23 January 2014

Review: Diamonds: A Jubilee Celebration

Caroline de Guitaut's Diamonds: A Jubilee Celebration (2012) [1]
Without many of the wonderful books published over the years on royal jewelry, this blog wouldn't be able to exist. I get lots of questions from readers about which books I recommend for their growing collections, so I thought I'd do one better and review some of the major books here at The Court Jeweller. We're kicking off this series with one of the books that came out to mark the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II -- Caroline de Guitaut's Diamonds: A Jubilee Celebration.

First off, the specs. This book is deceptively small, but it includes 120 pages of information about the diamonds in the British royal collection, along with detailed photographs of selected pieces. Caroline de Guitaut, the book's author, is the Curator of Decorative Arts for the Royal Collection. The book itself was published by the Royal Collection Trust as a "souvenir album" and companion to the summer 2012 exhibition of the queen's diamonds at Buckingham Palace. It's not the big, comprehensive book to come out of the Diamond Jubilee -- that would be Hugh Roberts's excellent The Queen's Diamonds. But this one is considerably lighter, smaller, and less expensive. If you're new to the world of British royal jewels, I would start here rather than splashing out the money for Roberts's book. If you like this one, the bigger one will definitely also be your cup of tea. If you've already got the Roberts book, though, I'm not sure you need this one, too.

Queen Elizabeth II [2]
The book features approximately twenty of the most significant and historical diamond pieces currently in the Royal Collection, including crowns, tiaras, necklaces, earrings, brooches, and bracelets. A significant amount of space is devoted to the Cullinan Diamond in its various forms and mountings. There are pieces here from the Greville inheritance, from the Delhi Durbar suite, and from Queen Victoria's coronation jewels. Two pieces have been selected (the South African diamonds and the Williamson brooch) from among the current queen's personal jewels. And some of the big diamond tiaras are represented, too: Queen Alexandra's Russian Kokoshnik, the Girls of Great Britain and Ireland, and the Delhi Durbar. Photographs of individual pieces are interspersed with portraits of royal women actually wearing the diamonds.

But rather unusually for books on royal jewels, Diamonds: A Jubilee Celebration also discusses a few other bejeweled items, including some pieces that would have belonged to male royals. I like this inclusion -- jeweled objects are so often overlooked when royal collections are considered, but each of these four pieces (Queen Alexandra's coronation fan, the Jaipur sword, Frederick the Great's snuff box, and George IV's sword) is given the same treatment as the wearable objects, including close-up photographs and provenance information.

Along with the individual entries, de Guitaut also provides a history of diamonds in the royal family's possession and a helpful glossary of jewel terminology. All in all, while this book is nowhere close to covering the breadth of the diamonds in the royal collection, it's a carefully and deliberately curated look at some of the most significant pieces owned by the Windsors. For those of us who weren't lucky enough to visit Buckingham Palace and see the Diamond Jubilee exhibit in person, this little souvenir volume is also our chance to experience a bit of the glitter in our own homes.

1. Image of book cover from Amazon.com.

2. Detail of photograph of Elizabeth II, available via Wikimedia Commons; source here.