I prefer a man who lives
And gives expensive jewels
Men grow cold
As girls grow old,
And we all lose our charms in the end.
But square-cut or pear-shaped,
These rocks don’t lose their shape.
Diamonds are a girl’s best friend. – Marilyn Monroe.
Throughout history, monarchs have asserted their power and status with gold, silver, rubies, sapphires, emeralds and so on. The portraits of Maharajahs and Maharanis of India show them highly decorated with all kind of jewelry from head to toe-up to their foot wear.
In Britain until the 17th century, it was the men who wore the finest pieces of jewelery. With the exception of the compulsively extravagant George IV (1820-1830), it was the royal ladies who increasingly wore the baubles.
By the 18th century, diamonds acquired greater prominence as the new royal gold, since cutting methods improved. Some had to be smuggled past a revolutionary mob. Some had to be prised from the grasp of a royal mistress. The majority was presented as tokens of esteem, reverence and — for the most part — love.
The first serious diamond-wearer was Queen Charlotte, wife of George III, (reign 1760-1820) who brought a substantial collection from her native Hanover, Germany, to the British Court.
According to Sir William Hugh’s book ‘Queen’s Diamonds’, “The King never let her appear in public without them.” But when her fifth son, Ernest, became the King of Hanover, he demanded the return of the lot. After a prolonged legal battle (conducted in the British courts), the gems went back to Hanover in 1857. “Queen Victoria (1837-1901) was horrified,” Sir Hugh reflects.
But she also enjoyed the fruits of British imperial expansion across some of the richest diamond fields in the world. Substantial rocks were presented to the Royal Family as ‘tributes of Empire’, not least the Koh-i-Noor from India.
Wanting to thank the Monarch for Britain’s role in the Crimean War, Sultan Abdul Mejid I of Turkey in 1856 gave her a set of diamonds — ‘very magnificent,’ she wrote in her diary. Victoria then spent £450 at the royal jewelers, 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 her husband Prince Albert in 1861. She eschewed all forms of coloured jewellery, sticking to diamonds and pearls instead.
“The chaine de corsage may have been considered too flamboyant by the Queen for her widowed and withdrawn state,” noted Sir Hugh. Some of the diamonds were detached for use elsewhere while the rest of the chaine became a brooch, called Queen Victoria’s Fringe Brooch, a stunning flower-cum-jellyfish passed down through the generations.
At the same time, the future Queen Alexandra (1901-1910) then Princess of Wales — was setting new trends in jewellery design. Thanks to her, the dog-collar necklace became the order of the day (it was actually her way of covering up a scar on her neck).
In 1905, South Africa produced the largest specimen ever found, the Cullinan Diamond. It was duly presented to her husband Edward VII (1901-1910) (who was notorious to have at least fifty five girlfriends including Lady Randolph Churchill, mother of Winston Churchill) and cut into nine major stones, ranked in order of size. Alexandra liked to wear the two largest as a colossal brooch, although subsequent monarchs have taken a less frivolous attitude.
Today ‘Cullinan I’, the Star of Africa, sits in the Queen’s Scepter while ‘Cullinan II’ – the Second Star of Africa – is in her Imperial State Crown. But the rest — often known in the family as ‘Granny’s Chips’ — were reset in various jaw-dropping brooches. Cullinan VII, meanwhile, is to be found with a string of emeralds dangling from a fabulous thing called Queen Mary’s Delhi Durbar Necklace.
If anyone could be described as the true Queen of diamonds, it was Queen Mary (1910- 1936). Long before her husband became George V, (1910-1936) she already had a substantial collection of her own. Indeed, at the time of her wedding in 1893, the public display of gifts included three tiaras, 26 bracelets, 44 brooches and 15 necklaces.
She also inherited some jewels from her mother, the Duchess of Teck. Others, however, had been left to Mary’s wayward brother, Prince Francis of Teck. He died young in 1910, having left his share of the family gems to his mistress, Lady Kilmorey (a former squeeze of Edward VII).
Mary was having none of this and insisted on paying whatever it took to retrieve her beloved mother’s rocks from the frisky Lady Kilmorey. One of these reclaimed treasures, The Duchess of Teck’s Emperor of Austria Brooch, would go on to be a firm favourite of the present Queen – whether for family photo shoots or for last year’s State banquet in honour of US President Obama.
Queen Mary was always dreaming up new uses for her diamonds. Nearly 30 years after her wedding, she merged two wedding presents – a £170 diamond brooch from the people of Swansea and another from the Maharaja of Kapurthla – into what is now known as Queen Mary’s Stomacher.
Many of the world’s finest diamonds belonged to the Romanovs. But as the Russian revolution unfolded, Grand Duchess Maria Pavlovna used an English aristocrat to smuggle out her prize specimens to relatives on the continent. In 1921, Queen Mary bought several pieces, including the Vladimir Tiara, still in regular use.
Often, though she would just go shopping, Queen Mary’s Lover’s Knot Brooch, for example, was the result of a trip to Garrard — where she paid £345 for it in 1933. Queen Elizabeth II wears it for special family occasions, notably the weddings of Princess Margaret and Prince William.
Besides, throughout the 20th century, the royal jewellery collection continued to receive welcome additions from wealthy admirers. Most generous of all was the society hostess, Mrs Ronnie Greville, the childless widowed daughter of a brewing magnate. On her death in 1942, she left her jewellery box (it was actually a tin trunk) to Queen Elizabeth (the queen mother). The collection stretched to more than 60 superb pieces, many from Cartier where Mrs. Greville would regularly spend tens of thousands of pounds.
Among the most spectacular bequests were the Greville Tiara and the Greville Festoon Necklace, both of which the Queen has now loaned to the Duchess of Cornwall (Camilla). Despite all the world-class sparklers that were at her disposal, the Queen Mother preferred a more understated style to that of her predecessors.
The present Queen is the same. Rather than piling necklace upon necklace and sprouting brooches like rosebuds, the Monarch has relatively modest tastes in what Sir Hugh calls ‘daywear’ – a nice pair of earrings, a pearl necklace and a brooch or two.
The Queen’s Flame Lily Brooch was a 21st birthday present from the children of Southern Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) who each donated three pence to raise the funds. And it was this brooch which she chose to wear for her dramatic homecoming in February 1952, as she set foot on British soil for the first time as Queen.
However, when a State occasion demands, she is happy to bring out the biggest and the best. She herself has made some important additions to the collection. Among her wedding presents was the Nizam of Hyderabad Necklace and Rose Brooches (despite his generosity, the Nizam never made it to the wedding).
The Queen wearing the Williamson brooch, a platinum flower sprouting the finest pink diamond of 23.60 carat ever found, was also a wedding present from one Dr. John Williamson, a Canadian geologist and ardent monarchist, who unearthed it in Tanzania. She, in turn, wore it to the weddings of the Prince of Wales (Charles – Diana), Prince Edward and Lord Linley, son of Princess Margaret, queen’s late younger sister.
More recent gifts include the King Khalid Necklace, presented to the Queen during a visit to Saudi Arabia in 1979. It was one of many pieces which the Queen would lend to the Princess of Wales (Diana).
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 needs 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 away day 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 (her parents) 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 was passed on to the Queen. She in turn lent it to the Canada-bound Duchess of Cambridge (Kate-William) last summer for her first royal tour, a touching and telling gesture of support.
The Lover’s Knot Brooch which was worn by the Queen at Prince William’s wedding and the Williamson Brooch together comprise surely the finest collection of diamonds in the world. And now, in honour of her Diamond Jubilee, the Queen II has authorised the first public study and display of these dazzling symbols of her majesty.
Queen Elizabeth II wearing ‘Granny’s tiara’, the Girls of Great Britain and Ireland Tiara, and the Coronation Necklace and earrings set featuring 25 large diamonds plus the Lahore Diamond – a detachable 22.48 carat stone, all of them will go on display.
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.
People can see them when a selection of these pieces form the centrepiece of Buckingham Palace exhibition, as a part of the Diamond Jubilee open from 30 June – 8 July and 31 July – 7 October 2012. These are not simple jewels. Each has played its own part, large or small, in British Royal History.
After all, you can’t have a Diamond Jubilee without a Diamond display when Diamonds are the queens’ best friends.
“Big girls need big diamonds,” said actress Elizabeth Taylor.
M.S. Shah Jahan is the CEO of Taipan Trading Company, a Gem and Precious Stone Consultancy Company based in Colombo, Sri Lanka.