17 February 2020

The Kent Amethyst Demi-Parure

The Queen wears the Kent Amethyst Brooch in Aylesford, November 2019 (Richard Pohle - WPA Pool/Getty Images)

I may not be a February baby, but I am extremely partial to amethysts. Whether they're deep purple or another shade -- lately I'm quite attracted to the pale green variety -- they're always showstoppers. Today, we're looking at the amethyst set that belongs to the British royal family -- which also happens to be one of the oldest sets of jewelry in their entire collection.




Henry Bone's portrait of Princess Victoria, Duchess of Kent, with the future Queen Victoria, ca. 1820s (Wikimedia Commons)

Appropriately for a stone often worn by those in mourning, the amethysts entered the family collection because of an unexpected death. Princess Charlotte of Wales, the only child of George IV, died in childbirth in 1817. Her death led to something of a succession crisis, with George IV's brothers hurrying to marry and father an heir to the throne. The winner of this "contest" was the Duke of Kent, who wed Princess Victoria of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld in 1818. They were, of course, the parents of the future Queen Victoria.


Wikimedia Commons

The Duchess of Kent was the original owner of the amethyst set, which was made in the first half of the nineteenth-century. According to the Royal Collection, in the image of the duchess above (which is based on a miniature portrait from the 1830s), the brooch pinned to her bodice is a part of her amethyst demi-parure. (Note the shape of the brooch, as well as the three pendants.) After the Duchess's death in 1861, the set was left to Queen Victoria, who in turn designated the amethysts as heirlooms of the crown.


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According to the list of jewels left by Victoria to the Crown in 1901, the amethyst demi-parure consists of multiple pieces: a necklace, a pair of hair combs, a pair of earrings, and three brooches. (This is one of the sets generally designated a "demi-parure" because it doesn't include a tiara.) However, when the amethysts are worn today by the Queen, we generally only see one brooch: a shell-shaped diamond brooch with a central amethyst, worn either with or without three pendant pieces.


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The Queen has only worn multiple pieces of the demi-parure in public on one occasion: a visit to Portugal in March 1985. At a state banquet, she donned the necklace, the brooch with three pendants, and the earrings, pairing the set with the Girls of Great Britain and Ireland Tiara. I've read convincing arguments that the other two brooches from the set have been used to lengthen the necklace -- explaining why only two of the amethyst "links" in the necklace share the same shell design motif as the brooch.


LUKE FRAZZA/AFP via Getty Images

But even though HM almost never wears the entire amethyst set in public, she wears the brooch very frequently. She usually wears the brooch without the pendant drops, but above, during a visit to America in May 1991, she wore the complete brooch at Arlington National Cemetery.


Chris Jackson/Getty Images

Here's a closer view of the brooch without the pendants. Note the small loops where the pendants can be attached.


JUSTIN TALLIS/AFP/Getty Images

The brooch has become one of the Queen's very favorite pieces in recent years, worn for a wide variety of occasions. In November 2016, she wore the brooch at Westminster Abbey for a service of thanksgiving in honor of the 60th anniversary of the Duke of Edinburgh's Award.


DANIEL LEAL-OLIVAS/AFP/Getty Images

The brooch got an outing on a light purple coat at the Epsom Derby in June 2018.


Paul Marriott/Alamy

She also frequently wears the brooch during her annual residence in Norfolk. In January 2019, she chose the piece to attend a church service near the Sandringham estate.


Chris Jackson/Getty Images

The Queen loves to wear saturated shades of blue and purple for daytime -- like this outing on Commonwealth Day in March 2019 -- so it makes perfect sense that the Kent amethyst brooch has become a regular part of the rotation. But I'd love to see some of the rest of the pieces reappear in public as well. I think Camilla could wear the heck out of the amethyst necklace, and I would love to see Kate place the combs (which I've never even seen a photograph of!) in an elaborate updo.


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