The Jewels of British Royalty

Published: August 2010
by Carrie Fox, In The Loupe Editor
from In the Loupe Volume V

JTV takes a look at three queens and their impressive collections of gemstones and jewelry.

The Royal Jewels of Queen Elizabeth II

History behind her private room of jewels

Queen Elizabeth II, crowned in 1953 at age 25, is famous for her personal jewelry collection. In fact, because the lot is so impressive in both size and value, it is stored in a private room at Buckingham Palace. The special chamber is located 40 feet underground and is approximately 100’x200’ – imagine a standard ice skating rink. Conservative estimates appraise her fabulous grouping of jewelry and gems at $57 million! People often associate Queen Elizabeth II with the British Crown Jewels. However, these are stored in the Jewel House at the Tower of London and are not part of her personal collection. Some of what she owns was inherited upon her succession to the throne; however, a majority of the items have been given to her as gifts.

The Royal Collection

Highlights include one of the most magnificent aquamarine and diamond necklaces in existence, part of a suite given as a coronation gift by the people of Brazil. The Williamson Diamond brooch, an exquisite floral design, features the world’s finest pink diamond. It was a wedding present from Dr. John Williamson, a Canadian geologist who found the 23.6ct pink stone in Tanzania. Another piece to mention is the Delhi Durbar necklace. The amazing emerald and diamond treasure was originally given to Queen Mary, Elizabeth’s grandmother, by the Maharani of Patiala. Famed jeweler Gerrards modified it in 1912 by adding the Cullinan VII as a detachable diamond pendant. The incredible 8.8ct gemstone is one of nine cut from the infamous Cullinan Diamond.

Queen Victoria Influenced Many Jewelry Designs

The Victorian Era of Jewels

Queen Elizabeth II comes from a long line of women with affection for jewelry. Queen Victoria, Elizabeth’s great-great-grandmother, was one of the most significant. Victoria is remembered both for her adoration of and her influence on the jewelry of her time. She ruled the United Kingdom from 1837 to 1901, a period appropriately referred to as the Victorian era, and her mark can be seen as the styles transitioned through those years. This was especially true during the earlier stages of her monarchy.

Romantic designs, popular in the beginning of her reign, are good examples of Queen Victoria’s effect on fashion. Throughout history, the British upper class often viewed jewelry as a way of displaying their wealth; however, Victoria prized the emotional aspect of jewelry. To her, it wasn’t about extreme size and expense. It was about sentiment and self expression. At the height of the Romantic trend, Victoria was in a state of marital bliss with adored husband Prince Albert. It is believed that her joy and her focus on love influenced the styles of that period. Then, after Albert’s death, a different kind of trend emerged – one coined ‘mourning jewelry.’ The queen had court jewelers design pieces that signified the loss of her beloved. She adorned this style until her death.

Victorian Heirlooms

Focal points in her majesty’s collection include a magnificent sapphire brooch given to her by Prince Albert on their wedding day. Surrounded by 12 fabulous diamonds, the blue wonder was worn on the front of her wedding dress. Dubbed the ‘Prince Albert brooch,’ it now belongs to Queen Elizabeth II. Queen Victoria also owned a sensational amethyst and diamond necklace, which became a cherished piece passed down through the royal family. Another favorite of hers was simply named the ‘Queen Victoria Emerald and Diamond Tiara.’ It is an extraordinary piece of art, designed by Albert and handcrafted by court jewelers. Today, however, its fate remains a mystery. Some believe it is in the hands of a family descendant, while others believe it was sold around 1997 to 2000 and then dismantled by the new owner.

Queen Alexandra of Denmark Set Trends for Her Time

Reigning Jewelry History

Queen Alexandra, who was married to Victoria’s son, Prince Albert Edward, followed in the same trendsetting footsteps as her mother-in-law. Before her ascension to the throne in 1901, she reigned as Princess of Wales for 38 years. During that time, she gained immense popularity among the British people. Commonly referred to as ‘Alix,’ Alexandra was described as charming, graceful, and beautiful. She was considered a fashion icon, and the ladies of that day aspired to copy her style. In fact, after battling rheumatic fever, Alix was left with a small, permanent limp. Because she had been so influential, some women actually began to impersonate her limp!

Queen Alexandra also had a small scar on her neck, which led to another trend that was extremely popular for many years. To hide the scar, Alix would stack on several ‘collar’ or ‘choker’-length necklaces, covering most of her bare neck. She can be seen wearing this style in several portraits.

The Royal Collection of Queen Alexandra

Highlights in Queen Alexandra’s collection include her famed Russian Kokoshnik tiara (Queen Elizabeth II is seen wearing it here.) The luxurious piece, encrusted with 488 diamonds, was a gift for her silver wedding anniversary, courtesy of Lady Salisbury and 365 other ladies of society. The Dagmar necklace is another important piece to note; it was the first in her collection. The extravagant piece was a wedding present from her father’s predecessor, Frederick VII, King of Denmark. Its beautiful design featured 118 pearls and 2,000 diamonds. One of Queen Alexandra’s other favorites was her diamond Collier Resille. This choker was presented to her in 1904 by famed jeweler Cartier. It was quite the envy of those around her.

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