Princess Astrid, the vibrant older sister of the King of Norway, celebrates her 91st birthday today. To join in the festivities, we’ve got a look today at one of her most interesting tiaras: a double aigrette that has been in the royal family’s collection for more than a century.
Some of the teeniest tiaras around, the diamond aigrettes worn by Princess Astrid are truly unique bejeweled ornaments. The thin diamond scroll base of the piece can be worn with a pair of interchangeable elements. The first is a pair of diamond-encrusted wings.
The other ornament that can be affixed to the scroll base is a floral diamond and ruby jewel. The two bejeweled blossoms that rise from the ornament resemble antennae. Princess Astrid has a good sense of humor about this aspect of the piece, having joked that, when she wears the aigrette, she can pick up radio signals simultaneously from London and Moscow!
So, what is an aigrette? And why wear one? The answer can be found by digging in to the jewelry history of the late Victorian and early Edwardian eras. The aigrettes worn by Princess Astrid originally belonged to her grandmother, Queen Maud of Norway, who was born Princess Maud of Wales. She was the granddaughter of Queen Victoria and the daughter of King Edward VII, and she was one of the most notable royal jewelry wearers of the time when aigrettes were at the height of their popularity. Maud wears an aigrette-like diamond ornament in her hair in the portrait above, as well as a diamond and pearl bow brooch that is also now worn by Princess Astrid.
More than a hundred years ago, when Princess Maud was a fixture in the royal worlds of Britain, Denmark, and Norway, aigrettes were a popular part of gala attire, especially for women being presented at court. The ornaments, usually set with diamonds, pearls, or other gems, were used to secure the trio of ostrich feathers that towered over the heads of debutantes. They were also worn alone without the feathers during the same era. Above, a young Queen Mary (Maud’s sister-in-law and contemporary) wears an aigrette with feathers in a portrait taken in the mid-1890s. Helpfully, the jewels help date the image—the bracelet that she wears on her right wrist is the Cornwall Rose of York Bracelet, which was given to Mary as a wedding present in 1893.
Mary had multiple aigrettes in her jewelry box, and she wore them both with and without ostrich feathers. She wears a diamond aigrette, similar in style to Maud’s ruby and diamond aigrette, in this photograph, which was also taken shortly after her marriage to the future King George V. Note the slender diamond base of the aigrette, which is placed in Mary’s hair at an angle, like a modern headband. It appears to have the signature “diamond and dot” pattern used by Garrard, much like the slim bandeau base of the Girls of Great Britain and Ireland Tiara. (Perhaps it actually is the base of that tiara, which could be detached and worn separately?)
The diamond aigrette worn by Mary in the portrait was one of her wedding gifts. The illustration of the piece, which features a pair of diamond feathers, appeared in the July 15, 1893 issue of The Graphic. It helpfully notes that the aigrette was one of the presents given by George to Mary. The jewel was made by Collingwood.
Lists of the wedding gifts presented three years later to Princess Maud also include multiple aigrettes. A much-syndicated article about the gifts, published in various British papers in July 1896, stated that Maud received a “diamond aigrette” from “the late Baron Hirsch” (Maurice de Hirsch, a German banker and philanthropist who focused on improving Jewish educational opportunities, who had died just a few weeks earlier). An article in the Daily News from July 21 elaborates on the jewel, noting that the Hirsches gave Maud “a beautiful aigrette, the feathers of which were embellished with large diamonds and turquoises.”
American papers like the New York Sun and the Pittsburgh Press also ran articles about the wedding presents, mentioning an aigrette gift from the Hirsch family. Those articles, however, describe quite a different piece: “a diamond and pearl aigrette” given by the Baroness de Hirsch (the Belgian-born Claire Bischoffsheim, Maurice’s widow). That aigrette, illustrated in the Sun, is described in detail: “Out of a golden base, studded with diamonds, rose a number of feather plumes, mingled with which were five sprays of large-sized diamonds, three golden wires mounted with pearls of great size, and two golden wires upon which were mounted diamonds and pearls.” Two different aigrettes, or confusion about the same jewel?
Various all-diamond hair ornaments are also mentioned in the gift lists, including one given by Lord Curzon that is described by different papers as a “diamond aigrette” and as “a diamond feather ornament.” (Could that be the diamond wings?) The diamond and ruby floral aigrette also features in the wedding gift list. The Daily Telegraph describes it as “a high hair ornament of rubies and diamonds, with two antennae in diamonds rising from it, each finished with a cabochon ruby surrounded with diamonds.” It was a present from “Lady and Gentlemen Friends.”
Further confirmation that Astrid’s aigrettes come from Queen Maud’s collection can be found in the work of Norwegian historian Trond Norén Isaksen, who has written a biography of Princess Astrid and has published extensively about the royal family’s jewelry.
Princess Astrid often wears the aigrette, usually with the diamond wing ornament, for state dinners and other gala occasions in Norway. She likes to pair the aigrettes with various pieces from her jewelry collection, including jewels set with diamonds, pearls, and turquoises. Above, she wears the wing aigrette with additional diamond jewels during the Brazilian state visit to Norway in 2007.
In 2011, during the South African state visit to Norway, Astrid paired the wing aigrette with diamonds and pearls, including Queen Maud’s diamond and pearl bow brooch.
Princess Astrid wore the diamond wing aigrette with diamond, pearl, and turquoise jewels, including a diamond and turquoise star brooch, during the Slovakian state visit to Norway in 2018.
Princess Astrid paired the wing aigrette with the necklace and earrings from Queen Maud’s collection of turquoise jewels for a state dinner during the Icelandic state visit to Norway in 2017. She also wore a special bracelet that she donned frequently for these events for many years. The jewel features the badge of the Royal Order of Victoria & Albert that belonged to Queen Maud. In 2019, Astrid gave the badge, with both its ribbon and bracelet fittings, to her great-niece, Princess Ingrid Alexandra, as a confirmation present.
Recently, we saw Princess Astrid make a pair of appearances in the jewel. Still going strong at 90, she wore the ruby and diamond floral aigrette for a royal dinner in Oslo in October 2022.
#NEW Yesterday evening King Harald V, Queen Sonja, Crown Prince Haakon and Princess Astrid of Norway attended a Banquet for the Diplomatic Corps at the Royal Palace in Oslo 🇳🇴
Queen Sonja wore Queen Maud’s Pearl Tiara, while Princess Astrid her Ruby Aigrette Tiara 👑 pic.twitter.com/Ng7fLsbnk9
— CoutureAndRoyals (@CoutureRoyals) February 10, 2023
And just this week, she wore the ruby and diamond aigrette for a gala dinner at the Royal Palace in Oslo. (Queen Sonja also attended and wore the replica of Queen Maud’s Pearl Tiara, as well as the Drapers’ Company Brooch.) I love that she’s still got the humor and verve to wear these old-fashioned ornaments, most of which never see the light of day anymore. Isaksen tells us that she’s probably the last princess that we’ll see wearing the aigrettes, though. He notes that she plans to bequeath them to her children.