Fit for a Queen: A History of the Tiara

Favoured by the wealthiest and most influential members of society throughout history, the tiara has long been associated with elegance, power, and prestige. Derived from the Persian word ‘tyara’ which referred to a headdress worn by kings, it is an adornment that has endured considerable stylistic evolution aligned with the tastes of monarchs and noble classes. 

Queen Elizabeth wearing the Oriental Circlet Tiara / Alamy

The earliest tiaras were worn by the ancient Egyptians, Persians, Greeks, and Romans and were not reserved for sovereigns exclusively. The ancient Greeks for example took design inspiration from the natural world, creating foliate bands, ears of wheat and laurel, or myrtle wreaths to be gifted to athletes and warriors in honour of a victory. 

As Christianity spread throughout medieval Europe, the wearing of classical style wreaths and circlets fell out of favour, and it was not until the 18th century that the tiara resurfaced as a display of affluence and social status amongst the aristocracy. The rise of Neoclassicism in the late 18th century saw naturalistic motifs re-appear in tiara designs. Emperor Napoleon’s creation of an Imperial court and Empress Josephine’s sartorial elegance heavily influenced stylistic trends of this period. Tiara designs were in keeping, with Greek-key patterns, spiral, and botanical motifs incorporated along with hardstone cameos and intaglios. During this period tiaras became the pinnacle of fine adornment, worn at court and official events as a marker of social cachet.  

19th century designs continued to be influenced by monarchical tastes. Queen Victoria’s husband Prince Albert was a jewellery and precious gemstone enthusiast, commissioning a number of pieces for the Queen during his lifetime including ‘The Oriental Circlet Tiara.’ Designed as a series of lotus flowers and Mughal arches, set throughout with glittering diamonds, the piece was commissioned after Albert was inspired by Indian jewellery designs during his visit to the Great Exhibition of 1851.

Meghan Markle wearing the Bandeau Tiara / Alamy

The geometric leanings of the Art Deco movement brought about notable changes to jewellery designs throughout the 1920s and 30s. Bandeau styles worn flat on the head were preferred, abandoning the elaborate garland and floral motifs that dominated in previous eras. ‘The Bandeau Tiara’ worn by the Duchess of Sussex at her marriage to Prince Harry in 2018 is one such example, which was commissioned by the Queen’s grandmother, Queen Mary of Teck in 1932. 

With significant societal shifts in the 20th century including periods of diminishing wealth, many tiaras held in family collections were dismantled and refashioned into smaller pieces of jewellery. As such, the rarity of tiaras in original condition contributes significantly to their popularity with collectors of antique jewellery. Leading the June Fine Jewels & Timepieces auction is an elegant and finely crafted diamond tiara with convertible necklace fittings from the Victorian era. Set throughout with 9.25 carats of old European and rose-cut diamonds and presented in the original fitted case, this is
a rare opportunity for collectors to acquire a beautiful wearable ornament. 

BETHANY MCGOUGAN / Head of Fine Jewels & Timepieces

Banner Image: A Victorian gold, silver and diamond tiara. $8,000-12,000 

May 2023