09 January 2014

Birthday Jewels: The Duchess of Cambridge

The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge on their 2011 tour of Canada [1]
Happy birthday, Kate! Today is the 32nd birthday of the Duchess of Cambridge, who joined the British royal family in 2011. Since her marriage to Prince William, Kate's been one of the most visible and popular members of the Windsor family. To mark her birthday, let's have a look at some of the heirloom pieces of jewelry that the duchess has worn since becoming an HRH.

Sapphire engagement ring [2]
Although Kate is notorious for choosing less expensive baubles to wear on a regular basis -- she even sported an inexpensive necklace from Zara for the royal film premiere in December -- she has worn a few pieces from the royal vaults since joining the family. The first and perhaps best known of these pieces is her engagement ring. The ring features an oval Ceylon sapphire (estimated at between nine and twelve carats) surrounded by fourteen diamonds; the piece is set in eighteen-carat white gold. But it's largely famous because of its first wearer. The ring is the same one worn by Diana, Princess of Wales after her engagement to Prince Charles in 1981. The ring wasn't designed specifically for Diana -- she chose it from among an assortment of rings from Garrard's existing stock. Because it wasn't a custom design, the public was able to learn the price of the piece -- 28,000 pounds -- a piece of information that is not generally made public regarding royal engagement rings [3].

Diana wore her sapphire engagement ring throughout her lifetime, and after her death, it was one of the pieces that her sons kept. (There are varying reports about which son originally selected the ring as a keepsake after her death; clearly they made a deal at some point that would allow William to present it to his future bride.) William took his mother's ring with him on a trip to Africa in 2010 and used it to propose to Kate, even though many felt the ring might be bad luck -- mainly because of the spectacular disintegration of his parents' marriage. But William noted during their engagement interview, "It is a family ring, yes. It's my mother's engagement ring. So I thought it was quite nice because obviously she's not going to be around to share any of the fun and excitement of it all -- this was my way of keeping her sort of close to it all" [4]. On the same occasion, Kate called the ring "beautiful" and "very, very special" [4]. She has worn it at nearly all of her public appearances since her engagement, though she reportedly had crown jeweller Collins & Sons resize the ring slightly to fit her finger more securely [5].

Cartier Halo Tiara [6]
On her wedding day, Kate added another heirloom piece of jewelry to her mother-in-law's engagement ring, and she began her love affair with jewels from the collection of the late Queen Mother. She anchored her veil with the Cartier Halo Tiara, a sparkler that had been an anniversary gift to Elizabeth from her husband, King George VI. The tiara was made by Cartier in 1936 and purchased by the king; the Royal Collection describes the piece as "a band of 16 graduated scrolls set with 739 brilliants and 149 baton diamonds" [7]. In 1944, Bertie and Elizabeth gave the tiara to the current queen, Elizabeth II, as an eighteenth-birthday gift [8]. The queen has never worn the tiara in public, but she frequently loaned it to her sister, Princess Margaret, and her daughter, Princess Anne. The piece remained hidden from public view for decades until 2011, when the queen loaned it to her new granddaughter-in-law. Kate's only worn this tiara in public once, on her wedding day, but the fact that her wedding earrings (which she owns personally) feature a design element that mimics the scrolls on the tiara make me think that the loan was possibly a long-term one.

Maple leaf brooch [9]
A few months after her wedding, Kate borrowed another heirloom jewel that had once belonged to the Queen Mother: her diamond maple leaf brooch. It's something of a tradition for the Windsor women to wear this brooch during royal tours of Canada, paying homage to one of the nation's most recognizable symbols. The brooch was another present to Elizabeth from her husband, George VI -- he gave it to his wife just before they embarked on their first Canadian tour in 1939. It's been worn many times over the years by the Queen Mother and Queen Elizabeth II (who borrowed it from her mother for the first time in 1951, and now owns the piece herself). The queen loaned the brooch to the Duchess of Cornwall for her first Canadian tour in 2009. Two years later, she loaned it to the newest member of the family, Kate, for the Cambridges' first tour. She wore the brooch on three occasions: at two appearances on Canada Day, where she paired the brooch first with a white dress (see photograph at right) and later with a purple dress for evening fireworks, and then again on the last day of the tour, when she pinned the brooch to a bright red dress [10].

Kate surprised royal watchers this autumn by appearing in another of the Queen Mother's tiaras, the Papyrus (or Lotus Flower) Tiara, at a diplomatic reception [11]. You can see photographs of Kate wearing the tiara here at the Daily Mail website. The tiara comes yet again from a gift given to the Queen Mother by King George VI. He gave her a diamond and pearl sautoir as a wedding present in 1923. The necklace had been made by Garrard, but the queen decided to have it transformed six months after receiving it [12]. Garrard used the stones from the necklace to create the tiara, which features papyrus leaf elements in its design. The tiara was associated later with Princess Margaret, who wore it frequently; Margaret's daughter-in-law, Viscountess Linley, wore the tiara at her wedding in 1993. But like the Halo, this tiara had not been seen in public for many years until the duchess donned it in December.

The continued use of heirloom pieces with specific connections to the Queen Mother signals a deliberate attempt by Kate to pattern her own royal life after that of Elizabeth. From the choice of her wedding venue to the photographs positioned near her during taped remarks, Kate has suggested that she wishes to be a supportive yet vibrant partner to William, just as the Queen Mother was to George VI. I think we can expect to see Kate in other pieces with links to the Queen Mum in the future -- any guesses on which heirloom jewels we may see her wear next?

1. Cropped version of photograph available via Wikimedia Commons; source here.
2. Cropped still from a YouTube video of William and Kate's engagement interview with ITV; source here.
3. See Ayvee's excellent website about Diana's jewelry for larger photos and more information about the ring.
4. A transcript of William and Kate's engagement ring is available here from ABC News.
5. See this report from the Independent.
6. Cropped still from a YouTube video of William and Kate's wedding; source here.
7. See the Royal Collection microsite on the royal wedding of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge.
8. For more on the Halo tiara, see this post at A Tiara a Day.
9. Photograph available via Wikimedia Commons; source here.
10. See images of Kate wearing the brooch at each event here at the Royal Post; large photographs of Kate wearing the brooch twice on Canada Day 2011 can also be seen in this Daily Mail article.
11. For more on the Papyrus tiara, see this post at A Tiara a Day.
12. See The Queen's Diamonds (Roberts).