The Spencer Tiara: The Story Behind Princess Diana’s Favorite Tiara
She wore the Spencer Tiara into her marriage, and kept it after her divorce. But another of Diana's tiaras is still worn by a royal today.
Princess Diana is known for many things: her tragically short life, her kindness and humanitarian work, and, of course, her lifelong reputation as the “People’s Princess,” which she retained even after her departure from the royal family. However, there is no doubt that she is also remembered as a true style icon. From the famous 153-yard veil on Princess Diana’s wedding dress to her day-to-day outfits and “revenge dress,” she inspired copycats and fashion trends across the globe. And then there was her fabulous jewelry. Not only Princess Diana’s engagement ring (and the story behind it) but the Princess’s two favorite tiaras: the delicate florals of the Spencer Tiara, her family heirloom, and the ornate and luxurious Cambridge Lover’s Knot tiara. Both were manufactured by the famous court jeweler Garrard in the early years of the 20th century, but only one of them is still seen on a royal head today.
The history of the Spencer tiara
Before she ever married a prince, young Diana Spencer was an aristocrat in her own right. The history of the Spencer family goes back centuries, with several hereditary titles. The Spencer tiara, however, only dates back to the 1930s. It was created by Garrard from jewels already owned by the family, including the central heart-shaped floral piece which Diana’s grandmother had received when she married the 7th Earl Spencer, Diana’s grandmother. Diana’s two older sisters wore the Spencer tiara at their own weddings, but it made its royal debut at the wedding of Lady Diana and Prince Charles. On July 29, 1981, the Spencer Tiara first sparkled at the public, anchoring Diana’s lengthy tulle veil in place. Diana went on to wear it multiple times at various State Receptions and important occasions throughout her marriage to Charles. But there was another tiara connected to the royal wedding: The Cambridge Lover’s Knot tiara, which Queen Elizabeth II had given to Diana to mark that special occasion.
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The Cambridge Lover’s Knot tiara
This opulent tiara was created for Queen Mary, using various pearls and diamonds from the royal collection, by Garrard in 1914. It was a copy of a previous Lover’s Knot tiara, worn by Mary’s grandmother, Princess Augusta of Hesse. The tiara is made of 19 arches and a whopping 38 teardrop-shaped pearls—19 hang suspended from pretzel-like twists known as lover’s knot bows, while the other 19 serve as removable upright pearl spikes. Queen Mary appears to be the only royal who ever wore the tiara with the upright pearl drops attached, probably because they added to the already considerable weight of the gold and silver crown. Although Diana loved the tiara and wore it often during her time as a Princess, it reportedly gave her terrible headaches. The tiara was passed down to Queen Mary’s granddaughter, Queen Elizabeth II, who passed it on to Diana until the dissolution of her marriage meant that as she was no longer a royal, she had to return it to the royal family’s collection.
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The significance of the Spencer tiara
Many have theorized about Diana’s choice to wear her own family heirloom at her 1981 royal wedding, instead of the Queen’s gift. One reason could be comfort: the Spencer tiara was significantly lighter than the Cambridge one, which would have made for a more pleasant experience over the hours she was expected to be in public. However, there is also some speculation (and no doubt viewers of The Crown will have some opinions on this!) that Diana wore her family heirloom into her marriage as a way of asserting her own identity amid an uneven royal welcome.
While many people wondered if Meghan Markle would choose the Spencer tiara for her royal wedding to Prince Harry in 2018, it’s traditional for the royal bride to wear jewelry from her husband’s family. After all, Meghan was technically marrying into the Windsor family, not the Spencer one, so she wore another of Queen Mary’s tiaras, a platinum and diamond bandeau beauty borrowed from Queen Elizabeth.
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Where are the tiaras now?
Diana last wore the Cambridge Lover’s Knot tiara in 1991, and the Spencer Tiara in 1993 after her separation from Prince Charles. After she passed away in 1997, the Spencer tiara returned to the Spencer family and was most recently worn in 2018 at the wedding of Diana’s niece, Celia McCorquodale.
However, as the Cambridge tiara was returned to the royal vault after Charles and Diana’s divorce, it has recently been seen adorning the brow of Catherine Middleton, the Duchess of Cambridge. Kate first wore the tiara in 2015, at the annual Diplomatic Reception at Buckingham Palace, and has worn it at least eight times in total. It seems that the Cambridge Lover’s Knot has become the Duchess’ favorite tiara, just as it was once one of her mother-in-law’s.
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- Town & Country Magazine: “The Spencer Tiara Was One of Princess Diana’s Favorite Piece”
- Town & Country Magazine: “Kate Middleton’s Stunning Lover’s Knot Tiara Has a Fascinating Royal History”
- The Beau Monde: “Princess Diana’s Jewels – The Spencer Tiara”
- Town & Country Magazine: “Kate Middleton’s Most Iconic Tiara Moments”