Posts tagged Greville tiara
Princess Eugenie's Wedding Tiara

Princess Eugenie is radiant on her wedding day wearing the Greville Emerald tiara.

I have to say, that when Princess Eugenie walked down the aisle on Friday 12th October, I think she really looked beautiful- and every inch the Royal princess, probably the moment in her life in which she will have shone the most as a Princess of the Blood of the House of Windsor.

As is tradition, the Queen leant her granddaughter a tiara to wear- the first time Princess Eugenie will have worn one, as traditionally, in the UK, unmarried women do not wear tiaras (I don’t know why). The piece she chose was bold, beautiful and surprising. The tiara was made in 1919 by Boucheron for the socialite Mrs. Ronnie Greville. It is composed of rose and brilliant cut diamonds and centrally set with a magnificent cabochon emerald of 93.70 carats. The existence of such a stone is in itself astonishing, as normally coloured stones deemed to be of gem quality are cut into faceted styles in order to maximise their colour and brilliance, so a quality cabochon stone of this size is incredibly rare. The tiara was left to Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother on Mrs. Greville’s death in 1942, along with a massive treasure trove of other jewels- this became known as the Greville bequest. The jewels that comprised the bequest were so magnificent and remarkable that I will be writing a separate post about this in the near future.

As the Greville bequest was a private legacy, it is not known exactly what it contained- and until the emerald and diamond tiara made its appearance last Friday, it was not even known to the general public that this piece was in the possession of the Royal Family, as no member seems to have ever worn it in public. I can’t think why it has remained locked away for nearly 80 years- personally, I think it is an almost perfect piece of jewellery: timeless design, light, flawlessly executed, matchless gems and for a tiara, eminently wearable.

This style of tiara is known as a bandeau- which in French, literally means hairband. My suspicion is that Queen Elizabeth II is not a fan of tiaras of this shape (how lucky to have tiaras of different shapes to choose from). The Greville emerald tiara is a very similar shape to the diamond bandeau worn by the Duchess of Sussex on her wedding day, another piece the Queen never seems to have worn. There are also another two bandeau tiaras which have disappeared into the depths of the Buckingham Palace vaults: one is the floral diamond bandeau the Queen was gifted by the Nizam of Hyderabad, which seems to have been broken up. The second, and a historically much more important piece, is the diamond and sapphire bandeau belonging to the Empress Maria Fedorovna. When the Empress died, this piece, along with several others, was acquired by Queen Mary, at full market price as offered by the Empress’ heirs. I am particularly fascinated by this piece, as it was last seen worn by Princess Margaret in the 1960s and find it slightly sad that such a historically important piece should have remained hidden for over 40 years.

I am digressing… there is not much point in speculating into who wore what, when and why… the finer intricacies of Royal vaults will remain forever hidden until there is a full blown revolution. But I am delighted that treasures such as the Greville Emerald Tiara reappear into the limelight every now and again- even if it is after 50 years; surely it is better for such jewels to appear now and again as they are meant to be worn rather, than be killed forever behind the anodyne facade of a glass screen?

Comparative photographs of Queen Mary, and her granddaughter Princess Margaret, wearing the sapphire bandeau tiara Queen Mary bought from the heirs of Empress Marie Fedorovna.


The beautiful Loelia, Duchess of Westminster, wearing her Art Deco diamond halo tiara. Photographed by Cecil Beaton.

Originally, tiaras were made to crown a stately sweep of hair, as shown here by Mrs. Cornelius Vanderbilt III

OK, this sounds like a real first world problem… it is not a dilemma the majority of us mere mortals are going to face any time soon.  Some girls are lucky enough to wear a real diamond tiara once, on their wedding day. And a tiny minority of unicorn dusted people have to wear one on a regular basis.  It is astonishing how, with all the money and fashion advice they have at their disposal how wrong they get it and how bad it looks.  To my jeweller’s eye it is like a bias cut dress worn in the wrong size, or open toe shoes without a manicure.

First, a bit of history… the heyday of the tiara was in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. 120 years ago (give or take a few) the vast majority of women wore their hair long.  When you married, your hair went ‘up’- and the crowning glory was the tiara.  This is how the convention arose that unmarried girls did not wear tiaras.  It was a convention followed by the Queen- the first time she wore one was on her wedding day.  The majority of the most beautiful, accomplished tiaras were made for Edwardian women, designed to be worn in clouds of hair, often augmented by hairpieces. The frames and velvet bands of tiaras were therefore made for these sorts of hairstyles.  A tiara is not an Alice band or a headband- it is not supposed to hold the hair in place- the jewel is supposed to be held in place by the hair.

A young and as yet unfashionable Princess Diana, wearing the Spencer tiara.

Princess Diana develops a fashion sense and good hair: wearing the Cambridge Lover's Knot tiara, a present from the Queen.

To achieve the most elegant look, the hair needs to be pulled and stranded over the velvet headband to secure it in place.  The front of the hair should then be backcombed, teased and arranged in front of the tiara.  It is a skill that very few hairdressers have nowadays- there is, after all, very little demand for this service.  And of course, any Edwardian lady (who after all would probably wear a tiara at least once a week) would have employed a ladies’ maid trained with this invaluable skill.  But some of the younger Royals who looked like they’ve plonked their heirlooms on their heads as an afterthought should take a leaf from their more experienced in-laws. Some of the Scandinavian Royals are the worst offenders and even top drawer Royals, like Queen Letizia of Spain, don’t always get it right.

Princess Madeleine of Sweden is rocking the high school prom queen in this example of how a diamond tiara can look so wrong.

Princess Madeleine looking dignified with this aquamarine and diamond family heirloom tiara.

Princess Diana conquered the tiara with aplomb (as she did most fashion accessories).  Early photographs of her as Princess of Wales show her with limp, mousy hair, frame and velvet band on show.  As she became more assured and soignee, she learnt to style her short hair around her tiaras, proving (as the Queen does all the time) that you don’t need a lionine mane of hair to achieve a good, modern look with what is essentially a 19th century accessory.

Queen Letizia of Spain, looking almost top heavy in her Ansorena diamond tiara.

The older generation of royals, like Queen Sylvia of Sweden, always seem to get it right when it comes to tiaras.

Part of the problem with wearing a tiara (or diadem) on flat hair is that it makes the jewel look too big for the wearer’s head.  You only need to look at some pictures of continental Royals wearing these pieces with what they believe is a slick side parting and you realise that the proportions are all wrong and they look top heavy.  A lot of them look like Queen Victoria circa 1850.  So, Meghan, listen to your future stepmother-in-law for advice, who seems to have taken to wearing a tiara like a duck to water- and run a mile if the Countess of Wessex tries to tell you what to do with your hair.

An immaculately groomed Duchess of Cornwall wearing the Greville Boucheron tiara.

The Countess of Wessex wearing her diamond wedding tiara.