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Princess Diana

All that glitters is not necessarily gold – it might be a diamond and silver tiara, the elegant, crown-like headpiece favored by princesses and brides.

Should Kate Middleton don a tiara on April 29, she will be joining a tradition which goes beyond the British royal family all the way back to the leaders of ancient Persia. “The upright tiara, the privileged head-dress of the Persian Kings,” quotes the Oxford English Dictionary from a 19th Century history book. The word comes from Greek, and partly Italian, via Latin.

Notables from popes to princesses have been wearing tiaras for centuries, and the British royal family has a treasure trove of tiaras that have been passed down from generation to generation. Tiaras are worn not only for weddings but for other important occasions like state visits, and they are an essential part of the royal wardrobe. There’s the spectacular “Indian” tiara, made for Queen Victoria, and worn by Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother during her State Visit to France in 1938. The tiara contains 2,678 diamonds and takes its name from the Indian rubies set into it, according to the Royal Collection website.

Princess Elizabeth (currently the Queen) on her wedding day wore the Fringe tiara originally made for her grandmother Queen Mary in 1919 – thus fulfilling the “something borrowed” bridal tradition. The tiara, which can also be worn as a necklace, re-uses diamonds taken from a necklace/tiara purchased by Queen Victoria from Collingwood and Co. as a wedding present for the future Queen Mary in 1893.

Then there’s the beautiful diamond and silver “Girls of Great Britain and Ireland” tiara, a wedding present for Princess Mary of Teck (later Queen Mary), bought with money raised by a committee by Lady Eve Greville. This was in turn given to the Queen as a wedding present.

William’s mother Lady Diana Spencer had her own family heirloom to wear when she married – the diamond Spencer tiara. Kate, being from a regular family, doesn’t have a ready supply of tiaras in her closet. Should the Queen choose to lend or give Kate one of her own tiaras on April 29, royal watchers say this will be seen as a sign of confidence in the bride – and a stamp of approval for the monarchy’s next generation.

Laura Trevelyan is a BBC correspondent based in New York.

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By Laura Trevelyan