Since last weekend’s glittering royal gala in Norway, royal jewelry lovers have been buzzing about the new tiara worn by the Duchess of Brabant. Here’s what we know so far about the tiara—and some speculation about its provenance.
Princess Elisabeth of Belgium, who holds the title of Duchess of Brabant as heir to the Belgian throne, accompanied her mother, Queen Mathilde, to Princess Ingrid Alexandra of Norway’s birthday celebration gala in Oslo on Friday. Both women were glittering in Armani, but it was Elisabeth’s tiara that really set tongues wagging.
Elisabeth was one of three princesses making her tiara debut at the gala. While Princess Ingrid Alexandra and Princess Amalia wore tiaras that come from their family collections, Princess Elisabeth’s tiara had never been seen on a member of the Belgian royal family before. The diamond floral festoon tiara features design elements popular during the late nineteenth century, so I speculated that it might be a newly-acquired antique tiara—and, it turns out, I was right.
European royal reporters reached out to the Belgian royal court for more information on the tiara. Wim Dehandschutter shared the court’s response: “It’s an antique piece that King Philippe and Queen Mathilde bought for her 18th birthday in 2019.” He added that, according to the court, the tiara “will remain in the family.”
Following the palace’s response, internet sleuths have been hard at work trying to track down the provenance of the antique tiara. One Instagram account pointed to a possible source: a very similar tiara was worn in the 1920s by Evelyn Brodstone, the American second wife of the 1st Baron Vestey. (The same account posits a similarity to a Russian imperial tiara; I don’t think that tiara is connected with Elisabeth’s.)
Evelyn is a fascinating woman in her own right. Hailing from Superior, Nebraska, she took a job as a stenographer with the Chicago branch of Vestey Brothers, a British meat-packing and shipping firm. Her talent for business quickly led her to rise through the ranks of the company, and she eventually became the manager of all of the firm’s American operations, making her one of the highest-ranking female business executives in the world at the time. Her work took her around the globe, monitoring Vestey Brothers investments in Asia, South America, and Australia. She eventually retired, but her connection with William Vestey, one of the firm’s founders, ultimately blossomed into romance. After the death of his first wife, he married Evelyn in Nebraska on August 1, 1924. The wedding date was also Evelyn’s 49th birthday.
A few months later, in William’s native England, the new Lady Vestey was presented to King George V and Queen Mary at court. The Countess Beauchamp, a granddaughter of the 1st Duke of Westminster, presented her on June 26, 1925. Evelyn wore a diamond tiara with a floral and festoon motif, plus the required ostrich feathers and veil. The Yorkshire Evening Post described her gown at the event: “Lady Vestey’s blue crêpe satin beauté gown has trimmings of gold applique embroidery and diamante. Under the vandyked hem of the gown is an under-dress of gold tissue. A gold tissue lining and gold applique embroideries distinguish the train, which is of blue crêpe satin beauté.”
There were no children from William and Evelyn’s later-in-life marriage. When he died in 1940, the title passed to a son from his first marriage. (Evelyn survived her husband by just a few months, passing away in July 1941. After the end of the war, her ashes were buried in her hometown of Superior, Nebraska.) Eventually, another descendant, the 3rd Baron Vestey became close to the royal family. He served as Master of the Horse to the Queen from 1999 until 2018, and his wife, Celia, is a godmother of the Duke of Sussex.
The tiara worn by Evelyn in 1925 evidently stayed with the Vestey family for at least three more generations. The 3rd Baron Vestey’s daughter, the Hon. Saffron Vestey, wore the tiara for her first wedding in May 1997. The tiara’s fate afterward doesn’t appear to be known. Some have speculated that it was sold at some point, as later Vestey brides have not worn the same tiara.
So, is Princess Elisabeth’s new tiara the same piece worn by Lady Vestey at court in 1925? At this point, I think the firmest conclusion we can make is this: it could be. Without a clear idea of if/when the Vestey tiara was sold, and where and when the Belgian royals purchased Elisabeth’s tiara, it’s difficult to say for sure. And it’s also worth remembering that jewelry firms often made multiple examples of a single tiara design. Not all tiaras are one-off creations. It’s also possible, then, that this is a tiara made by the same firm in the same design as the Vestey tiara. Ultimately, I’m hoping we find out more soon!