06 February 2020

The Flame Lily Brooch

Charlie Crowhurst/Getty Images for Ascot Racecourse

Today marks the 68th anniversary of the Queen's accession to the throne. It seems like a particularly appropriate time to take a closer look at one of the jewels associated with that moment: the Flame Lily Brooch.

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The brooch, made of diamonds set in platinum and white gold, is designed to represent Zimbabwe's national flower, the flame lily. The piece was designed by Len Bell, a jeweler based in Harare, and made by Eric Kippin for Sidarsky and Son in Johannesburg in 1947.

Princess Elizabeth's official 21st birthday portrait, taken on April 18, 1947, in London (AFP via Getty Images)

The brooch was commissioned as a 21st birthday gift for Princess Elizabeth from the children of Zimbabwe, which was then called Southern Rhodesia. Elizabeth arrived in the country with her parents, King George VI and Queen Elizabeth, and her sister, Princess Margaret, on April 7, 1947. The stop was a part of their tour of southern Africa. King George opened the nation's parliament, and later the same day, six children presented the brooch to the princess.

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Elizabeth wore the delicate diamond brooch frequently in the early 1950s. Above, she sports the piece to inspect a group of crewmen aboard the HMCS Ontario during a tour of Newfoundland in November 1951.

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In January 1952, Elizabeth and her dressers packed the flame lily brooch in her luggage as they prepared to embark on a lengthy Commonwealth tour. But, as we all know, history intervened. Her father, King George, died on February 6, 1952, while she was in Kenya. The tour was hastily canceled, and the new Queen Elizabeth II flew quickly back to England. On the flight home, the Queen dressed in black mourning clothes and pinned the flame lily to her coat.

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In some of the most iconic images of her reign, photographers captured her on February 7, 1952, wearing the brooch as she descended the stairs to step on English soil as monarch for the first time. She was also photographed leaving the airport in a car, exhaustion and sorrow plain on her face.

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The new Queen actually wore the brooch multiple times during the period of mourning that followed her father's death. Above, she wears the jewels with a black coat as she and the Duke of Beaufort attend the Olympic Horse Trials at Badminton in April 1952.

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In June 1952, she wore the brooch as she stepped of the plane that carried her from Balmoral, where she'd spent the Whitsun holiday with her young children, to London on her way back to Windsor.

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In more recent years, the brooch has remained a favorite. Sixty years after she received the brooch, she wore it for the second day of Royal Ascot in June 2007. By this point, there were actually two identical flame lily brooches in the Queen's collection. In June 1953, Eric Kippen made copies of the brooch for the Queen Mother and Princess Margaret, and the Queen inherited her mother's version of the brooch in 2002. There's really no easy way to tell the difference between the two brooches, so these days, we don't know whether HM is wearing her own brooch or the later copy. I think it's more likely that she's simply kept on wearing her own brooch -- but who knows?

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In November 2010, she wore the brooch for diplomatic meetings in Abu Dhabi during her visit to the United Arab Emirates.

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The brooch made a very prominent appearance, with the diamonds sparkling mightily on a red dress, during the Queen's Christmas Message in December 2011.

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The brooch is well-suited for garden parties, like this one at Buckingham Palace, held in June 2013.

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In November 2016, the Queen chose the brooch for an occasion honoring another stalwart member of the royal family, wearing it for a Buckingham Palace reception held in honor of Princess Alexandra's 80th birthday year.

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The brooch's delicate design tends to get lost a bit when worn against prints, but it shines brightly when worn with bright or dark colors. This yellow coat provided a perfect background for the brooch during Royal Ascot in June 2017.

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More recently, the Queen wore the brooch with a lime green jacket for an appropriately floral occasion: her annual visit to the Chelsea Flower Show in May 2019.