08 January 2021

Queen Mary's Pink Sapphire Cluster Brooch


Queen Elizabeth II's brooch collection features gems in all colors of the rainbow. Today, we're thinking pink: specifically, the pink sapphire cluster brooch that belonged to Queen Mary.

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The brooch isn't much bigger than a large button, but it packs a lot of color and sparkle into its petite package. The centerpiece of the brooch is a lovely faceted gemstone in a pleasant shade of pink. It's surrounded by a thin halo of diamonds, and then by a cluster of ten larger brilliants. Ten more tiny diamonds are studded around the edge of the brooch.

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For years, the specific identification of the type of this pink gemstone has been debated. Could it be a pink topaz? Perhaps a pink tourmaline, or even a pink spinel? In 2015, we appear to have gotten confirmation that this is indeed a pink sapphire. The ID came in the press notes accompanying a photographic portrait of the Queen taken by Mary McCartney. That handout described the piece as a "pink sapphire and diamond brooch." The hue of the pink sapphire tends to change quite a bit depending on lighting and the colors surrounding it. Sometimes it reads as a very true bright pink, while other times it trends much more purple or lilac.

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The brooch was inherited by the Queen from Queen Mary, who wore it occasionally in the 1940s. Much as her granddaughter has done, Mary developed a sort of public uniform, wearing shirts with tall collars for daytime occasions. She often pinned small brooches right at her throat with these ensembles, and the pink sapphire cluster pops up occasionally in photographs from the era. Above, she wears the brooch for a very important public appearance in May 1942. In her first public engagement since the outbreak of World War II, she accompanied King George VI and Queen Elizabeth to watch the armored brigade of the Guards of the Household Division take part in military exercises at Southern Command. She pinned the pink sapphire at her throat, and appropriately also wore the Guards Brooch on her jacket.

Seven years later, Queen Mary wore the pink sapphire brooch (as well as the Guards Brooch) for another event related to the Guards, this time at Buckingham Palace. In May 1949, she stood with the Earl and Countess of Athlone and Princess Elizabeth to watch the presentation of new colors to the 1st Battalion of the Welsh Guards. In both this image and the one from 1942, the distinctive cluster border of the brooch helps to identify it as the same piece now worn by the Queen; the diamond brilliants are easily counted and compared.

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The brooch has surely been in the Queen's collection for more than half a century, but she didn't really start to wear it with frequency until about a decade ago. In November 2010, she packed it in her luggage for a trip to the Middle East, wearing it during a state visit to Oman. (See all the jewels from that state visit here!)

Two years later, she wore the brooch for the cover of Dressing the Queen, the first book written by her personal assistant and dresser, Angela Kelly.

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Since then, the Queen has made multiple appearances in the brooch every year. She often wears it for audiences at Buckingham Palace, like this meeting with John Agard, the Queen's Gold Medal for Poetry winner, in March 2013. She wears the brooch with clothing in all shades of pink—here, she pinned it to a dress that reads quite coral on camera.

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In March 2014, she wore the brooch with a lightly patterned pink and white dress for an audience with the Ambassador of the Republic of Guinea, Paul Zoumanigui.

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Another Buckingham Palace appearance of the brooch, this time paired with a light pink tweed dress, came in February 2019, when she received the Hon. Vicki O'Halloran.

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On two separate recent occasions, she's worn the brooch with the same pink and gray floral dress for audiences at the palace. Above, she wears the combination in October 2016 for a meeting with Dr. Asha-Rose Migiro, the High Commissioner of Tanzania...

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...and here, in February 2017, she wears the same dress and jewels to receive Guy Mayers, the High Commissioner for St. Lucia.

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The small brooch does tend to get lost a little bit against such brightly-patterned fabrics. The same thing happened with this outfit in July 2019, during an audience with Dame Sarah Mullally, the new Dean of the Chapel Royal.

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The Queen doesn't just wear the pink sapphire for diplomatic occasions and audiences, though. She also frequently dons it for regional visits throughout the UK. In April 2013, she wore it for a visit to a thoroughly British institution: Mars Chocolate UK in Slough.

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This is another favorite outfit-brooch combination for the Queen. She wore it again in October 2013 for a visit to a youth hostel in Lewes...

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...and once more in April 2017, this time for a celebration of the 40th anniversary of Motability at Windsor Castle.

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The brooch has also accompanied the Queen a trip to the National Theatre's prop-making workshop in London in October 2013...

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...as well as a stop at the Lister Community School in London in March 2016...

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...and a visit to Berkhamsted School, one of her patronages, in May 2016.

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She wore the brooch with another tweedy ensemble in December 2013 at Westminster Abbey, where she viewed the new Diamond Jubilee Window.

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And she repeated the same clothes and brooch combination several years later for a July 2016 visit to the East Anglian Air Ambulance Base at Cambridge Airport, where she and the Duke of Edinburgh were given a tour by the Duke of Cambridge. (Angela Kelly and her staff keep careful records of which outfits and jewels have been worn by the Queen and on what occasions, partly to ensure that pieces aren't repeated too frequently.)

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A few weeks earlier, the Queen had worn the brooch with a pink and white outfit for an engagement at Marlborough House: the launch of the Commonwealth Hub.

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While the brooch has become a regular part of the Queen's working wardrobe, she also wears it on some of her favorite annual occasions. In June 2017, she made a splash on Ladies' Day at Royal Ascot, wearing the brooch with a vivid pink ensemble.

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She wore the brooch again at Ascot Racecourse (with a quieter outfit) later that year for British Champions Day in October.


In May 2018, she chose the brooch for another favorite annual outing: her visit to the Chelsea Flower Show.

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And in December 2018, she wore the brooch for one of the most high-profile outings of the year: the annual Christmas Day church service near the Sandringham estate in Norfolk.

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Over the past two years, we've seen the brooch pop up on a handful of occasions, too. One of these was a March 2019 visit to King's College London with the Duchess of Cambridge.

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Another was a church service at Crathie Kirk near Balmoral in August 2019. As the world begins to emerge from its slumber over the next year, here's hoping we'll get to see this brilliant pink sapphire sparkling on the Queen again soon!