As Princess Diana (played by Kristen Stewart) appears on the big screen in Pablo Larraín’s Spencer, so too does the Spencer tiara. The diamond and floral diadem made its official, historic, and global debut on July 29, 1981, nestled on top of Princess Diana’s 153-yard tulle veil, designed by David and Elizabeth Emanuel.
Some however, may have seen the tiara before. The Spencer tiara, as its name might strongly suggest, belongs to Diana’s family. The Spencers are an aristocratic family whose history goes back centuries, though the tale of the Spencer tiara does not stretch that far back. It was assembled finally by Garrard in the 1930s from several gifts that had been bestowed on the Spencers, primarily the central floral piece which was given as a present to Lady Cynthia Hamilton on the occasion of her wedding to the future 7th Earl Spencer, Lady Diana’s grandfather.
And before the world witnessed its grand appearance outside St. Paul’s Cathedral in 1981, it had been worn at the weddings of Diana’s two sisters. (It was later worn by Victoria Lockwood, Diana’s sister in law, at her wedding to Charles Spencer, Diana’s younger brother. They have since divorced and his other wives have chosen not to continue the tradition.) A Spencer niece, Celia McCorquodale, the daughter of Diana’s oldest sister Sarah, wore the tiara to her own wedding in 2018. (The newly betrothed Prince Harry and Meghan Markle were in attendance.)
And if you happened to have somehow missed the Spencer tiara at the wedding of Charles and Diana (I’m not sure how, but let’s just say you did) you would have seen it time and time again worn by Princess Diana at formal events during their marriage. If pictures say a thousand words, images of Diana during that time repeat “I love the Spencer tiara” in excelsis. Some say it was because the Spencer was so much lighter than the Cambridge Lover’s knot, a royal jewel given to by Diana by the Queen on the occasion of her wedding. And the Spencer does seem to have a modern ease about it, sitting on top those famous blonde layers.
Others speculate it was Princess Diana’s attempt to hold on to her own identity and her own family history as she dealt with a sometimes complicated royal welcome. Many now see the Spencer tiara as a kind of floral-diamond-rebel-yell from a young woman thrust into a spotlight and a scandal. Others draw parallels between Diana’s experience and that of Meghan Markle.
And they might remember that some wondered if Markle would choose the Spencer tiara for her own royal wedding as a way to honor her deceased mother-in-law. She did not of course (she borrowed Queen Mary’s bandeau tiara from the Queen), though it’s important to not read too much into that. As one royal observer and jewelry historian told me at the time when I asked if Markle might choose the Spencer, “Why would she wear the Spencer tiara when she is marrying into the Windsors? It would be a bit rude no?”