worn as eleven different brooches. The tiara came with its own tiny screwdriver to help the wearer make these changes to the diadem. The Grantham Journal reported in February 1959 that a recent sale at Sotheby’s in London included “a diamond tiara sent by Lord Poltimore, which was bought for £5,500 by a firm of London jewellers.”
The tiara had been acquired on behalf of a very important client: Princess Margaret, the Queen’s younger sister. She’d been encouraged by a family friend and courtier, Lord Plunket, to purchase the piece. She began wearing it soon after the sale. Here, you’ll spot her wearing the tiara in the royal box at Covent Garden. (She’s on the right side of the photograph.) The occasion was a ballet performance held on May 7, 1959, during a state visit from the Shah of Iran. The imposing tiara added several inches to the princess’s diminutive height. She’s also wearing two diamond rivière necklaces and her diamond and pearl earrings. You can also see the jewels on film in this newsreel footage from the evening.
There are a few other royal tiaras to spot in this photograph as well. The Queen is wearing the pearl setting of the Vladimir Tiara with Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee Necklace and the Gloucester Pendant Earrings. From left to right behind her, you’ll spot Princess Alice, Duchess of Gloucester wearing her emerald and diamond bandeau tiara with her emerald and diamond festoon necklace; Princess Mary, Princess Royal and Countess of Harewood wearing one of her diamond tiaras (perhaps the Harewood Fringe?); Princess Alexandra of Kent wearing Queen Mary’s Diamond Bandeau; and Princess Marina, Duchess of Kent wearing the Kent City of London Fringe Tiara with her diamond girandole earrings and massive diamond bow brooch. (The Queen Mother, not pictured here, wore the Greville Tiara with the Greville Emeralds.)
Princess Margaret showed off the versatility of her new tiara on July 7, 1959, when she wore the jewel for an event at the Guildhall in London. With the Lotus Flower Tiara and her pearl and diamond earrings, she wore the necklace setting of the tiara. She also used one of the brooches from the tiara to secure her order sash.
In October 1959, a few months after she purchased the Poltimore Tiara, Margaret accepted a marriage proposal from society photographer Antony Armstrong-Jones. They announced their engagement to the public on February 26, 1960, surprising the press and the public. Tony and Margaret posed for engagement photos at her mother’s Windsor home, Royal Lodge, showing off her new diamond and ruby engagement ring.
When it came time to choose a wedding tiara, Margaret reached for the diadem that she had purchased herself. When she left Clarence House in a carriage on her way to her royal wedding on May 6, 1960, the Poltimore Tiara was perched carefully atop her hair, anchoring her bridal veil.
Margaret smartly kept the rest of her wedding jewelry minimal, allowing the Poltimore to really shine as the spotlight piece of her ensemble. She wore no earrings, adding additional sparkle only with the elegant Lady Mount Stephen Necklace, a diamond rivière that once belonged to Queen Mary.
Margaret floated down the aisle of the Abbey in a cloud of diamonds and silk organza. Her wedding gown was made by one of the family’s favorite couturiers, Sir Norman Hartnell.
The look was perfectly Margaret: chic and elegant, but also a little bit brash and memorable.
Here’s one more look at her wedding ensemble, right in the midst of her bridal party during the official photograph session at Buckingham Palace after the ceremony. Margaret’s roster of bridesmaids included her niece, Princess Anne, who is standing beside her in this photograph.
Princess Margaret wore the Poltimore faithfully for the rest of her life. Here, she wears it with additional diamonds for the State Opening of Parliament in October 1996.
After her death in 2002, Margaret’s children faced a significant tax burden. To pay the bill, and to raise money for the education of her grandchildren, David and Sarah decided to auction off a great number of pieces from her jewelry collection at Christie’s in 2006. (Some of the proceeds of the sale also benefitted the Stroke Association.) The star of the auction was the Poltimore Tiara.
When the hammer fell in July 2006, the tiara far exceeded its auction estimate of approximately $350,000 USD. It sold for a whopping £926,400, or around $1.7 million USD, a fitting tribute to the legacy of the memorable princess who wore it so regally for so many decades.