05 November 2014

Book Review: The Queen's Jewels (1987)

Field's The Queen's Jewels (photograph by Ella Kay)

My royal jewel book collection is large and varied, but there are a few books that are true workhorses for research and writing. One of them, Hugh Roberts's The Queen's Diamonds (2012), I've already reviewed here; another, Geoffrey Munn's Tiaras: A History of Splendour (2002), I'll be reviewing here next month. But today, let's have a look at a third most-used text from my jewel library: Leslie Field's The Queen's Jewels (1987).

Not featured in the book: newer pieces like Elizabeth II's Tudor rose brooch

Field completed her book in 1987 with the cooperation of the royal household. This book isn't a production of the Royal Collection, as Roberts's book is; instead, Field is an independent scholar. The book focuses on the jewelry that was contained in the Queen's collection in the 1980s, so some pieces (especially brooches) that she wears regularly now aren't featured in the book. Much of the jewelry discussed comes from the collections of Elizabeth II's ancestors, especially Queen Mary, but pieces that the Queen acquired during her own lifetime are also a significant part of the book. With 192 pages of text and photographs (including a mixture of color and black-and-white images), the book is not huge but is fairly substantial.

Featured in the book: the Queen's pearl trefoil brooch

The text is divided up by gemstone rather than by the original owner of the piece. For example, pearl jewelry owned by Queen Victoria is included in the same chapter as newer pearl pieces. Because the book surveys colored gemstones as well as diamonds, there are a number of pieces covered in Field's book that are not included in Roberts's. (Which is a shame -- I'm still waiting for Roberts to write a sequel!) I've found the book most helpful when identifying and cataloguing the many brooches worn by the Queen. In several cases, I've found that Field's book is the only print source in my collection that discusses a particular brooch.

Elizabeth II wearing Queen Mary's fringe tiara

That said, this book is not without issues. Field's research, in some cases, is dated and has been corrected and updated by subsequent texts. For example, the book mixes up Queen Mary's fringe tiara with the fringe necklace from Queen Adelaide's collection, a common misconception that Roberts's book was able to clarify. My copy of Field's book is full of sticky notes with penciled-in corrections, so that when I use it as a reference (as I often do), I'm also quickly reminded of moments when I need to double-check with another source, usually either Roberts's book or the Royal Collection website. The book is a valuable and helpful resource, but its age means that it needs to be used as a companion rather than as the sole source of information on a piece. There is a revised version of the book released in 1997, and I'd presume that version corrected some of the mistakes; unfortunately, I can't comment on the updates in that second edition, because I only own the '87 version.

Even so, I can't imagine that any royal jewel lover's British book collection would be complete without a copy of The Queen's Jewels. Because it's an older text, it's very easy to find inexpensive second-hand copies of the book. Amazon currently has used hardcover copies for under $4, which is pretty amazing. For anyone interested in Elizabeth II's varied and extensive jewel collection, it's worth making this book a part of your library!

Disclosure: Links to the book within this post are my affiliate links from Amazon; if you purchase the book through one of these links, I receive a small monetary compensation (which I use to purchase more materials for review for this site!).