Tiara Time!: the Oriental Circlet

Huzzah, it’s Friday–albeit a soggy Friday in Southern California. My joints have that ache hollow from Lupus, Otto (the kitty who went walkabout last month) is warming me up and the Pacific looks amazing. I think we all know what to do while I wait for my Alieve to kick in…talk about tiaras! If you really had to wait until after the ellipsis, I wonder what you have against title-reading. 😀 Feast your eyes on the arcing, leafy grace of the Oriental Circlet tiara!

the Oriental Circlet

Many of us do back-flips if our mates show up with a trinket. So wrap your head around the fact that Prince-Consort Albert, a talented man in a bevy of areas, designed most of the tiaras that he gave Queen Victoria. He commissioned this one from Garrad’s and paid about £860. That’s a heck of a price considering the tiara originally had over 2600 diamonds set in gold. Originally, underneath each arch glistened an opal, Prince Albert’s favorite gemstone.

Prince Albert drew inspiration for the tiara’s Moghul arches and lotus flowers from the jewellery given to Queen Vicky during the Great Exhibition of 1851. Hence the moniker Oriental Circlet. Apparently, you may also hear it called “the Indian Ruby Tiara” or more likely “the Indian Tiara” as it originally didn’t have rubies in it.

Victoria liked it so much she must have thrown her arms up in the air, said “Heck! Let’s round it up to a full parure!” and commissioned four more opal-laden accoutrements. When the Prince Consort died at the tender age of 41, the Queen dressed only in mourning black and never wore jewelry with colored stones again. (There’s a factoid you can’t glean from those daguerreotypes!) No one saw the tiaras Prince Albert designed for almost half a century. This makes me think. Do you consider opals to be colored stones?

Queen Victoria in Oriental Circlet

Queen Victoria in the original opal Oriental Circlet

The circlet was originally much larger and heavier than it is now. The original ledger page from Garrard’s notes that parts of the tiara were to be interchangeable with “large single diamonds” for “when a lighter and more simple tiara is required”. I wonder if that option was ever implemented. Check out the above painting versus the current incarnation in the top photo. That does not look like a lighter and more simple tiara, but I think the en vogue 19th century tiara placement makes all tiaras look beefier.

oriental circlet tiara detail

When Queen Victoria passed away, she left the Oriental Circlet cum-parure to the Crown. Queen Alexandra thought opals to be harbingers of bad luck (?!) and replaced them with rubies. She also had the size of the tiara reduced. Originally spanning a circumference of 17 arches and opals, today there are only 11 arches and corresponding rubies. A lighter and more simple tiara! (I’m sorry it just sounds like a Toyota slogan or something.) The rubies came from a necklace given to Queen Victoria in 1873 by the ruler of Nepal. I guess Queen Alexandra wasn’t thrilled with the fruits of her labor, uh Garrad’s labor? So much work was put into the tiara, but she didn’t seem to wear it much. (We don’t see it in any paintings or daguerreotypes.)

Even more baffling was the fact that Queen Mary never wore the circlet or re-purposed it?  Even when factored algebraically amongst every queen and every set of crown jewels that once was is and will be, Mary of Teck is the undisputed Queen of Jewellery. I’ve often thought if Queen Mary were offered a second head she’d have taken it, thus doubling the amount of tiaras, necklaces and earrings she could wear on her person at one time. (Face it, you’re not a freak if you’re loaded with jewels. End. Of. Story.) So imagine my shock to learn that the circlet passed down through the family nearly incognito until Queen Consort Elizabeth (aka the Queen Mum) inherited it.

Now Prince Albert’s India-inspiration finally got its due; it was one of the Queen Mum’s favorites. She wore it often and with an old Hollywood glamor that would have made her predecessors say “Oh, that’s how you wear that!” (Queen Elizabeth is too classy to have said “See, this is how you wear that.” but it’s funny to imagine it taking place in Tiara Heaven.)

Queen Mum Elizabeth Oriental Circlet

She often paired it with grandiose earrings and a necklace of the clavicle-straining variety, both ensconcing even grander rubies. This future appointment with the chiropractor is the very same festoon commissioned for Victoria’s parure once holding those “bad-omen” opals. A lighter and less evil parure!

This famous picture taken in Buckingham Palace by Cecil Beaton famous for it’s dramatic majesty.

queen mum in oriental circlet

photo credit: Cecil Beaton

The Oriental Circlet is currently owned by the Queen and still makes public appearances from time to time. Although it would appear that the only recorded public appearance of the Oriental Circlet on the Internet is this one:

queen elizabeth ii in oriental circlet

So we shuushed it up with some effects so it looks like it came out of Grandma Helen’s photo album.

(Deep breath here.) What makes it a circlet instead of just a tiara? It completely encircles the head like a diadem but unlike a diadem it may be worn by someone who isn’t a monarch. Like a queen consort or a princess, duchess…it can be loaned out. Then why isn’t the Girls of Great Britain and Ireland tiara considered a circlet too? Good question. Like I always told my ESL and Spanish students, this is Linguistics not Math. Names and monikers develop and are in fashion over time. Most likely in the time of Queen Victoria the term “circlet” was commonly used but in the 1893, when the “Gals” was made for Princess Mary of Teck, the term had most likely fallen out of fashion. That is the best answer I think you’ll ever get…

About ♔ la dauphiine ♔

Connecticut-based jewelry monger, history buff, Mets fan. On the hum-drum side, call me a lauded poet, novelist and ghost-writer. (That's right, I haunt prose.)
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