How Princess Margaret Broke Tradition With Her Wedding Tiara

The Queen's younger sister, most notably, made the 'bathtub tiara' famous.
joyce chen wedding news expert the knot
by
Joyce Chen
joyce chen wedding news expert the knot
Joyce Chen
Wedding News Contributor
  • Joyce writes articles for The Knot Worldwide, specializing in celebrity wedding features and pieces on wedding trends and etiquette
  • Joyce conducts interviews with real couples about how they’ve adapted to the challenges of wedding planning during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic
  • In addition to The Knot Worldwide, Joyce also regularly contributes writing to Architectural Digest, Paste magazine, Refinery29, and TODAY.com
Updated Nov 02, 2021

Fans of Netflix series The Crown have become well-acquainted with Princess Margaret, Countess of Snowdon, younger sister of the Queen, and wild child of the royal family. In just about every aspect of her life, Princess Margaret did things her own way, often breaking royal protocol and challenging age-old tradition. It should come as no surprise, then, that her 1960 wedding to Antony Armstrong-Jones was no different, including Princess Margaret's chosen wedding tiara.

For starters, Margaret's decision to marry the society photographer made her the first daughter of a British king to marry a "commoner" in hundreds of years. Then came her decision to purchase a wedding tiara rather than borrow one from the extensive vault of crown jewels. (While royals have of course purchased jewelry in the past, as Queen Mary often did, it was unusual for a royal bride to not wear royal jewels on her wedding day.) And in fact, Princess Margaret not only bought the Poltimore tiara herself, she did so at auction in 1959, before she was even engaged.

Which Tiara Did Princess Margaret Wear on Her Wedding Day?

The Poltimore tiara originally belonged to Lady Poltimore, who bought the bedazzled diadem from royal jeweler Garrard back in 1870. It was passed down through her family, and eventually landed in the hands of her grandson, the Fourth Baron Poltimore, who sold it to Princess Margaret at auction in 1959 for £5,500, or around $7,500 today. The tiara was uniquely designed as a closed circuit, as compared to other royal tiaras that are semi-circular in shape and do not actually encircle the entire head. It featured, according to its Christie's listing, an entire row of "cushion-shaped and old-cut diamond clusters alternating with diamond-set scroll motifs, each surmounted by old-cut diamond terminals."

The diamond scrolls were meant to emulate flora and nature. Given the simplicity of her Norman Hartnell wedding dress, Margaret opted to amp things up by styling the tiara with a cathedral-length silk and tulle veil that billowed dramatically behind her as she made her way down the aisle in Westminster Abbey.

Who Else Has Worn the Poltimore Tiara?

Aside from Lady Poltimore, the original owner of the tiara, the Poltimore tiara is most closely linked to Princess Margaret. Lady Poltimore most notably wore the impressive diadem to the coronation of King George V in 1911. Princess Margaret wasn't shy about wearing the tiara either, showing it off during a state visit of the Shah of Iran in May 1959 (before she was even engaged). Then, she wore it again to an event at the Royal Opera House later that year, though she altered it as a necklace for the latter event.

Following Margaret's royal wedding in 1960, the Poltimore tiara made another memorable appearance in a 1962 photograph. In it, the Countess of Snowdon is seen soaking in a bathtub wearing nothing but the Poltimore tiara on her head; the racy image was taken in 1962 by her husband, but didn't enter the public domain until 2006, years after Margaret's death. It's not known whether other royals have ever worn the Poltimore tiara, but it seems rather unlikely given its unusual entrance into the royal family's collection. After Margaret's death, her children, Earl Snowdon and Lady Sarah Chatto, sold the tiara off in an auction for £926,400.

Surprising Facts About Princess Margaret's Wedding Tiara

Princess Margaret's decision to buy her own tiara was a bold one, and made her somewhat of a trailblazer within the royal family. Years later, Princess Diana would similarly cause a buzz when she turned down Queen Elizabeth's Cambridge Lover's Knot tiara in favor of a family heirloom, the Spencer tiara. Traditionally, Queen Elizabeth II would loan out crown jewels to brides for their royal weddings: she did so for Kate Middleton, Meghan Markle, Princess Eugenie, and Princess Beatrice, among others. But for Princess Margaret—and later on, for Diana, Princess of Wales—choosing their own tiaras for their wedding days would be seen as a big assertion of their place within the House of Windsor.

"It's such a modern thing," Sara Prentice, creative director at the House of Garrard, told Vogue. "We're finding more and more now that women are purchasing for themselves, but way back in 1959, she chose it for herself. She must've loved it to do that." Here are a few other unknown facts about Princess Margaret's wedding tiara.

The tiara can be worn as a necklace or broken into 11 brooches.

One of the unique features of the Poltimore tiara was that it was versatile. Garrard designed it so that it could be worn as a necklace or as 11 separate brooches. Princess Margaret did wear the tiara as a fringe necklace often in public, both before and after her 1960 wedding. According to its Christie's listing, one only needs a small screwdriver to reconfigure the diamond tiara.

An extra fabric helped give the tiara the illusion that it was floating.

Another interesting feature of the tiara was that it sat very high on the head—and Garrard had intentionally designed it to do so. According to Vogue, a piece of brown ribbon was laced into the framework of the tiara so that when Princess Margaret wore it, only the cloth would sink into her hair while the rest of the sparkling diadem would be on full display.

That iconic photo is no longer available for public view.

Four years after Princess Margaret's death, a photograph of Princess Margaret smiling coquettishly from a bathtub wearing nothing but the Poltimore tiara surfaced. The image was taken by her husband at the time, Lord Snowdon, in a bathroom at Kensington Palace, and it was titled "Dip in Diamonds." Eleven years later, after Lord Snowdon died, the royal family quietly removed the image from public view. Still, the iconic photo of a young royal having a little flirty fun sparked the public imagination, so much so that in season 3 of The Crown, that particular scene is reimagined, with Helena Bonham Carter playing the boundary-pushing royal.

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