It’s been a big week for the Spanish royal family! Princess Leonor celebrated her eighteenth birthday on Tuesday, and Queen Sofia turned 85 on Thursday. Next week will be a busy one as well, as King Felipe and Queen Letizia head to Denmark for a state visit. In honor of all of these events, let’s have another look today at a gorgeous jewel from the Spanish royal vaults: the family’s lovely diamond floral tiara.
The tiara is a naturalistic nineteenth-century wonder. Three five-petaled diamond flowers are connected by a garland of diamond leaves and foliage, giving the tiara a classic, timeless appearance. Some are bothered by the uneven distribution of the floral sections of the tiara, but I really like it—for me, it’s one of the best and most natural-looking representations of a floral wreath in tiara form. Even better, it’s convertible: it can be taken off its frame and worn as a necklace or as a series of brooches.
The tiara originally belonged to an important Spanish royal matriarch. Queen Maria Cristina of Spain, the second wife of King Alfonso XII, was born an Austrian archduchess. Her royal marriage was a brief one, lasting just six years until her husband’s death in 1885. But the royal wedding was celebrated in grand style with plenty of jewelry. The diamond floral tiara was one of Maria Cristina’s wedding presents from her husband. King Alfonso acquired the tiara from a British firm, J.P. Collins, in 1879 for his new wife. (For years, the tiara’s maker was mistakenly thought to be Mellerio, and you’ll occasionally still see that inaccurate attribution floating around.)
The tiara stayed with Queen Maria Cristina through the reign of her young son, King Alfonso XIII, who was born after his father’s untimely death. When she passed away in 1929, the tiara was apparently inherited by King Alfonso and his wife, Queen Ena. They lost their throne and went into exile in 1931, two years after Maria Cristina’s death. The tiara was apparently subsequently sold.
Interestingly enough, though, the jewel made its way back to the family three decades later. It was acquired by Franco, who offered it to Princess Sophia of Greece and Denmark as a wedding present in 1962. Her groom was Infante Juan Carlos of Spain, a grandson of King Alfonso and Queen Ena. Juan Carlos’s choice of a royal princess as his bride was one of the factors that convinced Franco to name the young prince as his personal successor. The floral tiara would therefore once again rest on the head of a Queen of Spain—a plan that came to fruition in 1975 when Franco died and Juan Carlos and Sofia (who had changed the spelling of her name after her marriage) became King and Queen.
Sofia wore the tiara for the first time in its necklace setting at a dinner held in Athens on the night before her wedding in May 1962. Later, though, she almost always wore the jewel on its tiara frame, reaching for it often for state events. Above, she wears the tiara for a state banquet in the Netherlands in 1980.
Here, in 1983, she wears the tiara for a return dinner during the Swedish state visit to Spain. (Beside her, Infanta Elena wears the Prussian Tiara and Queen Silvia of Sweden wears the Napoleonic Amethysts.)
Sofia continued to wear the tiara in the later years of her husband’s reign. Here, she wears the jewel in October 2009 during a state visit from the President of Lebanon to Madrid.
In February 2009, she paired the tiara with another jewel from Queen Maria Cristina’s collection—a gorgeous pearl and diamond necklace from Mellerio—during a visit from the President of Argentina.
She also sometimes paired the tiara with pieces from the joyas de pasar collection, a cache of jewels earmarked by Queen Ena for the use of future Queens of Spain. She wears the tiara with the joyas de pasar bracelets in this photograph, taken during the Chilean state banquet in Madrid in March 2011.
Queen Sofia also often loaned the floral tiara to her younger daughter, Infanta Cristina of Spain. Here, Cristina wears the tiara at the Nobel Prize celebrations in Stockholm in December 1989. She traveled from Spain to Sweden to be present for the awarding of the Nobel Prize for Literature to the Spanish writer Camilo José Cela.
Eight years later, Cristina chose to wear the diamond floral tiara on her wedding day. Her mother also loaned her the grand diamond earrings from the joyas de pasar collection for the occasion.
After her marriage, Infanta Cristina continued to wear the tiara on various occasions. Here, she dons the tiara (plus a suite of modern diamond and ruby jewels) for a pre-wedding gala event in Copenhagen in May 2004.
And here, in November 2005, she wears the tiara at the Royal Palace in Madrid during a state banquet honoring the President of China.
In recent years, Queen Sofia has also frequently made the tiara available for Queen Letizia to use on gala occasions. She began wearing the tiara for events when she was still Princess of Asturias, including this state dinner in February 2006. The emerald and diamond jewels she wears here are also loans from Queen Sofia’s collection.
She took the tiara with her to Amsterdam for the abdication and inauguration celebrations there in April 2013. On that occasion, she paired the tiara with her diamond wedding earrings.
Letizia continued to wear the tiara for gala dinners and events, including this banquet during the Chilean state visit, after her husband’s accession to the throne in 2014.
She wore the tiara again with her wedding earrings for a gala dinner honoring the President of Colombia in March 2015.
And later the same year, in July 2015, she wore the same jewelry combination for a banquet in Madrid during the Peruvian state visit to Spain.
The tiara made a return home to its native Britain in July 2017, when Letizia packed it in her luggage for a state visit to the United Kingdom. She wore the tiara at a Guildhall banquet during the visit, pairing it with modern diamond and sapphire earrings and the joyas de pasar bracelets.
The official welcome event during the Spanish state visit to Denmark is scheduled to take place at 11 AM on Monday in Copenhagen (or 5 AM eastern time). Rather than a pre-scheduled midnight post on Monday morning, I’ll be putting up an article on the welcome ceremony as soon as I license the images. Stay tuned!