Princess Diana's Tiara Rarely Seen Since Her Death to Go on Jubilee Display

Princess Diana's most treasured family jewel is to go on display in London ahead of Queen Elizabeth II's Platinum Jubilee celebrations next month.

The Spencer tiara, which Diana famously wore on her wedding day in 1981, is to be included in the exhibition of aristocratic tiaras at Sotheby's auction house marking the jubilee.

The jewel has become synonymous with the princess being worn with many of her most iconic outfits throughout the 1980s and early 1990s.

Composed entirely of diamonds on a silver and gold frame, the tiara was reportedly created in the 1930s by crown jewelers Garrard from a much older central element which was a family heirloom.

Princess Diana Spencer Tiara Bahrain Exhibition Sotheby's
The Spencer family tiara was made in the 1930s by Garrard from a much older family heirloom and was loaned to Princess Diana in the 1980s. Diana photographed wearing the tiara on November 16, 1986. Anwar Hussein/WireImage

Diana's father loaned her the tiara for her wedding and she retained the use of it throughout her marriage up until his death in 1992. The princess wore it on at least seven major royal occasions and posed for multiple official portraits wearing the piece.

The Spencer family is one of Britain's oldest aristocratic families dating back to the 15th century. Diana's father was an equerry to King George VI and after that to Elizabeth II and the families were connected further as Prince Charles and Diana began to form a romantic attachment to one another.

The royal wedding of 1981 was watched by an estimated global audience of 750 million people and unlike modern royal brides such as Kate Middleton and Meghan Markle, Diana did not have to borrow a tiara from her future-mother-in-law the queen to complete her outfit. Diana was proud to wear her own family jewel down the aisle of St Paul's Cathedral.

Spencer Tiara Princess Diana Sotheby's Exhibition
Princess Diana wore the Spencer tiara on her wedding day and to many important royal events. Sotheby's

The princess's butler, Paul Burrell, wrote of her deep symbolic and sentimental attachment to the family jewel in his 2003 memoir A Royal Duty.

"As Princess of Wales, it was an essential part of her regal uniform," he wrote, adding that "she wore it to state banquets at Buckingham Palace, state openings of parliament and diplomatic receptions."

"It was not merely a symbol of the princess's royal status," he continued. "It was a memory of her wedding day."

Though the Spencer tiara was highly valued by Diana, it was not the only one at her disposal. As a wedding present, the queen loaned the new Princess of Wales the diamond and pearl lover's knot tiara created on the instructions of her grandmother, Queen Mary.

The lover's knot tiara is impressive and is as equally associated with Diana as the Spencer jewel but, according to hairstylist Sam McKnight, caused the princess to have headaches.

Perhaps to avoid these headaches, the princess had two bandeaus made from a necklace and bracelet which could be worn on the forehead as opposed to the crown of the head, reinvigorating the fashion not seen since the 1920s.

Princess Diana Spencer Tiara State Events
Princess Diana wore the Spencer tiara to many important state and official events. Photographed (L) on an official visit to Portugal, February 1987. And (R) in Bahrain, November 16, 1986. Princess Diana Archive/Getty Images/Tim Graham Photo Library via Getty Images

Burrell claims in his memoir that the princess was asked to return the tiara to the Spencer family vault by her brother, the current Earl Spencer, in 1993 after he inherited his father's estate and title.

The princess had previously returned the tiara to her brother for a brief period in 1989 so that it could be worn by his then-fiancé on their wedding day.

"Earl Spencer made it clear," Burrell wrote, "that the tiara had only been 'on loan' to the princess because his grandfather had bequeathed it to him in the 1970s."

Burrell adds that the Earl wrote in a letter to his sister that the tiara, "should be returned to its proper owner."

Since then the tiara has been seen rarely, though made a notable appearance in 2018 when Diana's niece Celia McCorquodale was loaned it by her uncle to wear at her wedding.

The tiara's display alongside nearly 50 other examples in Sotheby's exhibition will mark the first time it has been exhibited in London since the 1960s.

Among the other notable jewels going on display is a diamond and emerald tiara designed by Prince Albert for Queen Victoria in 1845. The dramatic tiara with elegant swags of diamonds was made in the gothic revival style and was a favorite piece of Victoria's.

Queen Victoria Emerald Tiara
Queen Victoria was given a diamond and emerald tiara as a present by Prince Albert in 1845. Hulton Archive/Getty Images/Sotheby's

After Albert's death, the queen refused to wear colored stones and gave away many pieces which she did not consider important enough to be handed down to future monarchs.

To each of her five daughters, Victoria gave a tiara that was designed by their father, Albert. The emerald creation was given to Princess Louise, Duchess of Argyll, who died childless at Kensington Palace where Prince William and Kate Middleton now live and where the tiara is usually on permanent display.

The Sotheby's exhibition will run from May 28 to June 15 at their London showroom.

Newsweek has reached out to Earl Spencer for comment.

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