25 August 2019

Prince Albert's Brooch

Chris Jackson/Getty Images

The British royals are celebrating the 200th birthday of one of their patriarchs, Prince Albert, tomorrow. To join in the festivities, we've got a look today at one of the most important pieces that he added to the royal collection: Prince Albert's Brooch.

Chris Jackson/Getty Images

The day before their wedding in 1840, Prince Albert offered a gift to his bride-to-be. The bauble, a sapphire and diamond brooch set in gold, was received by Queen Victoria with enthusiasm. In her diary, she noted that Albert had given her "a splendid brooch, a large sapphire set round with diamonds, which is really quite beautiful."

Franz Xaver Winterhalter/Royal Collection/Wikimedia Commons

Victoria was so enamored with her new brooch that she wore it on her wedding gown the following day, pairing it with a demi-parure of jewels made out of diamonds that had been given to her by the Sultan of Turkey. Leslie Field describes the brooch as "a large oblong sapphire surrounded by twelve round diamonds"; the Royal Collection adds that the diamonds are "mounted in open-backed collets." The Royal Collection also notes that the maker of the brooch is not known; it could have been made either in England or in Albert's native Germany.

Franz Xaver Winterhalter/Wikimedia Commons

For the next twenty years, Victoria wore the sapphire brooch regularly. Field points out that she even posed in the brooch in a lithograph that was widely and inexpensively distributed to her subjects. But as was the case with so many of Victoria's jewels, the brooch was rarely worn after Albert's death in 1861. Even so, Victoria always retained a clear sense of the piece's significance, and it was one of the items that she designated as an heirloom of the crown in her will.

Queen Alexandra dressed for the 1902 coronation

In Britain, jewels that are earmarked as "heirlooms of the crown" are specifically intended for the use of queens regnant and consort, and indeed, Prince Albert's brooch has been worn by all four of the women who subsequently held those positions. Queen Alexandra wore the brooch (along with virtually every other jewel in the kingdom) pinned to her gown at her coronation in 1902. You can just see the sapphire brooch at the edge of the Alexandra's neckline in this photo; the piece is partially obscured by the ropes of pearls.

Chris Jackson - WPA Pool/Getty Images

Subsequent queens -- Mary, Elizabeth, and Elizabeth II -- have used the brooch mostly for daytime occasions. Queen Elizabeth II wears the brooch on a fairly regular basis. It's a piece that really transcends time: the ultra-classic, simple design (and the enormous sapphire) looks just as good today as it must have more than a century ago.

Note: This is an updated version of an earlier post.