Handbag Mystery Hour – The Burmese Ruby Tiara

Hofdame Note: Our talented Swedish Baguette, Mrs. Diamond, has solved yesterday’s wedding gown mystery! Head back to the post for the fascinating update! Thank you, Mrs. Diamond!

Much is known about the Burmese Ruby Tiara, but a couple small mysteries remain. We know when it was commissioned, why it was required, and what jewels were used in its design. We know the Queen used her own rubies, which had been a wedding gift, but that gift remains a bit of a mystery. We know the Nizam tiara was dismantled to provide material, but not why.

Come with us, Baguette and Hofdude jewel sleuths. Try to help us figure this out.

The Beginning

When then-Princess Elizabeth married Prince Philip of Greece and Denmark in 1947, gifts of jewels rolled in. And why not? The world was still reeling from the deprivation of the war years, and suddenly a young beautiful princess was marrying a dashing prince. Years of public duty would follow, and glamour was the order of the future.

The dream gift of the century materialized from the Nizam of Hyderabad, an Indian prince. He invited the Princess to go to Cartier and pick out the jewels of her choice. Princess Elizabeth chose a diamond tiara and necklace designed by the firm at some point in the 1930s. The tiara has been unofficially dubbed “The Nizam” in royal-watching land. It was set in a floral motif and was versatile. You could pop three of the roses out and wear them as brooches.

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The Queen also received a fabulous gift of gems from the people of Burma (now Myanmar): 96 rubies. Both the type and number of this gem were important symbolically. In Burma, rubies were believed to protect the owner from evil and sickness: it was also believed that 96 illnesses could affect humans.

The Middle

In 1973, now-Queen Elizabeth II needed a ruby tiara option. The glorious ruby Oriental (or Indian) Circlet was still in possession of the Queen Mother, and rather than ruffle that nest, the Queen commissioned Garrards to design a new piece. The Queen decided not to purchase new gems but to provide the materials from her vault.

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She had 96 wedding present rubies, and she had a wonderful problem in that she possessed a lot of different diamonds that could be used to fill out the design. She chose to dismantle the Nizam to provide the diamonds. The diamonds and rubies were sent to Garrards to be incorporated into the tiara.

The End

The result was named the Burmese Ruby tiara. It’s a complicated design: the setting contains both white and yellow gold. The rubies are clustered in the center of each floral motif, with white “petals” radiating outward, depicting Tudor roses. Diamond rays separate the roses, with lines of rubies connecting each ruby center. To say that the design is not universally beloved is an understatement. It’s been dubbed “spider eyes” and the “ruby Rorschach test” for years.

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However, it does have its fans, and the Queen herself seems to prefer it to the Oriental Circlet. I have grown to accept it and even appreciate it on some outings.

The Nizam necklace remains in possession of the Queen (it’s been loaned to the Duchess of Cambridge), and the detachable brooches still appear on Her Majesty’s shoulders.

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Burning Questions

What about these rubies? Were they loose gems that stayed in storage from 1947 to 1973? Or were they part of this mysterious necklace shown in the upper right corner of the photo? It was among the wedding presents displayed before Princess Elizabeth’s wedding.

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At the corner of the box are two small traditional Burmese statues. The necklace itself is distinctive and not one that has been seen recently on the Queen. It’s hard to tell from this photo if those are rubies or some other gem, but the sizes seem to line up with the rubies in the tiara, and the possibility has always intrigued us.

The second question is harder – why the Nizam? It was a lovely tiara and one that the Queen had chosen herself. It was flattering and versatile. Was it simply an extra diamond tiara that wasn’t needed once the Queen had access to others she preferred? Did it have the requisite number and size of diamonds needed for the new design?

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