Jewels are a pivotal part of any royal woman’s wardrobe. The Queen’s jewels might go unnoticed but they are beautiful and fascinating for their history and individual craftsmanship. Over the years the Queen has received a number of gifts, whether personal ones or jewels from heads of state and if she is receives a piece of jewellery she will usually try to wear it to the next occasion as a compliment to the presenter. In public or private, it would be very unusual to see the Queen without some sort of brooch or her pearls. In the evenings she can be seen with some type of royal parure, which is a set of matched jewellery usually comprising of a brooch, earrings, tiara and necklace. The Queen is estimated to have in her collection 14 tiaras, 37 pairs of earrings, 105 brooches, 58 necklaces, 37 bracelets, six pendants, 14 watches, and 15 rings.
Some of the jewels are family heirlooms or belong to the Crown to be worn by future queens. Although there are no official guidelines, jewels which are personal property, are bequeathed at the owner’s discretion. Queen Victoria and Queen Mary are in large responsible for organizing the collection, deciding which ones would be personal gifts and which ones would belong to the Crown. Regardless of what public event the Queen attends she is usually wearing something on her head, whether it is a tiara, crown, or hat, as a symbol of authority. It would be impossible to mention all of her jewellery so I will confine this article to the more familiar pieces, mainly tiaras.
When most people think of royal jewels they think of the Crown Regalia, specifically the Imperial State Crown, it is most recognizable as it is worn for coronations and state openings of parliament. This crown weighs 2lbs 13 oz. It is set with 2,873 diamonds, 273 pearls, seventeen sapphires, eleven emeralds and five rubies. The Crown also features the 317.4 Cullinan II diamond and the ‘Black Prince’s ruby’. In its long history at one point the crown was transported by cab and until 1962 it was transported to the Houses of Parliament in a closed carriage. Now it is openly displayed for the waiting crowds, as a prelude to the symbolism and pageantry as the Queen carries out her role as constitutional monarch. When the Queen meets children in public at least one of them is invariably bound to ask her “Where is your crown?”
King George IV State Diadem
The most frequently worn part of the Crown Regalia is the King George IV State Diadem. It is completely circular and decorated with symbolic roses, shamrock and thistle. Originally made for King George IV in 1821 for his coronation, but he never wore it. During the Hanoverian period, gems were hired out for the crowns and then stripped bare leaving skeletal frames between each coronation. In1838 the diadem was reset with jewels from the royal collection and Queen Victoria wore it at her coronation. However, with the beginning of this reign the jewels were soldered in, symbolic of the new solidity and prosperity Queen Victoria would come to represent. She wore the diadem constantly for family events, state banquets, formal portraits, and she is pictured wearing it in the first postage stamp issued in 1840. In her will she left it to the Crown. The diadem was a particular favourite of Queen Alexandra.
The present Queen wore this on her way to her coronation and wears this to and from the State Opening of Parliament each year. She is pictured wearing it on all UK postage stamps and the diadem is no doubt seen by more millions of people than any other item of royal jewellery.
Girls of Great Britain and Ireland tiara
If one looks at photos of the Queen during evening events, you will frequently see the‘Girls of Great Britain and Ireland’ tiara. The tiara gets its name from donations made to a committee formed in 1893 to raise money for a wedding gift to the future Queen Mary. It has diamond festoons, scrolls and 27 collet spikes and Queen Mary originally wore it with upstanding pearl spikes. Minus the pearls, she gifted it to Princess Elizabeth for her wedding in 1947. It was her first tiara and the Queen affectionately calls it ‘Granny’s tiara’. This tiara has also appeared on currency and stamps.
King George III fringe tiara
Princess Elizabeth did not wear ‘Granny’s tiara’ on her wedding day; instead she borrowed the King George III fringe tiara from her mother. A graduated circle of vertical rows of diamonds, it was originally made in 1830 and designed to be worn as either a necklace or a tiara. This tiara/necklace was one of the pieces that Queen Victoria left to the Crown.
An interesting story about this tiara is that as the princess was preparing for her wedding the frame of the tiara snapped in half. A royal jeweller was on standby and repaired it in time for her departure. However had it not been fixed, unlike ordinary brides the princess had other tiaras to borrow from the royal collection if necessary. Princess Anne also wore this tiara on her wedding day.
The Cambridge Lover’s Knot Tiara
Next to the Spencer family tiara, the Lover’s Knot tiara is currently most associated with Diana, Princess of Wales. As such we are not likely to see another royal lady wearing it anytime soon, which is unfortunate as I think it’s the most beautiful of all of the royal tiaras. Queen Mary commissioned it in 1914 as a copy of one owned by her grandmother. Like “Granny’s tiara’ this also had upstanding pearl spikes at one point. In the 19th century it was a popular design and there are five known versions still in existence. Queen Mary left this tiara to the present Queen and she wore it occasionally as a young woman, eventually gifting it to Diana for her wedding in 1981.
The Grand Duchess Vladimir tiara:
Another of the Queen’s familiar tiaras is the ‘Grand Duchess Vladimir’ and like ‘Granny’s tiara’ this is the Queen’s personal property. In 1921 Queen Mary bought this tiara from some the Grand Duchess’ children and in 1953 left it in her will to the present Queen. Originally made in 1890, it has fifteen interlaced circles with a swinging oriental pearl suspended from each. The tiara is also very versatile as the pearls can be interchanged with emerald drops. The emeralds for this tiara are part of a parure consisting of matching necklace, brooch, stomacher, earrings and two bracelets.
For more detailed information on the royal jewels, please check out the books listed below.
The Queen’s Jewels – The Personal Collection of Elizabeth II by Leslie Field
The Royal Jewels by Suzy Menkes
Queens Jewels by Vincent Meylan
Hello Magazine No. 863. 21 April 2005
© Marilyn Braun 2005