Ever since 1820, when King George IV’s Diamond Diadem was created using diamonds set as the emblems of England (the rose), Ireland (the shamrock), and Scotland (the thistle), the British royals, including of course Queen Elizabeth II who is celebrating her Platinum Jubilee this year, have worn jewels to pay homage to both their hosts, their guests and the occasion.
The Kings and Queens of the United Kingdom and Ireland have had an unmatchable collection of jewels since medieval times. Despite the original jewels being separated and sold during the Restoration, the collection belonging to both the Queen personally and via the State is unlike any other in existence. Many of these jewels were given to previous monarchs to represent the countries or the events at which they were bestowed. Ahead, a look at some of the diamond jewels worn by members of the Royal Family and the Queen herself, and the significant meanings behind them.
The Queen’s Jewels: Beautiful and Meaningful
When the HRH Duchess of Cambridge went on her first Royal Tour in 2011, the first destination was Canada, one of the “crown jewels” of the Commonwealth, and a country famous for its incredible diamond resources. Catherine was lent a very significant piece by Her Majesty—the Queen Mother’s Maple Leaf Brooch—and she wore it again on their 2016 trip to the country on arrival in Victoria. Featuring diamonds set as a maple leaf, this iconic piece was commissioned by the Queen’s father George VI for his wife and created by Asprey, in honor of the first trip to the country in June 1939 by a reigning monarch. The current Queen wore the brooch in 1951 on her first trip to Canada, the Duchess of Cornwall wore it on her first trip to Canada in 2009 and, two years later, it was worn by the Duchess of Cambridge on her first Canadian trip.
In this vein, let’s look at two more Commonwealth-themed diamond brooches, this time Australasian. The New Zealand Fern Brooch, a diamond and platinum pin representing one of the most significant emblems of New Zealand, the silver tree fern, was given to Her Majesty very early in her reign (indeed on Christmas Day in 1953) by Lady Allum, wife of the Mayor of Auckland, on behalf of the women of Auckland during the Royal Tour of 1953-4. It has been worn on almost all occasions relating to the country and was leant to the Duchess of Cambridge during the 2014 tour. This year the Duchess was seen wearing her own version of a diamond fern brooch—an Australia-native Maidenhair Fern by Robinson Pelham—at the annual Anzac Day Service at Westminster Abbey. This raises the question of whether Princess Charlotte will wear it in years to come.
And now we come to the exquisite Australian Wattle Brooch, representing the country’s national flower and given to her Majesty not long after she received the Silver Fern brooch when she again became the first reigning sovereign to visit this country in 1954. The brooch is set with pale and deep yellow diamonds to depict the golden wattle, alongside white diamonds set as a spray of tea tree blossoms and blue-hued diamonds represent mimosa leaves. The Queen has invariably worn this on visits to Australia and at Australian events in the UK, including in June 2021 when it was worn to receive the Australian Prime Minister.
It is the Queen’s diplomacy and respect for her role as the Queen of these countries, that she wears pieces of jewelry in their honor. And that absolutely goes for visits within her kingdom. Her Majesty is frequently seen at visits in her beloved Scotland, wearing any number of brooches designed as thistle—the national emblem of the country—as is seen in George IV’s diadem. Many believe the most spectacular of all her Scottish themed diamond brooches is the one that was created for Queen Mary and is often seen on the lapels of Her Majesty’s brightly colored coats whilst in Scotland, the country of her mother’s birth; most recently, in October 2021 she wore it at the opening of Scotland’s Parliament.
It goes without saying that the Queen clearly knows how to make a statement at an event without uttering a word; jewels do that for her.
A particularly poignant choice was a tiara worn during the 2011 state visit to Ireland. It had been 100 years since the last reigning monarch visited the republic, which since 1922 has been known as the Republic of Ireland. When her grandparents visited in 1911, the country was still part of the United Kingdom. So for this very historic occasion, Her Majesty took what had been her grandmother’s favorite diadem, appropriately called the Girls of Great Britain and Ireland Tiara; created by Garrard, the crown jeweler for over a century, this piece served as a wedding present in 1893 to the then Princess of Teck from the girls of the eponymous countries. Sara Prentice, the current creative designer at the iconic house explains that the tiara is “a key piece of Garrard history and a beautiful reminder of our royal heritage, we are always thrilled when Her Majesty The Queen chooses to wear the Girls of Great Britain and Ireland tiara. It is an ongoing source of inspiration for my team of designers, the round and geometric diamond pattern that decorates the base of the tiara informed the Garrard Windsor motif, which is a signature of many of our high jewelry creations.” The Queen wore this most symbolic of jewels for the state dinner at Dublin Castle; three years later on a reciprocal visit by Ireland’s president, Her Majesty wore a parure of diamonds and emeralds in honor of the island’s moniker, the Emerald Isle.
As Her Majesty advances towards her 100th birthday, let’s not forget a certain personal and very sentimental piece among the Queen’s jewels. In Angela Kelly’s autobiography, The Other side of the Coin, about her role as the Queen’s Senior Dresser, she describes a commission by Her Majesty for a piece of jewelry to celebrate her own mother’s 100th birthday. The piece by Collins & Sons (the current royal jeweler), was a beautiful painting of the Centenary Rose, a pink rose named for the Queen Mother’s birthday, on a rock crystal cabochon surrounded by 100 diamonds.
When her mother died a year later, the Queen inherited the brooch and has worn it in her memory on several occasions, not least the 2002 Christmas broadcast after her mother’s death. The renowned historian Suzanne Martinez, of Lang Antiques in San Francisco, said that as an American from a country whose Gilded Age jewels came to represent what was new and glossy of the era, “the Queen’s jewels, are a legacy, part of history, they are worn not to impress but to address as a distinct signature of the monarchy”.
For seventy years, Her Majesty the Queen, has visited more countries, and met more people than, anyone else. Her dignity, diplomacy and wonderful and respectful nature has warmed every one of the millions that she has met. The clever and intuitive display of the diamonds she owns, pays homage to her duty as the world’s most beloved Monarch.