12 March 2017

Queen Elizabeth's Coronation Jewels (1937)

Queen Elizabeth, Princess Elizabeth, Queen Mary, Princess Margaret, and King George VI on the balcony at Buckingham Palace after the 1937 coronation (AFP/Getty Images)

This year we celebrate the eightieth anniversary of the coronation of King George VI and Queen Elizabeth of the United Kingdom, parents of the present Queen. In honor of that upcoming anniversary, here's an extensive look at the jewels worn by Queen Elizabeth (better known to us as the Queen Mum) on her coronation day and in some of the bejeweled portraits taken around the time of the coronation.

Queen Elizabeth wears her crown on an Australian postage stamp (Wikimedia Commons)

We'll start our survey of Elizabeth's coronation jewels at the top of her head. First up: her crown. Elizabeth's crown was made specifically for her by Garrard (then the crown jeweler) in 1937. Its design was based partly on the crown made for Queen Mary in 1911, but Elizabeth's was made with even more modern materials and techniques. It's the only crown in the entire British crown jewel collection to be made of platinum, which means it's one of the lightest diadems in the country.

The platinum frame is set with 2800 diamonds, including the Koh-i-Noor, an Indian diamond that was controversially gifted to Queen Victoria in 1851. There's also another large diamond in the crown with a long history: a 17-carat diamond that given to Queen Victoria by the Sultan of Turkey in 1856, following the Crimean War.

Queen Elizabeth and Princess Elizabeth on the balcony of Buckingham Palace after the 1937 coronation (Getty Images)

Elizabeth wore the Coronation Earrings, which were made by Garrard in 1858 for Queen Victoria. The earrings were made to replace similar jewels lost in the Hanoverian Claim; the pear-shaped drops were originally part of the Indian setting of the Koh-i-Noor Diamond. The earrings were also worn by Queen Mary at her coronation in 1911 and by Queen Elizabeth II at the 1953 coronation.

Elizabeth wore four necklaces at her coronation: two diamond collet necklaces and two strands of pearls. Starting closest to her chin, she wears the Coronation Necklace, which was also made by Garrard for Queen Victoria in 1858. You'll notice that the pendant -- the Lahore Diamond -- that usually hangs from the Coronation Necklace isn't there; that's because it was temporarily mounted in Elizabeth's crown for this coronation ceremony. (The diamond was later removed from the crown and returned to the necklace; a crystal copy of the stone took its place on the crown.)

The second diamond necklace is known as Queen Elizabeth's Coronation Necklace. It was presented to her by King George VI just before the coronation. The necklace was made in the nineteenth century, probably by Carrington. It's slightly hidden underneath the neckline of her dress in the balcony picture above. As far as the pearls go, it's difficult to tell the difference between various strands of pearls, and I don't think these two necklaces have ever been definitively identified.

The balcony picture does show an excellent view of the large diamond brooch pinned to the bodice of Elizabeth's gown. This is the central portion of the Diamond Cockade Brooch, which was likely originally used as an ornament for a gentleman's cockade hat. It's been a part of the family's collection since at least the days of Queen Victoria (and probably longer).

Queen Elizabeth in her official coronation portrait (Wikimedia Commons)

Sir Gerald Kelly's coronation portrait shows the bracelets that Elizabeth wore on her coronation day. These are the King William IV Buckle Bracelets. They feature four rows of diamonds linked by two large enameled buckles. The bracelets date to the reign of Queen Victoria; Queen Mary had the buckles set as their centerpieces. One buckle features the cypher of King William IV, and the other the cypher of his wife, Queen Adelaide. Queen Mary also wore the bracelets at her coronation in 1911.

The jewel-encrusted fan that Elizabeth holds in the portrait is likely Queen Alexandra's Coronation Fan, a tortoiseshell and diamond piece made for Alexandra in 1902. Both sides of the fan feature trailing diamond flowers; one side also includes Alexandra's cypher, topped by a crown of diamonds and rubies. Queen Mary gave the fan to Elizabeth two days before the 1937 coronation, with the following note: "For darling Elizabeth in remembrance of Coronation Day 12th May 1937, from her loving mama Mary. This fan formerly belonged to Queen Alexandra."

The British royal family at the 1937 coronation. L-R: Princess Mary, Countess of Harewood; Princess Alice, Duchess of Gloucester; Prince Henry, Duke of Gloucester; Queen Mary; King George VI; Princess Margaret; Princess Elizabeth; Queen Elizabeth; Prince George, Duke of Kent; Princess Marina, Duchess of Kent; Queen Maud of Norway (Paul Marotta/Getty Images)

A family group from Coronation Day 1937 shows the jewels worn by each member of the royal family. The tiaras and diadems each person wore were, from left to right: Princess Mary in her diamond scroll tiara with the central sapphire ornament; the Duchess of Gloucester in the diamond honeysuckle tiara; Queen Mary in her own coronation crown, worn without its arches; Queen Elizabeth in her own coronation crown; the Duchess of Kent in her diamond fringe tiara; and Queen Maud of Norway in the Maltese Circlet (which belonged to her mother, Queen Alexandra).

Portrait of Queen Elizabeth by Cecil Beaton, ca. 1939 (AFP/Getty Images)

Two years after the coronation, Elizabeth sat for a set of portraits taken by Cecil Beaton wearing many of the jewels from her coronation day. Above, she wears Queen Mary's Fringe Tiara with the Coronation Necklace and Earrings and her own, longer Coronation Necklace.

Portrait of Queen Elizabeth by Cecil Beaton, ca. 1939 (AFP/Getty Images)

From the same setting, this image features Elizabeth wearing a different suite of jewels entirely. She wears the Oriental Circlet with the necklace and earrings from the Crown Ruby Suite, plus Queen Victoria's Fringe Brooch. Elizabeth's Garter sash is secured at the shoulder by Queen Victoria's Ten-Diamond Bar Brooch. (She also wears the gem-set garter itself on her left arm.) 

The bracelet that Elizabeth wears on her left wrist is Queen Victoria's Diamond Bracelet, made for Victoria in 1838 using diamonds taken from other pieces of royal jewelry. Victoria designated the jewel as an heirloom of the crown, but Elizabeth kept and wore it from her husband's accession to the end of her life. Queen Elizabeth II inherited the bracelet in 2002.

Portrait of Queen Elizabeth, ca. 1937 (Wikimedia Commons)

This portrait, taken around the time of the accession/coronation, features Elizabeth wearing Queen Mary's Fringe Tiara with pearl earrings and three pearl necklaces. Note that she also wears a set of bracelets on her left wrist; these are the art deco bracelets from Cartier that can be worn as a bandeau. (More on that tiara over here.)

Commemorative 1937 coronation stamp featuring King George VI and Queen Elizabeth (London Express/Getty Images)

And one more coronation-era portrait: this official stamp, released in 1937, features Elizabeth wearing a now-iconic royal tiara. It's the Cartier Halo Tiara, which was worn by the Duchess of Cambridge on her wedding day in 2011. Elizabeth rarely wore the tiara in public, so this is a rather unusual official image.