The Oriental Circlet is perhaps one of the least known of Queen Victoria’s collection. In todays blog we look at the tiara’s background and how it was used after Queen Victoria’s death in 1901.
As with many pieces of jewellery owned by Queen Victoria, the Oriental Circlet was designed by Prince Albert, and was inspired by a tiara given to Queen Victoria by the East India Company to commemorate the end of the Great Exhibition in 1851. The design consisted of seventeen mughal arches, with a lotus flower in each of the centres. The tiara was completed in 1853 by Court Jeweller, Garrard, and cost the couple £860. Queen Victoria later commissioned an opal necklace, earrings and brooch to wear alongside it.
Along with seventeen opals, Albert’s favourite gemstone, the Oriental Circlet also contained 2,600 diamonds, many of which had belonged to Queen Charlotte. However, in 1857 Queen Victoria’s uncle, the King of Hanover, won the right to Queen Charlottes jewels. As a result, the diamonds had to be removed from the piece and returned in January 1858, along with many other pieces in Victoria’s collection. Garrard worked with Victoria and Albert to reset the almost empty circlet with new diamonds. At the same time, Victoria asked for the circlet to be altered slightly to create a small open space at the back, rather than it being a full circle. However, this simple adjustment cost the the royal couple over £400.
After Albert’s death in 1861, Victoria limited which jewels she wore. Unfortunately the circlet was amongst many of her colourful tiaras, which were temporarily retired. After Queen Victoria died in 1901, the the circlet was in a selection of jewellery passed on to the crown to be worn by future Queens and Queen Consorts.
First to inherit the Oriental Circlet was Victoria's daughter-in-law, Queen Alexandra. Believing opals to be bad luck, Alexandra had them replaced with rubies from different pieces that had been given to Queen Victoria and King Edward VII by Indian Princes. Coordinating the earrings and necklace, she replaced their opals with Burmese rubies, which had been given to Queen Victoria in the 1870s. Along with changing the stones, Alexandra also had the seventeen arches reduced to eleven, as well as making some parts removable to be replaced with large single diamonds to create a much simpler look. Despite altering the tiara so much, Alexandra doesn’t appear to have been fond of the tiara and is only thought to have worn it once during the 1903 German State Visit to Denmark. Similarly to Alexandra, Queen Mary isn’t believed to have worn the criclet.
When King George VI ascended the throne in 1937, the tiara was brought out of the Royal Vault by his wife, Queen Elizabeth. Along with its Ruby Parure, the tiara quickly became one of her favourite pieces and was worn for the first time in May 1937 to the Debutante Presentation Court at Buckingham Palace. A few days later, she wore it to the famous balcony appearance after the couples coronation. Over the coming years, she wore it on numerous occasions to a variety of events, including: State Visits, Galas, to the Opening of Parliament, balcony appearances and also for many official portraits.
After the death of King George VI in 1952, the tiara and it’s Parure should have been inherited by Queen Elizabeth II. However, realising her mothers love if the piece, Elizabeth allowed her to keep, claiming that “Mummy will give them back”. After the death of Elizabeth, the Queen Mother, the Oriental Circlet was given back to the Queen. Three years later, in 2006, Queen Elizabeth II wore the tiara for the first and only time to a banquet in Malta.
As with many other jewels, the circlet and it’s Parure have been passed down to Queen Camilla, who will hopefully wear it sometime soon.