24 February 2015

The Kent Amethysts

I may not be a February baby, but I am extremely partial to amethysts. Whether they're deep purple or another shade -- lately I'm quite attracted to the pale green variety -- they're always showstoppers. Today, we're looking at the amethyst set that belongs to the British royal family -- which also happens to be one of the oldest sets of jewelry in their entire collection.

Appropriately for a stone often worn by those in mourning, the amethysts entered the family collection because of an unexpected death. Princess Charlotte of Wales, the only child of George IV, died in childbirth in 1817. Her death led to something of a succession crisis, with George IV's brothers hurrying to marry and father an heir to the throne. The winner of this "contest" was the Duke of Kent, who wed Princess Viktoria of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld in 1818. They were, of course, the parents of the future Queen Victoria.

The Duchess of Kent was the original owner of the amethyst set, which was made in the first half of the nineteenth-century, easily making it one of the oldest sets of jewels possessed today by the British royals. According to the Royal Collection, in the image of the duchess above (which is an engraving made based on a miniature portrait from the 1830s), the brooch pinned to her bodice is a part of her amethyst demi-parure. After her death in 1861, the set was left to Queen Victoria, who in turn designated the amethysts as heirlooms of the crown.

According to the list of jewels left by Victoria to the Crown in 1901, the amethyst demi-parure consists of multiple pieces: a necklace, a pair of hair combs, a pair of earrings, and three brooches. (This is one of the sets generally designated a "demi-parure" because it doesn't include a tiara.) However, when the amethysts are worn today by the Queen, we generally only see one brooch: a shell-shaped diamond brooch with a central amethyst, worn either with or without three pendant pieces.

The Queen has only worn multiple pieces of the demi-parure in public on one occasion: a visit to Portugal in 1984. At a state banquet, she donned the necklace, the brooch with three pendants, and the earrings, pairing the set with the Girls of Great Britain and Ireland Tiara. I've seen convincing arguments online, including at the Royal Jewels of the World Message Board, that the other two brooches from the set have been used to lengthen the necklace -- explaining why only two of the amethyst "links" in the necklace share the same shell design motif as the brooch.

But even though HM almost never wears the entire amethyst set in public, she wears the brooch very frequently. Above, she wears the piece without the pendant drops.

She selected the brooch for the unveiling of the memorial fountain for the late Diana, Princess of Wales.

She also wore it on her accession day in 2011 -- appropriate, because for the Queen, the day is about remembering her late father.

The Queen loves to wear saturated shades of blue and purple for daytime, so it makes perfect sense that the Kent amethyst brooch has become a regular part of the rotation. But I'd love to see some of the rest of the pieces reappear in public as well. I think Camilla could wear the heck out of the amethyst necklace, and I would love to see Kate place the haircombs -- which I've never even seen a photograph of! -- in an elaborate updo.