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Queen Mary and the Delhi Durbar Tiara

Queen Mary and the Delhi Durbar Tiara

In 1911, King George V and Queen Mary were to be proclaimed Emperor and Empress of India. That was the first and only time that a British sovereign attended the durbar, which was hailed as the largest gathering of princes, noblemen and landed gentry in India to pay homage to their sovereigns. The King and Queen should never be outdone by the petty rulers. They were sure these local princes would come garbed with all the gold and diamonds from their treasure chest. It was decided that they should showcase the crown jewels with them. But British law prohibits anyone from taking these treasures outside Great Britain. A new set of coronation regalia  had to be made! Thus, the India Office commissioned Garrard and Co. to make the Imperial Crown of India for King George V. It has eight arches, with 6170 exquisitely cut diamonds, and covered with sapphires, emeralds and rubies, with a velvet and miniver cap all weighing 34.05 ounces (965 g).

However, Queen Mary was without the empress' crown. She nevertheless commissioned the famed jeweler to make a grand tiara for the coronation, paying the cost of this splendid jewel out from her own pocket! Thus, while the Emperor's crown forms part of the Crown Jewels, the Delhi Durbar Tiara remains a private possession of the Royal Family. 

For a truly grand tiara for this occasion, the Queen had an old tiara, the Boucheron Loop tiara, dismantled and the remnants, in addition to smaller jewels, be fashioned into one that fits the queen’s taste.

The dismantled tiara was originally a gift of De Beers to her when, as a Princess of Wales, she joined his husband on a 1901 visit to South Africa.

The new Delhi Durbar Tiara was set in platinum and gold, with diamonds forming lyres and s-scrolls, overlapped by diamond festoons. The tall piece is a complete circlet, wrapping entirely around the head.

According to the blog The Order of Royal Sartorial Splendor, the tiara was topped by 10 cabochon emerald drops, which consisted the Cambridge emeralds. These gems were acquired by the queen’s grandmother, the Duchess of Cambridge and were passed on to his brother who left them to his mistress, Constance  Countess of Kilmorey. Knowing the heritage of these jewels, Queen Mary reacquired the emeralds, paying the countess £10,000.

In 1922, these 10 emeralds were removed from tiara and most of which were used as dangling drops in the Grand Duchess Vladimir Tiara. Some became upright of the small diamond bandeau which was passed on to the Duchess of Kent.

Queen Mary later commissioned Garrard to modify the tiara to make it flexible for jewel swapping and future alterations. The Cullinan III and IV stones were later used as temporary centerpieces. Provisions were made to enable the queen to wear the tiara with our without the diamonds or without any other centerpiece at all. In fact, since her death in 1953, the tiara has been worn without the Cullinan diamonds. The tiara has seen further, minor changes before she permanently loaned the jewel to Queen Elizabeth, who wore it when she and King George VI visited South Africa in 1947. That was the first and only time that the Delhi Durbar tiara was worn by Queen Elizabeth, although she kept possession of it until her death in 2002. It was passed on to Queen Elizabeth II, who never wore it on public.

In 2005, the Queen loaned this tiara and two others (the Greville tiara and Teck Crescent tiara) to her daughter-in-law, Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall. She wore it in 2005 at a banquet held in honor of the Norwegian Royal Family.

PS: You may also visit this blog, another interesting source of information about royal jewelry 


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