Where have all the jewels gone?
Thank heavens for Queen Elizabeth II wearing a stonking big diamond brooch on her lime coat collar for the royal wedding at Windsor!
Without Her Majesty taking the attitude that no event is complete without a cluster of precious stones, Meghan and Harry’s picture-perfect nuptials might have seen an absence of regal glitter.
At least Markle and sparkle went together as the bride wore the historic flexible diamond tiara, an Art Deco piece made in 1932 which includes a removable central brooch, given in 1893 from the county of Lincoln to the future Queen Mary, the current Queen’s grandmother.
Meghan added to the brilliance of the bandeau with Cartier diamond earrings and bracelet and, of course, her engagement ring, put together by Harry around a central stone sourced from Botswana, in the couple’s beloved Africa, flanked by a pair of smaller stones from Princess Diana’s legacy.
Harry put that so beautifully when he said: “The little diamonds either side are from my mother’s jewellery collection, to make sure that she’s with us on this crazy journey.”
For the end of the wedding day party, the bride wore Harry’s wedding gift of an emerald-cut aquamarine Asprey ring that had belonged to Diana.
Romantic, elegant and meaningful are the essential qualities of personal jewellery that speaks to the heart. Yet what about all the royal treasures? Where have they gone since I wrote The Royal Jewels in 1985, soon after Diana’s arrival in ‘The Firm’?
Looking back now, it is extraordinary to see how Lady Diana Spencer, in her early twenties, had such dash, polish and fun with jewels – with the Queen’s encouragement. First there was the wedding gift from her new mother-in-law: Queen Mary’s diamond Cambridge Lover’s Knot tiara with teardrop pearls made by Garrard in 1913 and modelled on one given to Princess Augusta of Hesse, who also held the title Duchess of Cambridge. It looked especially charming worn with the diamond heart necklace her husband, Prince Charles, gave her on the arrival of Prince William.
This future king, so long in waiting, must have a feeling for jewellery, for Charles’s wife Camilla wears bold necklaces – some of them gifts from her husband. But former wife Diana was positively light-hearted in the way she handled jewels, new or historic. She set a fashion for chokers when she wore, on top of a black velvet ribbon, a necklace given to her by the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia. She showed characteristic insouciance by wearing a jewelled necklace around her forehead; and she wowed the world in a pearl necklace with a glittering centre when she danced with John Travolta at President Reagan’s White House gala in 1985.
I have tried to count how many times the Duchess of Cambridge has been seen in a tiara. I can only find six public engagements – although there may have been private occasions. For her wedding to Prince William in 2011, Kate wore the Halo tiara, also known as the Scroll tiara – a Cartier piece that George VI gave as a gift to his wife, who became the queen mother. It looked picture perfect on Catherine Middleton as she walked down the aisle in her lacy Alexander McQueen dress.
The late queen mother, who enjoyed the lustre of jewels, was also the origin of the Lotus Flower diamond tiara that the Duchess of Cambridge wore with a scarlet dress at the state banquet at Buckingham Palace. With a tinge of exoticism, it had looked even more dramatic when worn by the Queen’s sister, Princess Margaret.
The jewel in the crown that everyone can recognise is the Cambridge Lover’s Knot tiara worn so often by Princess Diana. The milky pearls dangling from diamond bow-shapes looked as appropriate on Kate as the sapphire engagement ring that William put on Kate’s finger in memory of his late mother.
And that is about it worn by the future queen Catherine – even though when I was researching my book on the royal jewels, I counted eight publicly worn tiaras, 15 bold, bejewelled necklaces and 24 brooches in the collection. That included the Cullinan diamond brooch melding a cushion-shaped 62-carat diamond and a 92-carat pear drop pendant.
Add to the royal pile bracelets, earrings, rings and watches. Other countries with kingdoms seem less discreet in showing their royal treasures. From Crown Princess of Norway, Mette-Marit to Victoria, Sweden’s Crown Princess, on go the tiaras for birthdays as much as state occasions.
So, who has made the decision to keep the British royal jewels in the safe? If Kate had just worn a bold brooch on her lapel at Meghan and Harry’s wedding, it might have perked up the fourth-time-around showing of her white McQueen coat.
Perhaps the Duchess of Cambridge, raised in a hard-working middle class family, does not feel comfortable with bold jewels, although Oprah Winfrey showed how to glitter with glamorous diamond earrings. And I caught a glimpse of Princess Anne’s dazzling brooch, worn, just like her mother’s, on one shoulder and visible even in competition with her dressing gown of a coat.
The essence of royal jewels is that they are both private and public – a mix of personal and regal. Far from being stuffy signals of a long-gone era, they are designed to pass the symbol of monarchy from one generation to the next. Harry has done that so beautifully on a personal level by using his mother’s precious stones into his new wife’s ring. Let’s hope that the modern, dynamic new Duchess of Sussex can make the royal jewels – inherited or borrowed – a symbol relevant to today.