Diamonds are a Queen's best friend: The royal vaults hold two centuries’ worth of stunning jewels –and for the first time, you can see them up close and sparkling
23:00 GMT, 3 August 2012
When Dame Shirley Bassey belted out Diamonds Are Forever to the Queen at the Jubilee Concert in June, she was singing to the converted. Our Diamond Monarch has two centuries’ worth in the royal vaults, and some of her finest bejewelled pieces are now on display at Buckingham Palace.
The task of transforming the Ball Supper Room into a sparkling Aladdin’s cave fell to the Royal Collection’s Curator of Decorative Arts, Caroline de Guitaut, who has also written the accompanying book. The lighting is crucial, as Caroline explains. ‘Getting the colour right is so important.
The Queen wears the Diamond Diadem
The Cullinan pieces [the jewellery featuring stones cut from the Cullinan diamond, the largest ever found] have a tremendous blue-white hue and are essentially flawless, so we wanted the light to bring that out. The same with the Williamson diamond [considered the finest pink diamond ever found and now set in a brooch].’
Surprisingly, the Diamond Diadem,
which the Queen wears to the state opening of Parliament, has a striking
pale yellow diamond at the front. This is too subtle a shade to be
picked up by TV cameras but it clearly shines out in this viewing.
is probably the only time you’ll be able to see the jewels so close and
from all angles,’ says Caroline. ‘It’s a chance to see the ingenious
way some are mounted and the skill that’s gone into their creation.’
This is apparent in Queen Victoria’s Small Diamond Crown.
in 1870 by Garrard, the crown jewellers, it is less than 10cm in
diameter yet set with 1,187 brilliant, rose and mixed-cut diamonds. And
if you peer down into it, you’ll see tiny clips, which, when snapped
down detach the arches, transforming the crown into a plain circlet.
exhibition shows how each generation of the Royal Family has added its
imprint on the jewellery collection. Queen Mary, wife of George V,
appears jewel-encrusted in many of her official portraits, and even at
family dinners would wear a breathtaking array.
the wedding of the Earl of Harewood in 1949, E M Forster, the myopic
writer, bowed to the multi-tiered cake thinking it was Queen Mary, who
was dressed in white and looked just as decorated. She was always
redesigning her jewellery – adding emeralds to the top of one tiara or
swapping pearls for diamonds on another.
Queen Victoria's Small Diamond Crown, 1870, is prepared for display in a special exhibition Diamonds: A Jubilee Celebration
While many of the gems were gifts or bequests from one royal to another, the exhibition includes items from a fascinating collection of 60 pieces – many pure Art Deco – bequeathed to the Queen Mother in 1942 by her friend Mrs Ronald Greville.
They include the fabulous Greville Chandelier Earrings, made in 1929. Designed, as all the displayed earrings are, for pierced ears, the 7.5cm long sparklers are surprisingly lightweight, says Caroline.
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Many of the pieces have family nicknames. Queen Mary’s Girls of Great Britain and Ireland Tiara, which takes its title from the source of the funds for its creation, is referred to by the Queen as ‘Granny’s Tiara’. The priceless Cullinan III and IV Brooch – made up of the two largest diamonds in the Queen’s collection, both cut from the original, 1lb 6oz Cullinan diamond – is simply referred to as ‘Granny’s Chips’ by Her Majesty.
The exhibition shows us how the Queen uses her jewels to give diplomatic messages. For instance ‘Granny’s Tiara’, with its link to Ireland, was a perfect choice for the state banquet in Dublin in May last year.
Some of the pieces have undergone many changes – such as the Coronation Necklace. The Queen Mother used the pendant stone, known as the Lahore Diamond, in her crown for a time, and the present Queen had the necklace reduced by four stones before her coronation. The Delhi Durbar Tiara, made for Queen Mary in 1911, was later adapted by her to accommodate either the Cullinan III or IV diamond or both.
Besides jewellery, the exhibition includes two diamond-encrusted swords, and all in all the jewel collection is probably the world’s finest private collection. It is evolving as it helps the Queen and her family fulfil their roles. They are tools of the royal trade as well as personal reminders of the past. As Caroline says, ‘Diamonds have long been associated with longevity, so this is a fitting way to mark Her Majesty’s 60 years on the throne.’ Dame Shirley couldn’t have put it better.
The exhibition Diamonds: A Jubilee Celebration is at the Buckingham Palace State Rooms until 7 October. The accompanying book by Caroline de Guitaut is 9.95 from www.royalcollection.org.uk