A royal wedding just wouldn’t be a royal wedding without a tiara or three. But when the then Princess Elizabeth married the Duke of Edinburgh on November 20th 1947, she almost missed out on wearing the diadem on which she’d set her heart. For just before the bride was set to leave for Westminster Abbey, her tiara snapped in two.
The diamond disaster happened as the future Queen was making the final preparations for her wedding. The tiara was set to sit at the front of her wedding veil, a sparkling centre point in a bridal outfit that was hotly anticipated around the world. But it came apart, quite literally, at one of its sparkling seams. The bride’s mother, Queen Elizabeth, later Queen Mother is reported to have told her daughter there were other options, to calm her nerves, but the Princess was having none of it. There was only one tiara she was going to wear for her wedding.
It’s easy to see why this particular diadem was so important to the bride. For a start, it carries some serious sparkle. It consists of forty-seven diamond bars, with smaller spears between them, set on gold and silver. It also has plenty of sentimental value for the tiara was a creation of Queen Mary, the beloved grandmama of the bride.
Mary had commissioned the piece in 1919 when she decided she needed another fringe tiara (as you do) and asked Garrards to turn a diamond necklace in her collection into a diadem. The piece was produced by E. Wolff & Co for Garrards and was a typical, if rather spectacular, take on a tiara trend of the time. The fringe was based on the kokoshnik style of tiara, popular among Russian nobility.
But we’re not done with the family ties yet. The necklace had come to Mary on her own wedding day, in 1893, when Queen Victoria had presented the princess she’d handpicked as a perfect consort with this dazzling display of diamonds. Mary wore the tiara during the reign of her husband, George V, and when he died she gave it to her daughter in law, Queen Elizabeth. It was this consort who lent it to the queen regnant in waiting for her wedding day, and all was set to sparkle until disaster struck.
However, when you’re an heir to the throne whose wedding guest list includes crowned heads from across Europe and millions of viewers across the globe, help is always at hand. The Royal Family had a jeweller on standby, and as the crowds continued to grow in central London, a car sped past them taking the tiara to Garrards for repair. It was returned soon afterwards, ready to be worn, with only a small gap at the front to show anything had gone awry.
If you look now at photos from the day, that break at the centre of the tiara can be spotted quite easily. The tiara looks, dare we say it, ever so slightly off-kilter, but the bride clearly didn’t care at all. Princess Elizabeth emerged from her carriage at the Abbey as a beaming bride and didn’t stop smiling all day.
In the scheme of what the wedding meant, it was a very minor moment. Princess Elizabeth appeared on the balcony of Buckingham Palace, the sparkling bride that a war-weary country wanted and needed to see. By her side, the handsome prince who had fought in that conflict and who was now a consort to a queen in waiting. Tens of thousands cheered them, and not one of them knew that the bride had found her wedding outfit in question on the very morning of the marriage because of tiara troubles.