The Story of Granny’s Chips, the Most Valuable Brooch in the World

Discover the story of a diamond heirloom like no other: Queen Elizabeth’s 158-carat Granny’s Chips.

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© Yousuf Karsh

When I say Granny’s Chips, you may be thinking of your grandmother’s cooking, but the Granny’s Chips I’m referring to couldn’t be more different from a plate of fried potatoes. Made of two diamonds cut from the legendary Cullinan diamond, Granny’s Chips is one of the most recognizable diamond brooches in the world. It’s also the most spectacular diamond jewellery heirloom Queen Mary handed down to her granddaughter, Elizabeth—a.k.a. Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth the Second. 

Read More: The Queen’s Platinum Jubilee: The Story Behind the Coronation Diamond Jewels

The History of The Queen’s Granny’s Chips Diamond Brooch

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Elizabeth II in 1962 © Ray Bellisario/Popperfoto via Getty image
young queen elizabeth granny's chips diamonds
Queen Mary and granddaughter Elizabeth © Universal History Archive via Getty image

Even for a Queen, a Diamond is a Token of Love

When Queen Mary bequeathed the diamond clip to Elizabeth, her 27-year-old granddaughter was about to become the Queen. Though the offering of fine jewellery is a queenly tradition, it is clear this heirloom was a gift of love.

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Queen Elizabeth II at her Diamond Jubilee in 2012 © Matt Cardy / Stringer via Getty image

Elizabeth II is the longest-reigning monarch of all time. Yet, as The Crown reminds us, Elizabeth is also a daughter and a granddaughter. Granny’s Chips is a testament to the bond between her and Queen Mary. 

In tribute to her beloved Granny, Queen Elizabeth fittingly wore the breathtaking gift for her Diamond Jubilee in 2012. The brooch no doubt uplifted the Queen in her journey down memory lane.  

Nothing else can be passed down generation after generation indefinitely while growing in intrinsic and emotional value. Whether the jewellery is modernized or, like Elizabeth’s, left untouched, natural diamonds are among the most precious objects to inherit. A diamond heirloom may be sellable, but its emotional worth is priceless.

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The Royal Family on the day of King George VI Coronation © Fox Photos / Stringer via Getty image

Remembering Queen Mary

The mother of six and grandmother of nine, Queen Mary had the reputation of being very warm. During World War I, she frequently visited wounded soldiers with her husband, King George V. Also, to show solidarity with her people, she instituted food rationing at the palace during the war. 

After her second son, George VI, became King, Queen Mary spent a lot of time and developed a close relationship with his two daughters, Elizabeth and Margaret.

A Diamond Heirloom on a Billion Year Journey

The playful nickname Granny’s Chips tells us of the affection for the Queen’s grandma and that these magnificent diamonds come from one of the world’s great wonders—the Cullinan.

With a total weight of 3,106 carats (a staggering 621.35 grams), the Cullinan is the largest gem-quality rough diamond ever found. On top of its size, its clarity and clear white color were unmatched. The diamond bears the name of the founder of the Premier Mine (since renamed the Cullinan Mine) in South Africa, where it was unearthed in 1905. Amazingly, the Cullinan Mine is still in operation and continues to produce some extraordinary finds. 

Scientists estimate that the Cullinan was formed 250-400 miles below the earth’s surface over 1 billion years ago, far preceding the time dinosaurs roamed the Earth and, in fact, before any life on our planet.King Edward VII received the Cullinan as a badge of loyalty from the South African British Colony. Legend has it that the diamond was sent to England as an ordinary parcel, while a heavily guarded replica traveled on a steamboat. Another legendary yet true story is that the man assigned to cut the diamond, Joseph Asscher, fainted when he first cleaved it. He tried to cut the diamond a few days prior, but it was so hard that it broke his tools.

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Queen Elizabeth II wearing her Granny’s Chips while visiting Louis Asscher in Amsterdam © Royal Asscher

“The Lesser Stars of Africa”

It took 18 months for three artisans working 14-hour days to cut and polish the nine large stones the Cullinan was transformed into. Each stone was given a numeral from  I to IX. The largest is the 530.20-carat Cullinan I, also known as the Great Star of Africa. Cullinan I and the 317.40-carat Cullinan II diamonds are part of the British crown jewels. They adorn the British Royal Sceptre and the Imperial Crown of Great Britain, respectively, and can be seen today in the Tower of London.

The Cullinan III and Cullinan IV weigh 94.4 and 63.6 carats, respectively, and are officially named the Lesser Stars of Africa. With a very British sense of humor, one could call them “chips” compared to the larger two. The King gave these diamonds to the Asscher Brothers as their gift for cutting the original stone. After South Africa purchased them back, the country gifted the gems to Mary, the future Queen Consort. In 1911, she first wore the two-diamond clip at her coronation in Westminster Abbey.

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The Granny’s Chips brooch © Peter Macdiarmid via Getty image

The piece was designed to be worn in many ways. Queen Mary’s favorite was as a brooch with the diamonds clipped together. Granny’s Chips is minimalist and timeless. The harmony between the pear-shaped Cullinan III and the cushion-shaped Cullinan IV is extraordinary.

Who will inherit Granny’s Chips next? It is difficult to say, but they would be inheriting the most valuable diamond brooch in the world. The current estimated price for Granny’s Chips is over £50 million ($61.4 million).

Animation Credits ©Peter Macdiarmid; Matt Cardy / Stringer; Ray Bellisario / Paul Popper / Popperfoto; Terry Disney / Matt Cardy / Stringer; Mirrorpix; Bettman; Keystone; Fox Photos / Stringer; Universal History Archive via Getty Images © David Cooper; Trinity Mirror / Mirrorpix; World History Archive; Keystone Press; Classic Image; World History Archive /Alamy©Yousuf Karsh ©National Portrait Gallery, London / Art Resource, NY Musc Credit & Rights: Gardner Chamber Orchestra, Live at the Gardner Museum’s Tapestry Room (April 11, 2011), Antonio Vivaldi: Concerto for Orchestra in C Major FXI No25.