“The Queen’s Diamonds” by Hugh Roberts. (Royal Collection Publications). 320 pages, 348 illustrations, many of them in colour.
What better way to celebrate the Queen’s Jubilee than a book on the Queen’s Diamonds. Sir Hugh Roberts, Surveyor Emeritus of The Queen’s Works of Art, was Director of the Royal Collection from 1996 until 2010. His book, authorised personally by the Queen, traces the history of the most significant pieces in Her Majesty’s collection, either inherited or acquired during her reign. This is personal jewellery, as distinct from the Crown Jewels in the Tower of London.
Diamonds have been the principal and most prominent adornment at major events of every reign, and “a necessary part of the outward show of monarchy”, as well as “a visible representation of the wealth and influence of the country.” Using documents from the Royal Archives, including Queen Mary’s photographic jewellery inventory, Sir Hugh guides us through the various pieces from owner to owner, showing how certain pieces were transformed as fashions and tastes changed and stones were taken from unfashionable pieces and reused. It is also fascinating to learn how pieces came apart, to be worn in different ways.
Sir Hugh begins with Queen Adelaide, the first female sovereign to wear George IV’s diamond diadem, now worn by the Queen at the State Opening of Parliament. Despite Queen Victoria having to give back the Hanoverian Diamonds, the collection continued to grow, with additional help of major jewels from India and other parts of the Empire. Queen Alexandra started the fashion for jewelled ‘dog collars’ and introduced jewellery influenced by the Russian styles, such as the Kokoshnik Tiara, which she had seen on her sister Dagmar, the Empress Marie Feodorovna of Russia. One of Queen Alexandra’s most elaborate pieces was the Dagmar Necklace (a wedding gift from Frederik VII of Denmark), incorporating a replica of the Dagmar Cross, a famous medieval relic.
Unsurprisingly a large amount of space is given to Queen Mary. Her acquisitions include the famous Cullinan Diamonds and the Delhi Durbar necklace. Jewels purchased from the estate of Grand Duchess Vladimir of Russia, including the famous Vladimir Tiara, are included, but those purchased from Empress Marie Feodorovna’s estate (which largely contained stones other than diamonds) are not. She also inherited jewels from Princess Mary Adelaide Duchess of Teck, Princess Mary Duchess of Gloucester and Princess Augusta Duchess of Cambridge and Queen Mary was particularly ingenious in having her jewels altered, dismantled and remade.
I was amazed at how much jewellery Queen Elizabeth (later the Queen Mother) inherited from Mrs Ronald Greville - sixty spectacular pieces from Mrs Greville’s personal collection, including the Greville Tiara (latterly loaned to the Duchess of Cornwall) with its distinctive honeycomb design. Queen Elizabeth’s collection also included the Halo Tiara (loaned to the Duchess of Cambridge on her wedding day), and the Maple Leaf Brooch, worn on visits to Canada, most recently by the Duchess of Cambridge. Incidentally, Mrs Greville’s ‘jewellery box’ was actually a tin trunk!
With the accession in 1952 of the first Queen Regnant since 1837 the Queen Consort’s heirloom jewellery could be combined with the new Queen’s personal jewellery and, on State occasions, with the Crown Jewels. The result, as first seen at the coronation, is spectacular. Legacies from Queen Mary and Queen Elizabeth are now combined with some new acquisitions such as the Williamson, the finest pink diamond ever discovered.
The photographs in this book are superb. Each item is shown actual size and, in some cases, larger, so that the beauty of the stones and their settings can really be appreciated. Photographs also show the various royal ladies wearing the pieces, illustrating how each Queen chose to wear, or alter, the items.
This is a breathtaking book, recommended for any fans of royal jewellery.