On June 2, 1953, the Queen’s Coronation Day, it poured with rain. Nine young aristocratic girls were chosen to be maids of honor, including the 21-year-old Lady Anne Coke—subsequently Princess Margaret’s lady-in-waiting and much later the best-selling author Anne Glenconner. She remembers it was dark and cold when they arrived at Westminster Abbey. “Our dresses weren’t lined. There were still rationing and clothing coupons after the war, you see. A tiny thread of blue cotton had been placed on the floor in the abbey, so the Queen knew where to stand,” says Glenconner, recalling the moment, at the back of the abbey, when each maid of honor lifted a portion of the 16-foot velvet Robe of State, and with a quick “Are you ready, girls?” from the future monarch, they were off. “When the procession began, we walked past row upon row of tiaras.”

Garrard, the crown jeweler, had worked overtime to adjust the Imperial State Crown to fit the young Queen’s head; and then there were stacks of aristocratic diadems that needed repair as well. “No one had worn their jewelry or tiaras during the war, which were like great fenders of diamonds,” explains Glenconner. “People were queuing to have them cleaned.”

In London, Sotheby’s has scrubbed up many of the same head ornaments in preparation this month for “Power and Image,” an exhibition that celebrates the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee with a display of 46 tiaras. At least a dozen of these beauties appeared atop noble heads on Coronation Day, on loan from the great stately homes of England. Grandiloquent 19th-century family fenders, each having tried to outshine all others in Westminster Abbey on Coronation Day, will be featured side by side, sparking a new round of tiara wars.

Queen Elizabeth II and her ladies-in-waiting on Coronation Day, June 2, 1953.

Whose is the grandest of them all? The magnificent Derby? The Fitzwilliam or Westminster or Rosebery? Or the Devonshire Palm and Lotus, on loan from Chatsworth? In trade tiara-speak, all are described as “real stonkers.”

No jeweled headpiece, however, can compete with the impact of a royal adornment. Lady Edwina Mountbatten’s diamond-and-aquamarine tiara was a gift to her from Czar Nicholas II. Princess Diana’s favorite was the Spencer family diadem. (It is on loan from Althorp.) And Queen Victoria’s preferred emerald-and-diamond tiara, designed by Prince Albert and painted by Franz Xaver Winterhalter, will arrive from Kensington Palace on the eve of the exhibition.

As for Queen Elizabeth II, the tiaras most closely associated with her reign—the Diamond Diadem and the Girls of Great Britain and Ireland tiara, both visible daily on the Queen’s head as seen on coinage, banknotes, and postage stamps—will be exhibited instead during the Queen’s accession exhibition at Buckingham Palace. The Vladimir Tiara, including the infamous Cambridge emeralds, won in a state-sponsored charity lottery by the Duchess of Cambridge in 1818, and the silver-gilt coronet worn by the 11-year-old Elizabeth to the coronation of her father, King George VI, will join them, among other royal jewels.

On Coronation Day, the Diamond Diadem glittered on the Queen’s head to and from the abbey. “She looked so young, beautiful and vulnerable,” says Glenconner. “The contrast of seeing her crowned with all her regalia was extraordinary. She was weighted down a bit, but I remember thinking it was terribly poignant.” —Carol Woolton

“Power and Image: Royal & Aristocratic Tiaras” opens on May 28 at Sotheby’s London. “Platinum Jubilee: The Queen’s Accession” will open at Buckingham Palace on July 22

Carol Woolton is the contributing jewelry director for British Vogue and the author of several books. An upcoming episode of her podcast, If Jewels Could Talk, will feature Caroline de Guitaut, the Queen’s surveyor of jewels and pictures