When you start a series on the jewels of the Greville Bequest, there’s really nowhere else to begin but this sparkling signature jewel: the Greville Tiara.
Earlier this week, we discussed the life of Dame Margaret Greville and her surprise decision in 1942 to bequeath her jewels to Queen Elizabeth (later the Queen Mother). We still don’t know exactly how many jewels were in the black tin trunk that was delivered to Buckingham Palace after Mrs. Greville’s estate went through probate in 1943, but we know that one of the most majestic pieces inside was a grand diamond tiara with a distinctive honeycomb pattern.
The tiara had been designed for Mrs. Greville by Lucien Hirtz of Boucheron in Paris in 1921. It was a complete overhaul of another diamond tiara from her collection, which had been made by the same firm 20 years earlier. (You can see a picture of that original tiara, which had a palmette design, in Sir Hugh Roberts’s The Queen’s Diamonds.) Hirtz used the diamonds from that original tiara to fashion a new, modern diadem with an eye-catching geometric design. Roberts called the resulting tiara, which had a kokoshnik-style silhouette, “one of the most striking and unusual of the jewels inherited from Mrs. Greville by Queen Elizabeth.”
Queen Elizabeth inherited the grand Greville jewels in the middle of World War II, so naturally she did not wear them in public until after the conflict’s end. Roberts suggests that she first wore the Greville Tiara, as it is known by the royal family, in public for a state ball during the family’s royal tour of South Africa in March 1947. Above, she wears the kokoshnik-style version of the honeycomb tiara for another gala event, held during a state visit by Queen Juliana of the Netherlands to Britain in 1950. On that occasion, she paired the tiara with another fabulous Greville inheritance, the Festoon Necklace. (Behind her, Princess Margaret wears Queen Mary’s Diamond Lozenge Tiara.)
In 1953, Queen Elizabeth (now the Queen Mother) decided to make her own alterations to the Greville Tiara. She turned to Cartier to add additional height to the tiara by reconfiguring some of the diamonds from the top line of the piece. Four round diamond brilliants and a marquise-cut diamond were added to the tiara as part of the slight redesign. (The newer diamonds can be distinguished from the original ones by their setting; the original diamonds are surrounded by a millegrain setting, while the newer diamonds are not.) Roberts notes that the round diamonds were sourced from a brooch from Elizabeth’s collection that had been dismantled by Cartier four years earlier. The changes somehow made the already-imposing tiara even more impressive.
As we discussed earlier, the jewels that Elizabeth inherited from Mrs. Greville were her own private property, and she generally kept their provenance quiet. That meant that earlier jewelry historians often made erroneous claims about the source and creation of the jewel, largely because they had access to incomplete information. Both Suzy Menkes and Leslie Field, writing in the 1980s, argued that Elizabeth had had the entire tiara commissioned herself using a cache of South African diamonds given in 1901 to either King Edward VII or Queen Mary. Field wrote (incorrectly) that Elizabeth had chosen the tiara’s design herself. Menkes called the diadem “the last grand tiara made for the English royal family.”
Both Menkes and Field were incorrect in their understanding of the tiara’s provenance, partly because Elizabeth was so tight-lipped about the Greville bequest pieces in general. By the end of her very long life, though, she was more comfortable sharing some information about the tiara’s origins. In 1997, the Queen Mother began loaning some of her personal jewels, including the Strathmore Rose Tiara, to exhibitions curated by Geoffrey Munn, beginning a collaborative relationship with the jewelry historian. In his landmark book, Tiaras: A History of Splendour, Munn clarified some of the details about the Greville Tiara, correcting earlier misinformation. He wrote that the “openwork diamond tiara” did indeed come from the Greville bequest, adding the accurate information that the piece was constructed by Boucheron for Mrs. Greville and later altered by Cartier for the Queen Mother. About a decade later, Hugh Roberts’s book on The Queen’s Diamonds also offered a final, solid Greville provenance for the piece.
After the tiara was returned from Cartier, the Queen Mother made it one of her most-worn tiaras for the rest of her life. (The only other diadem she wore in public during her long widowhood was Queen Victoria’s Indian Circlet.) Above, the Queen Mother wears the altered Greville Tiara for a Women’s Institute birthday celebration in November 1960. (She’s also wearing the Greville Peardrop Earrings, Queen Alexandra’s Wedding Necklace, and her Silver Anniversary Flower Brooch.)
In April 1972, for another state visit by Queen Juliana of the Netherlands to London, the Queen Mother again paired the tiara with the Greville Emeralds and the Fringe Brooch. (Juliana is resplendent here in sapphire and diamond jewels from the Dutch royal collection, including Queen Emma’s Sapphire Tiara and Necklace.)
The Queen Mother often wore the tiara (which has a relatively lightweight platinum setting) for concerts and film premieres. Here, she wears the tiara with the Greville Peardrop Earrings, Queen Alexandra’s Wedding Necklace, and Queen Mary’s Diamond Choker Bracelet for the premiere of A Passage to India in March 1985. Beside her, Princess Anne wears pearls, and Diana, Princess of Wales wears emeralds.
Impressively, the Queen Mum kept wearing the tiara right up until the very end of her incredible life. Here, in December 1998, she wears the tiara with the Greville Peardrop Earrings and three strands of the Greville Festoon Necklace during the German state visit to Britain. She’s pictured here arriving for the state banquet at Windsor Castle with the then-Archbishop of Canterbury, George Carey. Can you believe that she’s 98 years old here?!?
When Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother passed away in March 2002, the Greville Tiara (and all of her jewels) were left to her daughter, Queen Elizabeth II. It’s perhaps no surprise that the present Queen has never worn her mother’s diamond tiara—the piece must have been so indelibly associated with the Queen Mum for her. But when another new member joined the family three years later, the Queen handed the tiara over to her.
The Duchess of Cornwall, the Queen’s daughter-in-law, is the present wearer of the Greville Tiara. She doesn’t own the tiara personally—The Queen’s Diamonds revealed that the Queen has offered the piece to Camilla as a long-term loan. One of her earliest public appearances in the tiara came in March 2006 at a state banquet in honor of the President of Brazil. On that occasion, she paired the tiara with the earrings and necklace from her pear-shaped diamond demi-parure.
There must be something about this tiara, as it is now also the Duchess’s most-worn gala jewel. The piece must be comfortable to wear, and we can see that it coordinates nicely with lots of different ensembles and accessories. Here, Camilla wears the tiara for the Commonwealth Heads of Government Banquet in Uganda in November 2007. She’s also wearing her pear-shaped diamond earrings, plus all five strands of the remarkable Greville Festoon Necklace.
Here’s another view of Camilla wearing the tiara for another CHOGM Banquet, held in Sri Lanka in November 2013.
Whenever Camilla attends a tiara event these days, whether it’s a state banquet or the State Opening of Parliament (pictured above, 2019), you can almost bet that she’ll be bringing the Greville Tiara along with her. Of all of the jewels from the Greville Bequest, this one so far is probably the piece with the most lasting royal legacy.