August is the month for celebrating the incredible bejeweled legacy of the late Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother. This week, we’re focusing our Sparkling Spotlight posts on some of her most interesting tiaras, including today’s piece, the Strathmore Rose Tiara.
Not long after their royal wedding in April 1923, the Duke and Duchess of York—later King George VI and Queen Elizabeth—sat for a series of formal portraits. He wore uniform, and she wore a glittering gown and dazzling jewels. The images seem to have been taken by a London photographer, perhaps at the Buckingham Palace Road studio of Carl Vandyk. The exact date of the portrait session is also a little unclear, but the youthful faces of Bertie and Elizabeth, and Elizabeth’s clothes and jewelry styling, seem perhaps to date the session to the middle of the 1920s. (I have seen various photo repositories date the photos to 1923, 1926, 1928, or even 1930. No one seems to know for sure!)
For the portrait session, Elizabeth wore an amazing spangled 1920s gown, with a drop waist, floral detailing, and an amazing fringed skirt. A filmy shawl was placed around her shoulders, giving her an ethereal effect in several of the images taken that day. She also added some splendid diamond and pearl jewelry from her personal collection, including the Strathmore Rose Tiara, worn low across her brow in a trendy ’20s manner. Her long pearl sautoir necklace is also typical of the era.
These early formal portraits were reproduced often about a decade later, when the couple ascended to the throne as King George VI and Queen Elizabeth. This image from the session was printed in a Canadian nursing periodical in 1939, the same year that the couple made a lengthy royal visit to Canada.
And this image of Elizabeth, transformed into an illustration-style picture, was used by W.D. & H.O. Wills of Imperial Tobacco for one of their famous cigarette card packs. The pack was produced in 1937, Bertie and Elizabeth’s coronation year, in a pack titled “Our King And Queen.” This card was number 3 in a pack of 50. You can view the entire pack on the National Portrait Gallery’s website here.
The jewelry that Elizabeth wore for the portrait session all dates to the earliest years of her marriage. The Strathmore Rose Tiara, for example, was her wedding present from her parents, the Earl and Countess of Strathmore and Kinghorne. She’s also wearing several pieces of jewelry given to her by her new husband. George VI, then Duke of York, gave her the Duchess of Teck’s Flower Brooch (pinned on her left shoulder) as a wedding present in 1923. He also gave her the set of Cartier bracelets that she’s wearing on her left wrist. And Elizabeth is also wearing the original sapphire and diamond engagement ring that he gave her when she finally accepted his proposal of marriage.
Elizabeth was excessively fond of pearls, and she’s wearing three strands here: a shorter two-stranded necklace, plus a long sautoir-length necklace. The second and third rows feature dark pendant drops. Because these are black-and-white photos, it’s tough for me to tell whether these are black pearls or dark cabochon gems (like sapphires or emeralds). The latter option would certainly coordinate well with the multi-colored Cartier bracelets.
The Strathmore Rose Tiara was made in England in the nineteenth century, but the Strathmores purchased it at the time of the wedding from Catchpole and Williams, a dealer based in London. It’s a versatile piece, as the individual flowers can be worn as brooches, and their center diamonds can be switched out for sapphires. It also comes with two different tiara frames, allowing it to be worn across the forehead or, more traditionally, on top of the head. The tiara belongs to the present Queen today, and despite persistent speculation that it has fallen into a state of disrepair, it looks perfectly lovely in photographs taken for exhibition and publication purposes within the last decade.
You also get a good look here at the Duchess of Teck’s Flower Brooch, with its distinctive pendants. As the name suggests, the jewel comes from Queen Mary’s family, and it has a lengthy royal history. Mary gave the brooch to Bertie in 1923 so he could offer it as a present to his new bride. Elizabeth wore it throughout her very long life, and today, it belongs to the present Queen. She’s only been photographed wearing the brooch once, in a portrait taken during her Diamond Jubilee year.
In this close-up from one of the portraits, you can see all five of the Cartier Art Deco Bracelets stacked on her right wrist. The bracelets, a gift from Bertie, are a colorful example of 1920s jewelry. Two of the bracelets are set with just diamonds; the other three are set with diamonds and emeralds, diamonds and sapphires, and diamonds and rubies. Three of the bracelets could be set on a frame and worn as a bandeau-style tiara. Today, these belong to the Queen, who usually wears them just one or two at a time.
You’ll also spot Elizabeth’s sapphire engagement ring and her gold wedding band on her left hand in this image. The sapphire ring is the one that she received from Bertie when he proposed, but later in life, she would often wear a pearl ring in its place. On rare occasions, she’d also substitute an emerald-cut diamond ring in place of her engagement ring. (That’s the ring now worn by the Duchess of Cornwall.)