Tuesday, 26 July 2016

Rubies for July: the United Kingdom

Queen Elizabeth, later the Queen Mother, wearing the Oriental Circlet

There's nothing like a tiara fit for a queen. And while many of the diadems in the royal collections of Europe right now have been worn by both regnants and consorts, some of them are designated in that very exclusive category - queens only. The Oriental Circlet Tiara, owned by the Royal Family, is one of those.

The tiara began life in the middle of the 19th century and the middle of a huge family row. While Victoria may have inherited the crown of Britain in 1837 on the death of her uncle, William IV, as a woman she wasn't permitted to take the throne of Hanover and that went to an uncle called Ernest, Duke of Cumberland. King Ernest then laid claim to some of the jewels in the Royal Family's collection.

While this row was going on, that architect of the Victorian era, Prince Albert, decided his wife needed a new tiara, as you do, and set about designing one himself - very versatile, this particular Prince Consort. There are stories that he was inspired by the Great Exhibition of 1851 (another of his achievements, it's quite a CV) or by jewellery already owned by his wife but either way he came up with this design inspired by India. It features Mughal arches framing lotus flowers with more flowers diving the frames and they are all made of diamonds. The central flowers have room for another gem at their centre - Albert picked his favourite stone, the opal. But the story is far from over.

This tiara was made by Garrards in 1853 but it had to go back several years later when uncle Ernest won the row over the family jewels and the diamonds that now belonged to him had to be taken from the diadem and replaced with others. Victoria left this tiara to the Crown in her will meaning it will always remain with the Royal Family and is really only for queens - either consort or regnant. The new consort, Alexandra, was left in charge of this tiara for a queen and promptly replaced the opals with rubies as she considered Albert's favourite stone unlucky.

It passed from Alexandra to Queen Mary without making too many public appearances and it was only when George VI became King that his Queen Elizabeth got this one out of the vaults and started to work it. In fact, this tiara became a real favourite of hers and was seen many times throughout her time as consort.

It was seen even more once the throne passed to her daughter, Elizabeth II, but not on the new Monarch, The now Queen Mother kept hold of this one and it became one of her most worn pieces of jewellery.  It has an air of discreet grandeur that is hard to beat - the circlet shape means it sits all the way around the head while the arches give hints of splendour. You can see why it is meant for a queen.

On the death of the Queen Mother in 2002 it remained with the Crown, as Victoria had decreed, and Elizabeth II wore it once in 2005 when she visited Malta. Like many ruby pieces, it has an air of the time when it was made. This is very Victorian, mixing hints of epic with prettiness all around a theme brought to life in gemstones. The diamonds in the Oriental Circlet may sparkle but this piece is a real showcase for rubies for July.

You can read more about rubies for July here.
Photo credit: By Flixtey (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons

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