Tiara vs. Diadem – Is There a Difference?

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Tiaras and diadems are head ornaments worn by royalty and nobility to denote their status, power and authority. Wearing tiaras or diadems is a practice that goes back thousands of years, with one of the earliest diadems known to have been worn in 3000 BC.

While the words tiara and diadem are sometimes used interchangeably, there are some differences between these two terms, although these are very small.

In this article, let’s take a look at the difference between tiaras and diadems.

What is a Tiara?

Bride wearing Tiara

A tiara is an elaborate head ornamentation traditionally worn by royalty and the nobility to showcase their status and affluence. Tiaras are typically worn by women, commonly by brides at their weddings or guests at extremely formal white-tie events.

In the past, tiaras were only worn by the upper echelons to denote their status such as queens and princesses as well as duchesses and countesses. Later on, commoners such as rich celebrities and socialites also began to wear tiaras for various functions. Today, unlike crowns and diadems, wearing a tiara does not automatically mean that you are royalty.

A tiara is semi-circular in shape and does not encircle the entire head. Rather, it is perched on or against the hair of the wearer, with the focus being on the front of the piece. There is no strict design for a tiara, apart from the fact that it is a semi-circle. Traditionally, tiaras contained colorful and elaborate jewels and designs, but in the last century, tiaras were typically more subdued in color, with diamonds and pearls as the chosen gemstones, and  an emphasis on the elaborate design.

princess Diana tiara
Famous Lover’s Knot Tiara worn by Princess Diana and featuring diamonds and pearls. Source 

These days, while crowns and diadems are still often reserved for royalty or eccentric celebrities, tiaras are more common amongst the commoners. They are sometimes worn by brides on their wedding days, beauty pageant winners and by little girls for various events.

What is a Diadem?

Golden Greek Diadem
By Unknown artist – own work by Wolfgang Sauber, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=3963035

To understand what a diadem used to be and what it is today, we need to go briefly back to its origins.

The word diadem originates from the Greek diadein which means ‘to bind around’. Basically, the word diadem was used to describe any circular piece worn on the head to symbolize status and power. Taken in this context, crowns, tiaras, circlets and other royal head pieces are all sub-categories of the generic term diadem.

Early diadems were basically ribbons tied around a head to represent royalty. They were also worn by triumphant athletes to depict their champion status. Over time, diadems morphed into elaborate head pieces made of precious metal and jewels.

harry potter diadem
Ravenclaw Diadem Inspired by the Harry Potter Fantasy Series. See it here

Diadems can be completely circular (like a crown) or a semi-circle (like a tiara). There are no hard and fast rules as to what a diadem should look like. The general take away is that a diadem is an ornamental head dress worn to showcase affluence and status.

One interesting point to note is that very few royal head pieces are named diadems. While there is an abundance of tiaras, there are only very few labelled diadems. Probably the most famous is the George IV State Diadem, which was commissioned by King George in 1820.

The George the IV State Diadem

And finally, while diadems can technically be worn by both men and women, headpieces labelled ‘diadem’ are commonly worn by women. One exception would be the George IV Diadem.

Tiara vs. Diadem – A Quick Recap

It’s clear that the two words tiara and diadem can be used interchangeably today.

Both refer to elaborate valuable headpieces worn on special occasions.

One point to note is that while all tiaras are technically diadems, no all diadems are tiaras. Tiaras have specific characteristics, of which the most distinguishing is that it is only a half circle. However, some diadems can be fully circular like crowns.

The word tiara is more commonly used whereas diadem is less frequent in usage and tends to sound mysterious and exotic.

If you would like to learn more about tiaras, check out our article on tiara vs. crown. For more information about bridal tiaras, read our guide to tiaras for weddings.

If you’re looking for a tiara for a wedding or function, check out Amazon’s extensive range of tiaras.

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