01 September 2020

Sapphire Spotlight: The Queen's Sapphires

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Get excited, everybody: we're kicking off September with a week's worth of in-depth posts on royal sapphires! Today, we've got a closer look at the sapphire jewels worn by Queen Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom. (They're the perfect gemstone to pair with that Garter sash, after all!)




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The Queen began her sapphire collection early. In April 1944, her father gave her a lovely sapphire and diamond bracelet for her eighteenth birthday. Made by Cartier, the piece features two sapphire and diamond "segments" linked together with diamond clasps. The Queen wore it fairly often in her younger years. Above, you'll spot it on her right wrist during Princess Anne's christening in October 1950.


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Two years later, one of the Queen's very favorite sapphire jewels arrived in her jewelry box. She received the Sapphire Chrysanthemum Brooch in April 1946, when she launched an oil tanker named the British Princess. She's worn it consistently throughout her life, including a famous portrait session during her honeymoon. Above, she sports the brooch in April 1948 during the unveiling of a memorial to Franklin D. Roosevelt. You'll still see her wearing it regularly today.


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In November 1947, the Queen received a major jewelry haul: her wedding gifts. Among them was a distinctive diamond and sapphire feather brooch. The jewel was a gift from the firm that made it, Carrington. She still wears the brooch often today. Above, she wears the brooch in April 2006 to mark the anniversary of the BBC's royal charter.


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But one of her most treasured wedding gifts was an antique suite of diamond and sapphire jewels, given to her by her father, King George VI. The nineteenth-century demi-parure originally included a necklace and a pair of earrings. The Queen has tinkered with the jewels a bit over the years, shortening the necklace and adding a pendant. In the 1960s, a bracelet was also made to coordinate with the set. In November 2002, she wore the sapphires at the Ritz for a party thanking close friends and family for helping her celebrate her Golden Jubilee.


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In February 1952, when she became Queen, the new Elizabeth II added an important cache of jewels to her collection: the heirlooms of the crown. Among these was Prince Albert's Brooch, the classic sapphire and diamond brooch that Prince Albert gave to Queen Victoria as a wedding present in 1840. The Queen has worn this important brooch very regularly throughout her reign. A recent appearance, pictured above, came during Royal Ascot in June 2019.


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When the Queen's beloved grandmother, Queen Mary, died in March 1953, the Queen inherited virtually all of her jewelry. Among this array of jewels were two important sapphire brooches, both of which had Russian roots. The first, Empress Marie Feodorovna's Sapphire Brooch, dates to November 1866. The sapphire, diamond, and pearl brooch was given to the future empress by her brother-in-law and sister, the Prince and Princess of Wales, on her marriage to the future Emperor Alexander III of Russia. Queen Mary bought the brooch from Marie Feodorovna's daughters in 1930. The Queen has worn the brooch often since inheriting it, including an outing (pictured above) at the Chelsea Flower Show in May 1973.


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The second, Queen Mary's Russian Brooch, features an impressive sugarloaf sapphire and a large diamond in a geometric setting. The brooch was Queen Mary's wedding gift from Empress Marie Feodorovna of Russia in July 1893. The Queen has also worn this brooch very often in the decades since she inherited it. Above, she wears the brooch for the unveiling of Iraq and Afghanistan Memorial at Victoria Embankment Gardens in March 2017.


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Though she owned a lovely demi-parure of sapphires, the Queen lacked a sapphire tiara. She decided to remedy this in 1963, purchasing an antique sapphire and diamond necklace that had once belonged to Princess Louise of Belgium. She had the piece mounted on a tiara frame, and the Belgian Sapphire Tiara was born. She has been wearing the tiara ever since, mostly as a married parure with the George VI Sapphires, including several outings at state functions in recent years. Above, she wears the tiara and demi-parure together at the Colombian state banquet at Buckingham Palace in November 2016.


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During a tour of the Middle East in February 1979, the Queen added a second sapphire demi-parure to her collection. She was presented with a suite of diamond and sapphire jewelry by Sheikh Rashid of Dubai. The unique Asprey set, with a loop design, originally included a large necklace, a pair of earrings, and a ring. The Queen later had the necklace shortened and used part of the resulting material to fashion a new set of earrings. The original earrings and ring were then used to make a bracelet. Above, the Queen wears the resulting suite with Queen Alexandra's Kokoshnik for an official dinner in Edmonton during a tour of Canada in May 2005.


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At the dawn of the new millenium, the Queen began wearing a third suite of sapphire and diamond jewels. This set, which features a distinctive tassel necklace, trefoil-style earrings, and a modern bracelet, has an unknown provenance. Many have speculated that it may also be a Middle Eastern royal gift. One of her earliest known appearances in the set came in April 2002 (pictured above), when she attended a dinner at Number 10 Downing Street to celebrate her Golden Jubilee.


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As the Golden Jubilee celebrations began, the Queen suffered a pair of private tragedies: the deaths of Princess Margaret (in February 2002) and the Queen Mother (in March 2002). The Queen inherited a great deal of jewelry from her late mother's estate, including at least three brooches set with sapphires. In June 2006, she debuted her mother's Sapphire and Diamond Grapes Brooch. She has worn the piece numerous times since then, including an outing (pictured above) at a church service at Canongate Kirk in Edinburgh in June 2019.


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In October 2011, the Queen made her only notable appearance in the Queen Mother's Sapphire Flower Brooch, another modern piece inherited from her mother. She wore the brooch in Perth for the opening ceremony of the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting.


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During a visit to the Vatican in April 2014 (pictured above), the Queen debuted the spectacular Russian Sapphire Cluster Brooch, another legacy from the Queen Mother. The brooch reportedly can be traced back to Queen Mary's collection -- she supposedly also purchased this one from the estate of Empress Marie Feodorovna -- but it's more strongly associated with the Queen Mum, who loved it and wore it very often.


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In February 2017, Queen Elizabeth II became the first British sovereign to celebrate a Sapphire Jubilee -- sixty-five years on the throne. Appropriately, one of the gifts she received to mark the milestone was set with sapphires. The Sapphire Jubilee Snowflake Brooch was made by Hillberg and Berk, a Canadian jewelry firm, and set with rare Canadian sapphires. Governor General David Johnston of Canada presented her with the brooch, which she has begun wearing with increasing frequency. In June 2019, pictured above, she even wore the brooch for the first day of Royal Ascot.