15 January 2021

The Queen Mother's Cartier Lily Brooch

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Last week we talked about a petite brooch from the Queen's jewelry box. Today, we've got a closer look at one of the biggest of all: the Queen Mother's Cartier Lily Brooch.

Buckingham Palace

The jewel, which some have nicknamed the "foot-long brooch" because of its unusual length, actually measures just under seven inches long. The piece was made in 1939 by Cartier, a favorite jewelry firm of King George VI and Queen Elizabeth of the United Kingdom. The firm's workshop combined a cache of existing royal diamonds (six pear-shaped stones and 197 brilliants) with 52 additional stones to produce the brooch. 

In The Queen's Diamonds, Sir Hugh Roberts describes the resulting ornament as a brooch "in the form of a stem of lilies, with two open flowers, claw- and pave-set with brilliants, and with six pear-shaped stones forming buds, one flower and one bud adjustable, the detachable articulated stem originally divisible into two clips." The brooch, originally a flexible piece, has apparently since been fixed in a static position.

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One of Queen Elizabeth's first important appearances in the brooch came in June 1939, during an important state visit to the United States. On June 8, she wore the brooch as she and First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt rode through the streets of Washington, D.C., in an open car. The Queen held a parasol to shield her face from the sun; the brooch is visible just behind the parasol's handle in the photograph above.

War broke out in Europe just a few months after the brooch arrived in Queen Elizabeth's collection. Unsurprisingly, she doesn't seem to have worn the brooch much during the war years. Its size was, perhaps, too grand for the relative austerity of the moment. But after the war, the Queen made numerous appearances in the piece. Above, she wears the brooch at Wimbledon in the summer of 1947.

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In May 1948, she chose the brooch for a visit to Queen's College in London.

And later the same year, in September 1948, she appeared in the brooch during a royal visit to Doncaster. In the footage above, I think the original articulation of the brooch's stem is apparent.

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In The Queen's Diamonds, Roberts writes that Queen Elizabeth "appears to have worn [the brooch] infrequently." But that doesn't seem to be the case at all. In 1951—which would ultimately be the final year of her husband's reign—she wore the brooch on at least nine separate occasions, surely making it one of the most-worn ornaments of her final year as queen consort. It was a year that saw her take on an even more elevated role at official events, thanks to her husband's frequent health-related absences. In the photograph above, she wears the brooch on March 22, 1951, for the Royal Maundy service at Westminster Abbey.

The king's health was perilous throughout 1951. A scheduled royal visit to Lancashire in March 1951 had to be pushed back after the King suffered "a feverish chill." When the rescheduled visit took place, on April 10, 1951, the Queen greeted locals wearing the lily brooch.

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Only a few weeks later, she appeared in the brooch yet again. This time, the occasion was a visit to the Festival of Britain in London, on May 5, 1951.

Three days later, on May 8, 1951, the royal couple welcomed King Frederik IX and Queen Ingrid of Denmark to London for a state visit. The Queen wore the lily brooch as she greeted the royal guests on their arrival.

A few weeks later, on May 22, 1951, the lily brooch accompanied the King and Queen to the Chelsea Flower Show. (The floral brooch was a very appropriate choice for the occasion.)

And then, on May 30, 1951, the Queen wore the lily brooch to attend the Epsom Derby.

Less than a week later, the brooch made another important appearance. The Queen wore it as she greeted King Haakon VII of Norway (who was, of course, King George VI's uncle by marriage) as he arrived for a state visit to Britain on June 5, 1951. Queen Elizabeth played an important role during the welcome ceremony, standing in for the King. Bertie was too ill to attend any of the events of the visit, including the grand banquet held that evening at Buckingham Palace. (The Duke of Gloucester also stepped up to fill in for his brother during the visit, as did Princess Elizabeth, who read the speech her father had planned to give at the state dinner.)

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Later in the year, Queen Elizabeth chose the lily brooch for an important Bowes-Lyon family event: the wedding of her niece, Mary Bowes-Lyon, to Lt. Timothy Colman at the Church of St. Bartholomew the Great in London. The nuptials were held on November 10, 1951.

A week later, on November 17, 1951, the Queen wore the lily brooch on the platform at Euston Station in London. There, she and little Prince Charles waited for Princess Elizabeth and the Duke of Edinburgh, who returned that day from their tour of Canada and the United States.

She also managed to make at least one more appearance in the brooch before the year's end. She wore the lily brooch to present diplomas and certificates to students at the Royal School of Needlework on December 19, 1951.

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King George VI died in February 1952, and you might have expected the widowed Queen Elizabeth—now known as the Queen Mother—to have put the large brooch away after his death. Not so. She made at least two appearances in the lily brooch in the autumn of that year. On October 30, 1952, she wore it to attend a performance by Emlyn Williams as Charles Dickens at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane. Two days later, on November 1, 1952, she wore the brooch for a visit to Biggin Hill in Kent, where she was accompanied by Winston Churchill. Subsequent appearances in the brooch, though, must have been sporadic at best.

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In 2002, when the Queen Mother died, the brooch was bequeathed to her daughter, Queen Elizabeth II. She wore the ornament for the first time in public in March 2010, during a state visit from President Zuma of South Africa.

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For the state banquet during the South African visit in 2010, she wore the lily brooch with other dazzling diamonds, including Queen Alexandra's Kokoshnik and, naturally, the South African Diamond Necklace and Bracelet.

Buckingham Palace

In recent years, we've been treated to one more glimpse of the lily brooch. The Queen wore it for an official portrait, which was printed in the official brochure for the unveiling of the Iraq and Afghanistan Memorial on March 9, 2017.