06 January 2019

The Pearl of the Dee Brooch


Lots of royal brooches are designed with nature in mind, but how many are devoted to the sport of fishing? At least one: the Pearl of the Dee Brooch.

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The unusual brooch was inspired by a hand-tied salmon fly, the same kind that the Queen Mother used in one of her favorite pastimes, fly fishing in Aberdeenshire. The brooch was commissioned by the Salmon and Trout Association in 1999 to mark the 100th birthday of their patron, the Queen Mother, the following year.

An English goldsmith, Rachel Jeffrey, designed and made the brooch out of sold 18-carat gold. Her website notes that she "placed a blue grey pearl at the top to represent the head of the fly. Representing the body, the central lattice work is encrusted with tiny sapphires, emeralds and rubies. The shoulders of the wings are set with yellow and white diamonds and a diamond roundel encircles the base pearl. The tail of the fly has been interpreted in 18 carat gold and resembles an inverted crown." The sapphires, emeralds, and rubies echo the Queen Mum's racing colors.


Along with the brooch presented to the Queen Mum, an additional 100 brooches were made and sold to members of the public. Occasionally one of these brooches will appear in a public auction; the example above was sold at Bonhams in Edinburgh in May 2017, fetching £250. (The brooch is positioned upside down in the auction house image.) These limited-edition brooches are made of silver with a gold tail, unlike the solid gold brooch made for the Queen Mother.

To my knowledge, the Queen Mother never wore the brooch in public, though Jeffrey told the Evening Standard in 2005 that "her equerries wrote us a lovely letter to say she was delighted with it." Instead, the brooch made its first public royal appearance in early 2005, when the future Duchess of Cornwall donned it for an official engagement portrait taken at Birkhall.

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Camilla also chose the brooch for another important early event: her first official engagement as a member of the royal family. The Duchess of Rothesay, as she is officially known in Scotland, wore the brooch in Ballater for the opening of the Monaltrie Park playground in April 2005. At the time, Charles and Camilla were honeymooning at Birkhall, the estate he inherited from the Queen Mother on her death in 2002.

Many wondered whether the brooch had also been an inherited by Charles from the Queen Mum, but in reality, all of her jewelry was left to the Queen (in part, at least, as a way to avoid death duties). Numerous pieces from that bequest were clearly earmarked, however, as long-term loans for the use of other members of the family, including this brooch. When Camilla began wearing it in 2005, a palace spokesperson noted, "The brooch is a family heirloom which has been lent to the duchess rather than given. She likes it very much."

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Camilla's use of the brooch did raise at least one eyebrow. Its creator contacted the Evening Standard to note that the Duchess had been inadvertently wearing the brooch the wrong way round. Jeffrey explained, "She is wearing it upside down. I designed it to wear the other way up." (The Evening Standard's Robert Mendick charitably explained, "Prince Charles's new bride may not have realised, however, that [the brooch] is based on a fisherman's fly and what may be mistaken for feathers sprouting out of a crown is actually the tail and back end of a fly.")

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And indeed, on her next major public outing in the brooch, Camilla corrected that error, wearing the piece as its designer intended it to be worn. She pinned the brooch (right-side-up) to the lapel of her jacket for the Braemar Gathering in 2006.

The Pearl of the Dee Brooch is one of many pieces from the late Queen Mother's jewelry box that Camilla wore early in her royal marriage but has not donned in recent years. I'd love to see this one pop out of the vaults again, especially for an engagement with Scottish connections.