Some collection: The Queen, pictured wearing an evening dress of white satin embroidered in leaf design with gold thread, diamonds, and pearls
Some had to be smuggled past a revolutionary mob. Some had to be prised from the grasp of a royal mistress. The majority were presented as tokens of esteem, reverence and — for the most part — love.
Together, they comprise surely the finest collection of diamonds in the world. And now, in honour of her Diamond Jubilee, the Queen has authorised the first public study and display of these dazzling symbols of majesty.
These are the ‘other Crown Jewels’, the ones which do not reside in the Tower of London. They live at Buckingham Palace, or wherever the Queen happens to need them. These diamonds are not set in ceremonial regalia like orbs or sceptres, restricted to royal rituals.
They are ‘heirlooms of the Crown’, the Monarch’s personal jewels – handed down from Queen to Queen — and worn for everything from a royal awayday to a family wedding or a state banquet.
Some are instantly recognisable, like the Girls Of Great Britain And Ireland Tiara, a wedding present to Queen Mary in 1893 — and worn by the present Queen on her banknotes and coins.
Others are less well-known but equally well-loved. Queen Elizabeth’s Canadian Maple Leaf Brooch, for example, was a present from George VI to his wife ahead of their 1939 tour of Canada. On the cusp of war, this was no ordinary tour but a crucial diplomatic mission.
The Queen Mother treasured the brooch until her death in 2002, whereupon it passed to the Queen. She, in turn, lent it to the Canada-bound Duchess of Cambridge last summer for her first royal tour, a touching and telling gesture of support. Amid all the excitement of the first ‘William and Kate’ excursion overseas, some commentators were too busy focusing on the Duchess’s wardrobe to notice the diamond cluster on her lapel.
But it was the brooch which told the more poignant story. There is a fascinating history to every one of almost 100 pieces included in The Queen’s Diamonds, by Sir Hugh Roberts, former director and now Surveyor Emeritus of the Royal Collection.
The spectacular Greville Tiara, left to the Queen’s mother by society hostess Mrs Ronnie Greville
The Girls Of Great Britain and Ireland Tiara, worn by the Queen on our coins and banknotes
Not only has he been allowed to handle these treasures with the Queen’s Curator of Jewellery, Angela Kelly, but he has had access to the archives and accounts of various royal jewellers, too.
So we learn the intriguing history of Queen Victoria’s Fringe Brooch, a stunning flower-cum-jellyfish which resulted from a visit by Sultan Abdul Mejid I of Turkey in 1856. Wanting to thank the Monarch for Britain’s role in the Crimean War, he gave her a set of diamonds — ‘very magnificent,’ she wrote.
Victoria then spent £450 at the royal jewellers, Garrard, who set the stones in a rather racy chaine de corsage which she liked to wear on top of a low-cut bodice, bringing added sparkle to the royal embonpoint.
All that changed with the death of Prince Albert in 1861. ‘The chaine de corsage may have been considered too flamboyant by the Queen for her widowed and withdrawn state,’ notes Sir Hugh. So, some of the diamonds were detached for use elsewhere while the rest of the chaine became a brooch, passed down through the generations.
The Queen Mother wore it at the Coronation in 1953. The Queen continues to wear it to this day. It enjoyed a prominent outing only last year for the state banquet in honour of the President of Turkey, a regal nod to the Sultan’s generosity more than 150 years earlier.
Among Princess Elizabeth’s wedding gifts was a Rose Brooch from the Nizam of Hyderbad