|Angela Kelly’s Dressing the Queen: The Jubilee Wardrobe (2013) |
|The Duchess of Connaught wears her fringe tiara, 1902 |
There are many convertible diamond fringe tiaras in royal vaults today, but the fringe tiara of the Connaught family has a long royal history — longer than that of many other tiaras in the collections of various British royals.
|Louise Margaret |
The first recorded owner of this diamond fringe is the Duchess of Kent, mother of Queen Victoria; she left the tiara to the queen. In 1879, Victoria gave the tiara as a wedding present to her new daughter-in-law, Princess Louise Margaret of Prussia, the new of Prince Arthur, Duke of Connaught and Strathearn. Princess Louise wore the fringe as a necklace at her wedding, opting to wear a wreath of flowers on her head instead of a tiara (see the photograph at left). She donned the piece as a tiara, however, for one of the most important royal occasions of the early twentieth century: the 1902 coronation of her brother- and sister-in-law, King Edward VII and Queen Alexandra (see the photograph above). On that occasion, she placed the fringe atop a larger jeweled base to give it additional height, likely to complement the height of her coronet (which you can see with the tiara in this picture postcard — it also features her daughters, Margaret and Patricia).
From Louise Margaret, the tiara was passed to her younger daughter, Princess Patricia of Connaught (who renounced her titles on her marriage to a commoner, becoming Lady Patricia Ramsay). It’s safe to say that Louise’s elder daughter wasn’t much in need of family tiaras to wear. Margaret had married the future King Gustaf VI Adolf of Sweden and had access to the Bernadotte jewel collection (and the glittering wedding presents she had received in 1905).
Lady Patricia wore the fringe tiara at the 1937 coronation of King George VI; you can see it in this portrait of Patricia with her niece, then Crown Princess Ingrid of Denmark, and Ingrid’s husband, the future King Frederik IX. From that point, however, we lose sight of the piece. It was apparently not included in the estate auction of her jewels in 1974. Perhaps it remains with the family today? 
|Princess Louise, Princess Royal and Duchess of Fife, ca. 1905 |
In 2012, a new theory emerged about this tiara’s fate. That year, Lady Mary Crawley, one of the main characters in Downton Abbey, the famous ITV period drama, wore a diamond floral spray tiara in her wedding on the show. That tiara was borrowed by the production company from Bentley & Skinner, a London-based firm that acquires and sells antique jewels. They describe Lady Mary’s wedding tiara as an “important Georgian diamond tiara, the tiara in the form of a garland spray of leaves and floral clusters, pave-set throughout with old-cut diamonds, weighing an estimated total of 45 carats, cutdown collet-set in silver to a yellow gold mount, convertible to two brooches, gross weight 75.5 grams on frame, circa 1800” .
The tiara currently owned by Bentley & Skinner is not linked by the firm to the diamond spray worn by Princess Louise. However, an article in the Daily Mail claims that the two are indeed the same piece. They call it the “myrtle tiara” and note that it was a gift from the Sassoons to the princess; they also note that it can be dismantled and worn as a set of brooches, “which Princess Louise often did” . The Mail article doesn’t give sources for the information, though as the piece involves its writer, Petronella Wyatt, trying on the tiara under the watchful gaze of a public relations rep from Bentley & Skinner, it seems plausible that they may have shared the information with the paper.
Other jewel watchers aren’t sure about the connection; posters at the Royal Jewels of the World forum have examined the two pieces and decided that there are significant differences between the two . I think it’s also plausible, though, that as Louise received diamond floral sprays from two different guests at her wedding, she may be wearing one spray (possibly the one given to her by Farquhar) in the 1905 photo, while the second, slightly different piece is now owned by Bentley & Skinner (and available for you to rent out for a mere £1,750 a day — plus a £126,000 deposit! ). It’s tough to say for certain, but I am sort of glad that a piece that was perhaps formerly worn by royalty is still accessible to the public today — even if it’s only on television on Sunday evenings.
NOTES, PHOTO CREDITS, AND LINKS
1. Cropped version of a photograph available via Wikimedia Commons; source here.
2. See more, including additional photos, at Ursula’s website.
3. The Bentley & Skinner page on the tiara, including a set of photos, can be seen here.
4. You can read the full piece on the tiara from the Mail on their website.
5. Here’s the relevant thread from the message board.
6. Here are the details, again from the Mail.