What’s a cash-strapped prince to do when he wants to propose to the heiress to the most powerful throne in the world, but he can’t afford a suitably spectacular natural diamond engagement ring?
Well, if you’re Prince Philip of Greece, you talk to your mother who generously offers you one of her tiaras to provide the raw materials. Of course, the bride-to-be in question was the future Queen Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom, the eventual owner of the greatest collection of jewelry in the world. The prince’s mother was Princess Alice of Greece, a great-granddaughter of Queen Victoria, born in 1885 at Windsor Castle, who grew up to marry Prince Andrew of Greece.
The Greek royal family was sent into exile when Philip was a baby and thereafter, money was always an issue. They lived mostly in Paris with the financial help of Philip’s rich Aunt Marie Bonaparte. After corresponding during WWII, Phillip and Elizabeth fell in love, and his mother, Princess Alice offered Philip her gorgeous diamond and aquamarine tiara to break down to create a beautiful engagement ring and wedding gift to offer his bride.
In terms of provenance, the tiara had an impressive pedigree. It had been given as a wedding gift to Alice in 1903 when she married Andrew of Greece. The gift came from Alice’s uncle and aunt, Tsar Nicholas and Tsarina Alexandra Feodorovna of Russia. The Tsar was one of the richest men in the world and his wife Alexandra was the sister of Alice’s mother, Victoria, Princess Battenberg.
The tiara was in the empire style, featuring a row of diamond bows under a row of large diamonds surrounded by small laurel wreaths. The tiara was topped with substantial aquamarines, the Tsarina’s favorite gemstone, that were detachable. We don’t know who designed the tiara but suspect, considering the source, that it came from Faberge, the favorite jeweler of the Russian royal family.
Philip took the tiara to Philip Antrobus Ltd., allegedly upon the recommendation of his uncle, Lord Louis Mountbatten. The engagement ring they created featured a 3-carat old European cut center stone, flanked by five smaller stones on either side, set in platinum. The remaining stones were used to create the Edinburgh wedding bracelet, which consisted of three large square links connected by vertical sections, set in platinum. The look of the bracelet is modern geometric and vaguely art deco.
Phillip gave Elizabeth the ring on July 8, 1947. It was too large and had to be resized before the public saw it on July 10. From the start, the bracelet was one of the Queens’ favorite jewelry pieces. She wore it for the rest of her 73-year marriage, including in 2012 for her official Diamond Jubilee portrait. The only other person to ever wear the bracelet, on loan, was Catherine, Princess of Wales, who first wore it in 2015 at the Chinese state banquet.
As future queen, Kate Middleton has been gifted or allowed to wear many incredible historical jewels including two strongly connected with her mother-in-law, Diana, Princess of Wales including her diamond and sapphire engagement ring and the Cambridge Lover’s Knot, Diana’s signature tiara.
The wedding bracelet makes a historic and sentimental addition to Catherine’s jewelry wardrobe. One of the joys of historic royal jewels is seeing them, passed on to new generations. No doubt we will see this bracelet regularly in the future.