Le Bal at the Palace of Versailles, 1960

Royalty and Nobility from around Europe attended the second annual Le Bal des Débutantes in the Orangery of the Palace of Versailles on this day in 1960. Established in 1958, Le Bal continues to be a highlight of the social calendar.

Queen Marie José of Italy (wearing Queen Margherita’s Diamond Wreath Tiara) was joined by Princess Maria Pia (in her Pearl and Diamond Ivy Wreath Tiara) and Prince Alexander of Yugoslavia as well as Princess Maria Beatrice of Savoy and Prince Carlos Hugo of Bourbon-Parma.

The Duke and Duchess of Bedford (wearing Queen Caroline’s Diamond Floral Tiara) were also present with the Marquess of Tavistock, and the (soon-to-be) Duchess wrote about the Ball:

I wore the large Bedford diadem for the first time three months before my wedding, in July 1960 at Catherine’s debutante ball in Versailles.

Ted Lapidus had made me a white lace dress trimmed in silver, and Catherine opted for lots of virgin white tulle from Balmain. “Would you like to wear a tiara?” Ian had asked me. Now there is a day in a woman’s life when she wants to look as attractive as possible and that is the day her daughter is introduced into society. In addition, Catherine would wear the traditional pearl crown for debutantes, and both Ian himself, to whom I was engaged at the time, and his son Robin Marquis von Tavistock, attended the ball. Catherine and I waited for Ian in my Paris apartment. When he came he had a brown bag with him, which he dropped into my lap like a bag of apples.

I opened it and held the beautiful Bedford diadem in my hands. The briar rose buds and jasmine blossoms and jasmine leaves motifs mounted on feathers and spirals vibrated slightly and sparkled in the evening sun. It was a shimmer and sparkle of magical beauty. This type of diadem is called a “tremblant”. They were made in the eighteenth century and that of the Bedfords originally belonged to Queen Caroline of Naples, a sister of Napoleon. For me it is still one of the most beautiful. When I wear ducal family jewellery today, I feel very comfortable. You don’t have to be pretty on an evening when you’re wearing a gorgeous tiara. All eyes are looking at the diamonds and not the face. Even if you are tired and bad-looking, the tiara forces you to stay upright. You walk proudly and feel the shine on your head, which attracts all eyes. On the big day we got excited because the London hairdresser who was supposed to fix our hair was indispensable. Catherine and I did our hairs quickly, even though I had no experience with tiara. Since I was wearing a knot, I first attached that. Then I wrapped narrow strands of hair around the edges and pinned it with dozens of bobby pins. It got harder and harder. No wonder that every time I wear a tiara I get a headache after an hour.

I also wore the triple diamond necklace that evening. Each stone in itself would make a fantastic engagement ring. The necklace and tiara are of national importance. If I take them out of the country, I need approval from the appraisal office. Since then I have worn Bedford jewels many times, but not so much considered them to be important as something uniquely beautiful – until one day on the plane on the copy of the permit for the temporary export of the jewellery I read what value it was Her Majesty’s Treasury. I was so speechless that if I wear it now, I can’t get rid of the thought that a thief could tear it off my head. The thought of a piece as uniquely beautiful as Queen Caroline’s diadem could break apart and artistic work destroyed, annoys me. So it was unforgettable how I walked across the court of Versailles at Catherine’s first ball. All the big headlights were pointed at us and the diamonds on my head shone like the glittering stars in the sky on a clear summer night. On another occasion, I greeted Diane Beatty with the words: Oh, you’re wearing your chandelier. Another incident: at a reception with Ian in Luton Hoo by Sir Harold and Lady Wernher, attended by all the members of the Royal Family, I discovered that I was wearing a larger and nicer tiara than them Queen. I was embarrassed and tried to avoid her. But she became attentive and tried to be close to me so that she could take a closer look at the diadem – not my face.


Leave a Reply