08 March 2021

Diplomatic Gifts: Saudi Arabian Jewels in the British Royal Vaults

The Duchess of Sussex wears diamond earrings, a wedding gift from the Saudi royal family, for a state dinner in Fiji, October 2018 (Ian Vogler - Pool/Getty Images)

Last week, it was revealed that a pair of earrings worn by the Duchess of Sussex in 2018 had been a wedding gift from the Saudi royal family. Meghan is far from the first member of the family to receive lavish jewelry from the Saudi royals. Today, I've got a rundown of some of the other pieces of jewelry gifted by the Saudis to the Windsors.

The Queen wears the King Faisal Necklace, presented to her earlier the same week, for a dinner at the Dorchester Hotel during the Saudi king's eight-day state visit to Britain, May 1967; she also wears the Vladimir Tiara and the Gloucester Pendant Earrings (PA Images/Alamy)

In May 1967, King Faisal of Saudi Arabia traveled to the United Kingdom for a state visit. He brought with him a rather glittering gift for Queen Elizabeth II: a diamond necklace, made in the 1950s by Harry Winston. Faisal had purchased the necklace from the jeweler in March. The piece is set with more than 300 diamonds, including baguettes, brilliants, and eleven pear-shaped diamonds set as pendant stones. The stones are set in platinum, and the necklace features a combined weight of more than 80 carats of diamonds.

The Queen wears the King Faisal Necklace (with the Girls of Great Britain and Ireland Tiara and the Antique Girandole Earrings) for a dinner at the British Embassy during her state visit to France, June 1992 (JOEL ROBINE/AFP via Getty Images)

The King Faisal Necklace became a part of Elizabeth's rotation of jewels for events like state banquets. She has paired the necklace with more than one tiara—often either the Vladimir Tiara or the Girls of Great Britain and Ireland Tiara.

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She has also loaned the King Faisal Necklace to her daughters-in-law. In 1983, Diana, Princess of Wales wore the necklace in Sydney during the royal tour of Australia.

The Countess of Wessex wears the King Faisal Necklace (with the Aquamarine Ribbon Tiara) for a gala dinner in Luxembourg, October 2012 (Grand-Ducal Court of Luxembourg via Getty Images)

In October 2012, the Countess of Wessex wore the necklace for the pre-wedding gala in honor of Hereditary Grand Duke Guillaume and Hereditary Grand Duchess Stephanie of Luxembourg.

The Queen wears the King Khalid Necklace (with the Girls of Great Britain and Ireland Tiara and the Antique Girandole Earrings) for a return banquet at Claridge's Hotel during the Saudi state visit, June 1981 (PA Images/Alamy)

The Queen's collection also includes a second confirmed Saudi diamond necklace. King Khalid gave a diamond necklace to the Queen in 1979, when she visited Saudi Arabia during an extensive tour of several Middle Eastern nations. When King Khalid made a state visit to the United Kingdom a few years later, in June 1981, the Queen wore the necklace for a banquet held at Claridge's in London.

The Queen wears the King Khalid Necklace for a reception at Windsor Castle in honor of the Diamond Jubilee of the Aga Khan, March 2018 (DOMINIC LIPINSKI/AFP via Getty Images)

As is often the case with Saudi jewels of this era, the necklace was designed by Harry Winston. (The Saudi kings became important Winston clients starting in the 1960s.) In The Queen's Diamonds, Hugh Roberts dates the piece's creation to around 1977-78. Made of diamonds set in platinum, the fringe necklace features 20 pear-shaped diamond pendants radiating out from the central band of diamonds.

Diana, Princess of Wales wears the King Khalid Necklace (and the Qatari Pearl Drop Earrings) at the Barbican Arts Centre in London, March 1982 (Trinity Mirror/Mirrorpix/Alamy)

Many of you will recognize the Khalid necklace because it was worn several times in the early 1980s by Diana, Princess of Wales. In March 1982, Diana borrowed the necklace for an engagement at the Barbican, pairing it with a red maternity gown, as she was pregnant with Prince William.

The Queen wears the King Khalid Necklace (with the Girls of Great Britain and Ireland Tiara and Queen Mary's Floret Earrings) for the Diplomatic Reception at Buckingham Palace, December 2018 (Victoria Jones - WPA Pool/Getty Images)

The Queen still wears the King Khalid Necklace on occasion. In December 2018, she wore it for the annual diplomatic reception at Buckingham Palace.

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A third diamond necklace from the Queen's collection may also have a Saudi provenance, but this is unconfirmed. In March 1987, King Fahd of Saudi Arabia made a four-day state visit to the United Kingdom. On the third day of the visit, King Fahd gave a dinner for the British royals at Claridge's in London. At that dinner, the Queen wore Queen Alexandra's Kokoshnik with a new set of jewelry: a necklace and earrings set with pear-shaped diamonds. The combination of the event and the new jewelry have understandably led some to speculate that the diamonds may have been a gift from King Fahd. (However, while the King Faisal and King Khalid Necklaces were both featured in The Queen's Diamonds, this set was not.)

The Queen wears the pear-shaped diamond demi-parure for the Royal Variety Performance in Cardiff, November 2005 (Daily Mirror-Pool/Anwar Hussein Collection/Getty Images)

The Queen has worn this demi-parure of diamonds on multiple occasions since the late 1980s. In November 2005, she wore the necklace and earrings for the Royal Variety Performance, which was held that year in Cardiff.

The Countess of Wessex wears the pear-shaped diamond demi-parure (with her redesigned wedding tiara) for the American state banquet at Buckingham Palace, June 2019 (VICTORIA JONES/AFP via Getty Images)

The necklace and earrings have also been loaned to the Countess of Wessex, who wore them for the American state banquet at Buckingham Palace in the summer of 2019.

The Duchess of Cambridge wears the pear-shaped diamond earrings (with Queen Mary's Lover's Knot Tiara and the Nizam of Hyderabad Necklace) for the annual diplomatic reception at Buckingham Palace, December 2019 (Victoria Jones - WPA Pool/Getty Images)

The earrings have been loaned to the Duchess of Cambridge as well. She wore them in December 2019 for the annual diplomatic reception at Buckingham Palace.

Diana's Saudi Sapphire Suite on display at St. James's Palace, 1981 (PA Images/Alamy)

King Fahd gave another well-documented jewelry gift to the British royals in 1981. The then-crown prince offered a suite of diamond and sapphire jewels, made by Asprey, as a wedding present to Diana, Princess of Wales. The suite includes a necklace (described by Leslie Field in The Queen's Jewels as "an enormous Burmese sapphire pendant set in a jagged sunray fringe of baguette diamonds and hung on a thin diamond necklace"), as well as matching earrings, a matching ring, a bracelet made of two rows of diamonds with a sapphire cluster centerpiece, and a watch with a seven sapphire clusters making up its band.

The jewels went on display to the public at St. James's Palace in August 1981, shortly after the wedding. The Saudi sapphire suite was displayed alongside an elaborate malachite and gold box, which was Crown Prince Fahd's gift to the Prince of Wales. Leslie Field records Diana's reaction when she saw the sapphires for the first time: "Gosh, and I don't even know this man!"

Diana wears the necklace, earrings, and bracelet from the sapphire suite (with the Spencer Tiara and her engagement ring) for a state reception in Brisbane, April 1983 (Trinity Mirror/Mirrorpix/Alamy)

Diana wore the sapphires often, especially the earrings and the necklace. She also used the thin diamond necklace without its pendant, wearing it with other enhancers, like Queen Alexandra's Prince of Wales Feather Brooch/Pendant. She brought the set with her on her tour of Australia in 1983, wearing the earrings, necklace, and bracelet for a state reception in Brisbane that April.

Diana wears the earrings and bracelet (and possibly a reconfigured version of the watch) for a fundraising event for the Nina Hyde Center for Breast Cancer Research in Washington, D.C., September 1996 (AFP via Getty Images)

In The Queen's Jewels, Leslie Field wrote that Diana made major changes to the suite, using the clusters from the watch band to make a pair of earrings, and combining the watch face's cluster with the sapphire from the ring for use in her diamond and sapphire choker. These claims about the changes have been questioned in more recent discussions of the jewels. In recent years, there has also been lots of speculation about whether the Duchess of Cambridge has repurposed some of the sapphire clusters from this suite. I haven't seen any evidence convincing enough to decide firmly one way or another.

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In February 2007, Clarence House released a list of the gifts that had been received by the Prince of Wales, the Duchess of Cornwall, Prince William, and Prince Harry during official overseas tours from 2003 to 2006. Among these was a lengthy tour undertaken by Charles and Camilla in March 2006, with stops in Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and India. 

The list included a gift from the "Royal Family of Saudi Arabia" to Camilla: "three necklaces (parures) emerald, ruby, and sapphire." Camilla wore a diamond and sapphire necklace, believed to be the third one listed, for a Prince's Trust gala in London in November 2006.

Camilla wears a diamond and ruby necklace, believed to be a Saudi royal gift, at the Philadelphia Academy of Music in 2007 (Steven M. Falk/AFP/Getty Images)

The ruby and diamond necklace gifted during the trip is believed to be the one pictured above. Camilla wore it for the first (and so far only) time in Philadelphia, during the couple's visit to the United States in January 2007.

Camilla wears a diamond and emerald necklace, believed to be a Saudi royal gift, for the Royal Variety Performance in 2010 (Ian Gavan/Getty Images)

The third jewel from the list, the diamond and emerald necklace, wasn't seen in public for a few more years. Camilla wore it with its matching earrings and bracelet for the first time in June 2009, for a gala performance of Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens. She wore the necklace again for the Royal Variety Performance in 2010.

Camilla wears a ruby and diamond necklace with matching earrings, believed to be a gift from King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, for the Royal Film Performance in 2015 (Chris Jackson - WPA Pool/Getty Images)

In March 2013, Charles and Camilla made another visit to Saudi Arabia during a Middle Eastern tour. This time, the report of the gifts received included a "parure" from King Abdullah. No additional description of the set was provided, but many believe that it is this suite of ruby and diamond jewels. Camilla wore the necklace and matching earrings for the Royal Film Performance of The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel in 2015.

The Duchess of Sussex wears the diamond earrings for a state dinner in Fiji, October 2018 (Ian Vogler - Pool/Getty Images)

Other sets of jewels, including the rubies and emeralds worn by the Duchess of Cambridge, have been speculated to be possible Saudi royal gifts, based on scale and design alone. This week, we learned that a pair of earrings worn by the Duchess of Sussex also has a Saudi royal provenance. Palace sources told the Times that the earrings were a wedding gift from the Saudi royals. They were reportedly brought to Buckingham Palace by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who came to London for a diplomatic luncheon with the Queen in March 2018. Meghan wore the diamond earrings, which may have been made by Chopard, for the state dinner during the Sussex visit to Fiji in October 2018, and again a few weeks later for Prince Charles's 70th birthday party.

As always, I want to impress on all of you the need to remain both civil and focused on jewelry in the comments section of this post. Emotions are running high right now among many royal watchers following the television interview given by the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, and I want the comment section here to remain calm, collected, and free of conflict. Thanks.