The tiara’s history begins in ancient Greece, where men and women adorned themselves with wreath-like creations – a habit that was emulated by the Romans. The look then fell out of fashion until the neoclassicism of the late 18th and early 19th centuries, when Napoleon sought to elevate his court with tiara-ed beauties in empire-line dresses. Others followed suit, not least the British and the Russians, until tiaras became synonymous with courtly glamour – an exclamation mark to draw their subjects’ gaze.
Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II has no fewer than 10 tiaras, several of them legendary, including the Girls of Great Britain & Ireland creation she sports on banknotes, the lofty Delhi Durbar and the spectacular, halo-style Queen Alexandra’s Kokoshnik. The Swedish royals, despite being a bicycling monarchy, also boast some splendid pieces. And many is the old English family that has one tucked away in a vault or attic until a bride demands her moment – though a splendid dowager did once inform me: “No woman wants to wear a pre-19th century tiara – the weight is quite killing.”
But it was the American society hostesses of the 19th and 20th centuries who demonstrated that you don’t have to be a royal to carry off a tiara, meaning a rush of commissions from the Astors, the Vanderbilts and the likes of Barbara Hutton. Screen legends followed suit – Ava Gardner, Elizabeth Taylor and Audrey Hepburn, who wears a tiara in so many of her films.
That they are not for everyday wear is, of course, part of their appeal. Today, they are assumed by queen and commoner alike for all manner of white-tie parties, state occasions, regal banquets and balls, with jewelled bands also making a comeback on the red carpet.
As Martin Leggatt reveals, they are popular among clients from right across the world: “They’re a universal joy and the subject of cross-gener-ational fascination, he says. As charming on a bride as they are glorious on a grande dame.” In Japan, some lucky brides who are friends of the House have even worn the famous ‘Royal Bride’ tiara, featuring 312 diamonds, on their own wedding day.