How The British Royals Mastered the Jewelry Makeover

A lesson from the royal’s playbook on transforming historic diamond jewelry into contemporary pieces.

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What’s a royal event without megawatt glittering natural diamonds and jewels? It’s the dazzling diamond tiaras and crowns, and magnificent sparkling parures that delineate the royals from mere mortals and conjure up images of fairytales and princesses. Nobody defines that better than the British monarchs, who don their lavish jewels for every event, from state and ceremonial affairs to a day at Royal Ascot.

More than simply adornments, their jewelry choices are symbolic and strategic. The royals are all too aware of the power of appearances, so over the decades they have not just chosen their jewels wisely, but they refashioned and repurposed countless pieces to make them more contemporary and relevant for the times.

One of the Windsor’s most overlooked jewelry lovers was the late Queen Elizabeth II, who when she died in 2022 was Great Britain’s longest serving and beloved monarch. She didn’t just acquire fabulous jewelry; she also wasn’t shy about taking apart the most sentimental pieces (including two wedding gifts) to create jewelry that better suited her style.

Queen Elizabeth II didn’t hesitate to refashion heirlooms.

To be fair, Queen Elizabeth did inherit some of the world’s most amazing diamonds and gemstones, so she had a good foundation. She also purchased jewelry at auctions and commissioned and restyled pieces. It’s a tradition that started with her jewelry obsessed grandmother, Queen Mary, who reigned from 1910 to 1936, and the trend continues today.

“We always talk about Queen Mary, and we tend to forget that one of the most interesting collectors in that family was Queen Elizabeth II,” said renowned French historian and author Vincent Meylan, who is an expert on royal jewelry. Some people said she was practical about her jewelry choices, says Meylan, who disagrees with that theory. “She was rather inventive with jewelry.”

She didn’t hesitate to refashion heirlooms or pluck the diamonds from one tiara to use in another newly commissioned piece. For example, Meylan points out, on her 21st birthday, when the princess was on a royal visit to Cape Town with her family, she was given a necklace with 21 graduated diamonds, the largest being a 10 carat stone, by South Africa’s prime minister. Apparently, she didn’t care for long necklaces, so she had it shortened and used the extra stones to make a matching bracelet with the addition of a 6 carat diamond given to her by Sir Ernest Oppenheimer, the chairman of De Beers, for her birthday in 1947.

The Queen Wearing A Sapphire And Diamond Tiara And Necklace Attending A State Banquet Given By President Havel, Prague, Czech Republic. (Getty Images)

Over the years, the late monarch modified numerous pieces to suit her style, including an antique diamond and sapphire necklace that her father, King George VI, gifted her on her wedding day. She shortened the necklace, used the extra stone to add a removable pendant, and commissioned a matching bracelet, and wore the set often. Known for her colorful attire with coordinating shoes, handbags, and hats, she also made sure she had matching jewels for every outfit. That’s why in the ‘60s she purchased an antique diamond and sapphire necklace that had once belonged to Princess Louise of Belgium, and she used the natural stones to make a tiara. In the ‘70s she commissioned the British jeweler Garrard to make a tiara using diamonds from a dismantled floral tiara and rubies that were a wedding gift from the people of Burma.

The fashionable Princess Diana was also creative with her jewelry, and often transformed pieces to reflect her constantly evolving style. One of her standouts was a velvet choker made with parts of a diamond and sapphire jewelry suite given to her as a wedding gift. The centerpiece was a large oval sapphire set in a diamond watch frame on a velvet choker, which she also wore as a modish headband at a dinner with Emperor Hirohito at the Imperial Palace in Tokyo in 1986.

Diana, Princess of Wales at a dinner hosted by Emperor Hirohito in Japan. She is wearing a pleated royal blue evening dress designed by fashion designer Yuki and a sapphire and diamond headband made from jewels which she had reset from the Saudi suite converting the watch into a choker to wear on her forehead. (Getty Images)

The tradition has been passed down to the next generation of Windsor women, whose styles are obviously more toned down. Catherine, Princess of Wales repurposed Diana’s sapphire suite into more everyday jewelry. She removed the drops from the diamond and sapphire earrings and used one of them to create a pendant necklace. The newly refashioned set matches her Garrard sapphire engagement ring that also belonged to her late mother-in-law.

Princess Diana Looking Pensive Whilst Visiting The British American Benevolent Society During Her Official Tour Of Argentina. (Getty Images)

Even Prince Harry plucked two diamonds from his mother’s precious brooch to create Meghan Markle’s engagement ring (which was already redesigned since the wedding).

Rather than keep a cherished piece stashed away in a jewelry box, isn’t it better to repurpose the stones and wear them all the time? It’s not just a thrifty solution, but it delivers both style and sentimental value.

It speaks to one of the biggest jewelry trends today: more people are remaking and recycling their inherited or older diamond jewelry, sometimes several times over, because tastes will invariably change, but the natural diamond is always relevant. Here’s a look at some of the British royal family’s most famous jewelry makeovers.


Mary of Teck (1867 – 1953), Queen Consort of King George V, wearing wearing Queen Mary’s Fringe Tiara, circa 1926. (Getty Images)
Princess Elizabeth, later Queen Elizabeth II with her husband Phillip, Duke of Edinburgh, after their marriage, 1947. (Getty Images)

Queen Mary had an eye for design, and frequently remade pieces into convertible designs that she could wear in myriad ways. “She knew that she was always expected to look the part as Queen, and she often repurposed and reimagined pieces of jewelry to fit with the public’s understanding of majesty,” said Lauren Kiehna, the royal jewelry historian behind the blog The Court Jeweller. “Each piece of jewelry was thoughtfully considered in terms of scale, size, and occasion, with alterations made to ensure that the overall look was seamless and regal.”

Princess Anne and Mark Phillips pose on the balcony of Buckingham Palace in London after their wedding, UK, 14th November 1973. (Getty Images)

A great example is the adored Diamond Fringe Tiara, which was worn by three generations of royals on their wedding day: Queen Elizabeth II, Princess Anne, and most recently Princess Beatrice. That tiara started life as the Collingwood Fringe tiara, a wedding gift from then Mary of Teck’s husband-to-be’s grandmother, Queen Victoria.

Edoardo Mapelli Mozzi posing with Princess Beatrice who is wearing Queen Mary’s Fringe Tiara, 2020. (Getty Images)

She graciously wore it on her wedding day to the future King George V in 1893, but she wasn’t fond of it. In 1919, she had it redesigned into the more modern Diamond Fringe Tiara, which can be converted into a necklace and has been continuously worn ever since.


Queen Camilla wearing Queen Mary’s Crown for the Coronation of King Charles III in 2023.(Getty Images)

With all eyes on Queen Consort Camilla at the coronation, the crown she selected would send a clear message to the public (more than 20 million Brits alone viewed the event). Rather than commission a new crown, as is the royal tradition, she chose the crown that Queen Mary wore at her 1911 coronation but modified it in an endearing tribute to the late Queen Elizabeth.

The crown was reset with the Cullinan III, IV, and V, which were part of the late monarch’s personal collection, and she wore them frequently as a single or multi-stone brooch. These stones all cut from the largest gem-quality rough diamond ever found. In fact, the Cullinan III (94.4 carats) and IV (63.6 carats) diamonds were originally set in Queen Mary’s crown, but she later had them removed to make the brooch for her granddaughter on her coronation day in 1953. Queen Elizabeth fondly referred to them as “granny’s chips.”


Queen Elizabeth II wearing the Cullinan V heart-shaped diamond brooch at the Royal Windsor Horse Show in 1980. (Getty Images)
Close-up of the Cullinan V brooch in 2016. (Getty Images)

One of Queen Elizabeth’s favorite pieces was the 18.8-carat Cullinan V diamond heart brooch, which she wore on several poignant occasions, including Prince Philip’s 99th birthday portrait and Princess Eugenie’s wedding. The diamond originally belonged to Queen Mary, who in 1911 had it fashioned into the stomacher of her Delhi Durbar parure. But as styles evolved and stomachers didn’t fit the fashions, the forward-thinking Queen Mary had it redesigned as a brooch and later gave it to Queen Elizabeth.


Meghan, Duchess of Sussex & Prince Harry, Duke of Sussex begin their procession through Windsor following their wedding at St George’s Chapel, Windsor Castle on May 19, 2018 in Windsor, England. (Getty Images)
Queen Mary (1867 – 1953) at the London Casino, 20th December 1949. She is wearing a diamond bandeau tiara later worn by Meghan Markle, Duchess of Sussex, on her wedding day. (Getty Images)

When Meghan Markle wore the Diamond Bandeau on her wedding day in 2018, it hadn’t been seen in 65 years. At the center of the tiara is a large diamond cluster brooch, comprised of one big round diamond surrounded by nine smaller ones, which was a wedding gift to the then Mary of Teck from the County of Lincoln in 1893. Perhaps tired of the brooch, the ever-practical Queen Mary commissioned Garrard in 1932 to make the flexible platinum and diamond tiara with it as a removable centerpiece. When she wasn’t wearing the tiara, she continued to wear the diamond brooch pinned at the neck until her death.


Queen Mary of Teck wearing her diamond bar choker bracelet in 1920. (Getty Images)
Kate Middleton wearing Queen Mary’s diamond bar bracelets in 2016. (Getty Images)

Once a classic Art Deco-style diamond choker often worn on Queen Mary’s swan-like neck along with layers of long diamond necklaces, the Diamond Bar choker was later converted into two bracelets. It’s unknown whether Queen Mary designed it as convertible in the 1920s, or if that happened later. After she passed away in 1953, it wasn’t seen again for 20 years when the Queen Mother wore the choker as a bracelet in her 75th birthday portrait. Upon her death, it was inherited by Queen Elizabeth II.

Apparently, it’s one of Kate Middleton, Princess of Wales’s favorite jewels. She’s been photographed wearing the Art Deco bracelet on several important occasions, and the elegant design suits her style.


Meghan Markle - Best Celebrity Natural Diamond Engagement Rings of All Time
Prince Harry and Meghan Markle visit Nottingham Contemporary on December 1, 2017 in Nottingham, England. (Getty Images)

When it came to selecting Meghan Markle’s engagement ring, Prince Harry proved he is a true romantic. To show their shared commitment to social and environmental responsibility, he selected a 5-carat cushion cut ethically sourced diamond from Botswana, a place where the couple had traveled several times and where the diamond industry has made such a positive impact.

To make it even more meaningful, he dismantled his mother’s brooch and used two diamonds to complete the three-stone ring made by Cleave & Company.

Not long after the wedding, Markle upgraded her engagement ring by setting the diamonds on a delicate pavé diamond band.


Start thinking like a royal: Don’t get too attached to family heirlooms or sentimental diamond jewels. It’s better to refashion and wear your jewels rather than leave them collecting dust in a jewelry box.

Find the right jeweler who can advise on your redesign, one that suits your style and budget. Most local jewelry retailers are happy to help you repurpose your diamond jewelry. Often, they will take the original setting and give you money for the value of the gold or platinum, but you can also save the setting in case you change your mind later (highly unlikely).

Be creative. It’s your chance to create your dream jewel, be it a new engagement ring or by taking the diamonds from a brooch or necklace and making it into a design on a statement cuff or drop earrings. There are no limits.


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