Hollywood & Pop Culture

Romantics and Rebels: A Brief History of Diamond Tiaras Off and On the Red Carpet

Whether you’re piling on a diamond necklace, bracelet, studs or beyond, diamond jewelry couldn’t be a more glamorous vehicle for freely expressing oneself.

Romantics and Rebels: A Brief History of Diamond Tiaras Off and On the Red CarpetElizabeth Taylor Antique Diamond Tiara (Image via Christie's)
Elizabeth Taylor Antique Diamond Tiara (Image via Christie's)

There are rules when it comes to wearing a diamond tiara. Well, at least there are rules among European royalty and society. The red carpet is another story and I will get to that in a moment.

First, the rules about tiaras are simple. Only brides and married women are supposed to wear them. Why you ask? Tradition mainly. According to Geoffrey Munn author of Tiaras: A History of Splendor, the headgear was symbolic of “the crowning of love.”

The British royal family, the most high-profile nobles on the planet, have been abiding by the diamond tiara custom for around 150 years. It all began after 1870 when the abundant supply of diamonds discovered at the Kimberley Mine in South Africa made the gem widely available to crown jewelers. Diamond tiaras swept into royal wedding fashions and they have remained a key element of a bride’s ensemble.

Elizabeth Taylor wore her antique diamond tiara to the 1957 Cannes Film Festival. (Photo by Jack Garofalo/Paris Match via Getty Images)

Not surprisingly when Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II married Prince Philip in 1953 wearing Queen Mary’s Fringe Tiara, it inspired several Hollywood stars. Elizabeth Taylor frequently and famously flaunted her late 19th century antique diamond tiara—a gift from her third husband, movie producer Mike Todd. In 1957 she wore it to several events including the Cannes Film Festival, the Oscars and a pre-Golden Globes party at the Coconut Grove.

By British etiquette standards, Taylor wasn’t technically breaking any rules since she was married when she wore her tiara (no royal title is required to wear one). And more recently, modern red-carpet mavericks have followed suit.

At the 1997 Oscars, Luis Miguel with Salma Hayek who is wearing a vintage tiara from Fred Leighton. (Photo via Getty Images)

The self-proclaimed queen of the modern tiara movement is none other than Salma Hayek. At the 1997 Oscars, long before she was married, Hayek wore a vintage diamond tiara from Fred Leighton. The star recently explained to Vogue.com how her team responded when she decided to wear the jewel. “Everyone told me I was crazy and that it would be ridiculous, it would be pretentious, and everyone tried to convince me, like my manager, my stylist, and my publicist,” she says. “I wore the tiara anyways, and you know what happened? Everybody started wearing a tiara after that.”

At the 2005 Oscars Scarlett Johansson wore a Fred Leighton tiara. (Photo via Getty Images)

“Everybody” might be a bit of an exaggeration, but there has been a lot of tiara-wearing on the red carpet over the last 23 years. Rebecca Selva from Fred Leighton, who outfitted Salma Hayek’s  tiara and helped crown countless others says, “Tiaras provide a fairytale fantasy red carpet moment.” 

At the 2005 Oscars, Selva made the magic happen for Scarlett Johansson by resetting three vintage star brooches on a tiara frame. “Her stylist at the time, Annabel Tollman, said she was thinking about stars for the jewelry,” remembers Selva. “And it all just came together.”

At the 2017 Met Gala, Indian actress Deepika Padukone wore a vintage tiara from Fred Leighton. (Photo by John Lamparski/Getty Images)

“If someone is apprehensive about wearing a tiara, it’s usually because they don’t want something big towering over their head,” explains Selva. “People don’t generally realize the many ways a tiara can be styled.”

At the 2017 Met Gala, for example, Indian movie star Deepika Padukone, breathtakingly transformed a vintage star tiara into a bandeau by wearing it reversed over the top of her head.

Sienna Miller wore two vintage diamond tiaras from Fred Leighton at the 2018 Met Gala. (Photo by Neilson Barnard/Getty Images)

Some celebrities are fearless about making a big statement with tiaras. For the 2018 Met Gala, Sienna Miller put on two vintage diamond tiaras from Fred Leighton. “Sienna’s stylist Kate Young saw the tiaras and said, why don’t we layer them,” remembers Selva. “I loved the idea because it defied expectations and demystified the formality of the jewel.”

There was a bit of work involved, however, in making the layered tiaras look effortless. “We had to wire the tiaras together,” reveals Selva. “You have to tell a tiara where it is supposed to sit.”

In 2019, Amandla Stenberg wore a vintage diamond tiara from Beladora to the Los Angeles Online Film Critics Society Award Ceremony. (Photo by Jon Kopaloff/Getty Images)

Rising movie star Amandla Stenberg made the most of a somewhat minor red carpet appearance in 2019 with a dazzling diamond tiara fromBeladora. She transformed the treasure into a cool jewel, working it into her braided updo and unexpectedly pairing it with a suit jacket.

At the 2020 Oscars, Selma Hayek styled a Boucheron diamond and pearl necklace as a tiara. (Photo by Kevin Mazur/Getty Images)

In the last quarter century, most tiaras on the red carpet have been vintage, namely because few contemporary designers make them. Of course, leave it to Salma Hayek to creatively change that: At the 2020 Oscars, the actress had a pavé set diamond and South Sea pearl laurel wreath necklace by Boucheron worked into her hair so it resembled a tiara.

You never know, it might have inspired a few contemporary designers to add a tiara to their collections.