This week’s Wedding Tiara Wednesday article covers a tiara that has divided royal jewelry lovers for decades: the Countess of Wessex’s Wedding Tiara.
Ahead of Edward and Sophie’s June 1999 royal wedding, the same questions were asked that are always posed about a royal bridal tiara: will it be something borrowed or something new? Diana had something borrowed (from her family), while Fergie had something new, purchased for her (eventually) by her parents-in-law. Sophie’s tiara, however, was something sort of in between. It’s made of four antique elements meshed into a new tiara. The official word from the palace on the piece is that it was from the private collection of the Queen, but that it had been altered by the crown jeweler.
That’s all that’s ever been said by the palace about the piece. Jewelry sleuths on the internet, however, found a piece of evidence that suggests that the four elements of the tiara were originally a set of detachable diamond anthemions that could be worn on Queen Victoria’s Regal Circlet (shown above in a portrait by Winterhalter), which dates to the 1850s. A photograph was uncovered that showed empty places in the storage box for Victoria’s circlet that matched the shape of the anthemions on Sophie’s wedding tiara.
None of the portraits or photographs of Queen Victoria wearing the circlet show the anthemions. Instead, she wore the circlet with alternating fleur-de-lis and Maltese cross elements. The circlet is no longer used at all. Its diamonds were removed in the 1930s to make a new crown for Queen Elizabeth’s coronation, and the empty frame of the piece, pictured above, is in the Museum of London.
If the theory is true (and it hasn’t been either confirmed or denied), then the new Countess of Wessex received a new bridal tiara that had serious heirloom roots. It also meant that the Queen, who had already lost two daughters-in-law by 1999, was not handing over a significant tiara that could potentially leave the family later. And bonus: she was reusing pieces in the collection that had essentially gone unused since they were created a century and a half before. Canny!
Sophie has worn her wedding tiara frequently in the decades after her marriage. As she and Edward were the royal family’s go-to representatives at foreign royal weddings in the 2000s and 2010s, the tiara made appearances at numerous other royal nuptials. Here, she wears the tiara for the wedding of Crown Prince Haakon and Crown Princess Mette-Marit of Norway in August 2001.
And here, she wears the tiara for the wedding of Crown Princess Victoria and Prince Daniel of Sweden in June 2010.
In 2019, the year that the couple celebrated their 20th wedding anniversary, Sophie debuted a new version of the tiara, which had been redesigned slightly. The new piece features rearranged anthemions and a more substantial base.
On her wedding day, Sophie wore the tiara with an elegant, vintage-inspired wedding dress made for her by Samantha Shaw. The dress featured sparkling embellishments of its own, with pearls and crystals embroidered into the fabric.
The tiara wasn’t Sophie’s only accessory on her wedding day. She also wore a necklace and earrings designed for her by her new husband, Prince Edward. Both the pieces combine white and black pearls, and the necklace features a cross pendant. Her Welsh gold wedding ring was also new and, like the tiara, was also made by the man who was then the crown jeweller, David Thomas.
We’ve seen Sophie wear her wedding pearls occasionally throughout the years, including some appearances at big moments for the royal family. Here, she wears the necklace and earrings for a visit to Connaught Primary School near their home, Bagshot Park, in Surrey, just a few days before their first wedding anniversary in June 2000.
In February 2002, she wore the pearls for the funeral of Princess Margaret at St. George’s Chapel, Windsor.
At the Richmond Theatre in London in March 2003, she wore the pearls for a concert to mark the 400th anniversary of the death of Queen Elizabeth I.
And in November 2007, she wore the necklace and earrings at Westminster Abbey for a special service of thanksgiving marking the diamond wedding anniversary of Queen Elizabeth II and the Duke of Edinburgh. The earrings from the set are more versatile than the necklace, and so it should come as no surprise that we’ve seen her wear them alone on an even wider variety of occasions over the past two decades.
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