19 February 2017

Sundays with Victoria: The Diamond Bow Brooches

One of Queen Victoria's Diamond Bow Brooches (William Lovelace/Daily Express/Getty Images)

In 1858, Queen Victoria's jewelry box went through a sudden and rather unexpected transformation. All of the jewels that had once belonged to her grandmother, Queen Charlotte, were awarded to her cousin, the King of Hanover, whose father had claimed them following the death of King William IV. She lost numerous pieces, including a set of diamond bow brooches. Today's brooches are the trio that she had made to replace them.

One of the bow brooches (Warrick Page/Getty Images)

The three brooches are all made to resemble ribbon bows, and they vary slightly in size from largest to smallest. In 1901, Victoria designated the three brooches as "heirlooms of the crown," meaning that they pass directly from monarch to monarch, to be worn by queens regnant or consort. When Victoria died, the brooches went to her son, King Edward VII, to be worn by his wife, Queen Alexandra.

Queen Alexandra wears the brooches on her skirt at her first state opening of parliament as queen consort (left) and at her coronation (right)

Alexandra usually wore the three brooches as a set, often cascading them down the front of her skirt, as she did at her first state opening of parliament as queen consort and at her coronation.

Queen Mary wears the brooches with pendants, including the Cullinan III Diamond

After the death of Edward VII in 1910, the brooches passed to King George V and Queen Mary. Each brooch features a tiny loop that allows it to be worn with a pendant, and both Alexandra and Mary used the brooches this way. Mary was even photographed wearing the large Cullinan III stone suspended from one of the bows.

Queen Elizabeth II wears the smallest of the bow brooches during her Golden Jubilee celebrations in 2002 (NICOLAS ASFOURI/AFP/Getty Images)

King George VI and Queen Elizabeth received the brooches in 1936, but they were never among Elizabeth's most-worn pieces of royal jewelry. Unlike her predecessors, she usually only wore one bow at a time. Her daughter, Queen Elizabeth II, received the brooches on her accession in 1952, and she's been wearing them regularly for the past 65 years. Like her mother, she generally just wears one brooch at a time. The bows have become some of her favorite pieces, suitable for regular daytime appearances as well as more somber occasions. Notably, she chose one of the brooches for the funeral of Diana, Princess of Wales in 1997.

Stay tuned for more Victorian jewels with our recap of Victoria, which will be up on Wednesday this week!