Among the most dazzling jewelry pieces associated with British royal coronations are the Coronation Necklace and Earrings, which have been worn for four coronation ceremonies. Today, we’ve got a deep-dive into the history of their creation, as well as more than a century of royal wear.
We start in 1837, at the dawn of the reign of Queen Victoria. Her accession to the throne was an interesting moment for the House of Hanover. King George III had had fifteen children, including seven sons that lived to adulthood. In order, they were: King George IV; Prince Frederick, Duke of York; King William IV; Prince Edward, Duke of Kent; Prince Ernest Augustus, Duke of Cumberland; Prince Augustus, Duke of Sussex; and Prince Adolphus, Duke of Cambridge. By June 1837, the first four of these sons were all dead. The eldest three (George, Frederick, and William) had all died without surviving legitimate heirs. Only the fourth (Edward) had a living legitimate child: Victoria. Even though Ernest Augustus, Augustus, and Adolphus were all alive, the throne fell to her, as she outranked them in the line of succession.
At least, she outranked them in the British line of succession. Across the sea in Hanover, the succession was governed by Salic law, which meant that women could not inherit the throne. The Hanoverian crown passed to Victoria’s uncle, the Duke of Cumberland, who became King Ernst August I. Almost immediately, he decided to try to take possession of another part of the House of Hanover’s legacy: the jewelry that belonged to his mother, the late Queen Charlotte.
Battles raged in the courts for nearly two decades over the ownership of Charlotte’s jewels. Ultimately, in December 1857, the courts decided in the Hanoverians’ favor. (By this time, Ernst August was dead, and his son, George V, was King of Hanover.) Following the decision, Victoria was ordered to turn over a number of jewelry pieces that belonged to Queen Charlotte to her cousin. These included two diamond bows, two pairs of diamond earrings, a pair of pearl drop earrings, a diamond necklace with a cross pendant (worn sans pendant in the Winterhalter portrait above), a pearl necklace, a large diamond stomacher, a small diamond crown, and a diamond floral ornament.
Because so many pieces of Charlotte’s jewels had been altered, with the stones being used in other pieces, the process of sorting out which jewels and gemstones had to be sent back was complex. For example, some of the diamonds used in the creation of Victoria’s Indian Circlet had to be taken out of the tiara and replaced with different stones. On the heels of the stinging loss, Victoria ordered several new pieces of jewelry from Garrard to replace some of the items that had been lost. These included a new trio of diamond bow brooches, as well as a new diamond necklace and earrings. According to Sir Hugh Roberts, the diamonds used in the creation of these new pieces were taken from “swords and useless things” in the Royal Collection.
The new diamond necklace made for Victoria, now known as the Coronation Necklace, was completed by Garrard in 1858. Nine of the large collet-set diamonds in the necklace were, according to Roberts, taken from “a Garter badge and a sword hilt.” The diamond pendant, however, came from a very different source. Known as the Lahore Diamond, the gemstone was until 1849 part of the Lahore Treasury in the Punjab region of present-day Pakistan. When the area was taken over by British colonists that year, the diamond was taken out of the treasury and, in the words of the Royal Collection, “presented to Queen Victoria in 1851.” The diamond had been incorporated as part of the Timur Ruby Necklace in 1853, but when the Coronation Necklace was made five years later, the pendant was converted so that it could be used on this necklace as well.
At the same time, Garrard also made a pair of diamond pendant earrings for Victoria, now known as the Coronation Earrings. The earrings are comprised of a pair of cushion-cut diamond collet studs, from which a pair of round brilliants and two large pear-shaped pendants are suspended. (The brilliants and pear-shaped pendants are all detachable, according to Roberts.) The pear-shaped diamonds are sisters, not twins: they are very similar in shape and cut, but they are not identical.
Like the Lahore Diamond, the pear-shaped diamond pendants are also part of the colonial legacy of nineteenth-century Britain. They were originally part of the armlet setting of the Koh-i-Noor Diamond. In 1849, as part of the treaty that ceded Lahore to the British East India Company, the Koh-i-Noor was specifically earmarked for Victoria. (There is continuing debate over the legality of the transfer of the stone, as well as competing claims for its rightful ownership.) The Koh-i-Noor Diamond itself was set in a brooch, while the flanking diamonds from the armlet setting were reused, first as part of the Timur Ruby Necklace in 1853, and then as the Coronation Earrings’ pendants in 1858.
Queen Victoria wore the new earrings and necklace in a majestic Winterhalter portrait painted in 1859, a year after the jewels were made. Note that she wears the necklace without the Lahore Diamond pendant. She’s also wearing other familiar jewels, including King George IV’s Diamond Diadem and her Diamond Fringe Brooch with its original chaine de corsage. The Imperial State Crown, rendered in the painting with a red velvet cap, rests on a cushion beside her.
Victoria continued to favor the necklace and earrings throughout her long reign, wearing them in portraits made to mark her Golden and Diamond Jubilees. Above, in 1887, she wears both the necklace (with the Lahore pendant) and the earrings in a photograph taken by Alexander Bassano, which was released as a picture postcard to mark her Golden Jubilee. She also wears her small diamond crown, plus the Koh-i-Noor in its brooch setting.
The portrait above, published as a postcard to celebrate her Diamond Jubilee in 1897, also features both the necklace and the earrings. She’s really piled on the jewelry in this image, wearing her small diamond sunray tiara (which was later inherited by her youngest daughter, Princess Beatrice), her Diamond Fringe Brooch, and a pearl bracelet with a portrait of Prince Albert, as well as various other brooches and small ornaments (including one of the Wheat-Ear Brooches) scattered across her dress and her veil.
In her will, Victoria designated the necklace and earrings as heirlooms of the crown. In 1902, the necklace was worn (without its pendant) at a coronation for the first time. It’s part of the stack of diamond and pearl necklaces worn by Queen Alexandra, who was absolutely jewel-encrusted for the ceremony. Instead of the Coronation Earrings, Alexandra wore her wedding earrings for the coronation. But I think all of the pendants from the Coronation Necklace and Earrings were worn for the event. I believe that the Lahore Pendant, plus the pendants from the Coronation Earrings, are incorporated here as part of the central diamond pendant on her necklace.
Ultimately, Queen Alexandra is wearing so many jewels in this photograph that it’s difficult to differentiate or catalogue all of them, but I’ll draw your attention to a few other notable pieces: the Dagmar Necklace, worn as a corsage ornament and hidden under a tangle of pearls; a pair of diamond pendants on either side of her necklace’s central element (now worn as earrings by the Queen of Norway); the large Diamond Cockade Brooch at the center of her bodice’s neckline; and the Koh-i-Noor Diamond, set in her crown.
By contrast, Queen Mary’s coronation jewelry was relatively streamlined when she was crowned alongside her husband in 1911. She wore the Coronation Necklace (with the Lahore pendant) as part of a turtleneck-like stack of necklaces. In February 1911, a few months before the coronation, she had instructed Garrard to shorten the necklace; Roberts notes that the two stones that were removed were then used to make a pair of diamond solitaire earrings. I believe those may be the earrings she wore for the coronation (though I believe that her collection did include at least one other pair of diamond solitaire earrings at this point). It should come as no surprise to frequent readers that she chose not to wear the Coronation Earrings (and, to my knowledge, was never photographed in them). Mary didn’t really do drops.
Both the earrings and the necklace were worn for the coronation of Queen Elizabeth (the Queen Mother) in 1937. The necklace, worn without its pendant, is the shortest of the four in this picture. She also wears her own diamond collet necklace, a coronation gift from her husband, and two strands of pearls.
Just as had happened in 1911, ahead of the 1937 coronation more alterations were made to the necklace. This time, the Lahore Diamond was removed from the necklace and recut “marginally,” in the words of Roberts. (The diamond’s size was reduced by just over a tenth of a carat.) For the coronation, the Lahore Diamond was set (temporarily) in the cross at the top of Queen Elizabeth’s crown. Following the ceremony, the diamond was removed and returned to the Coronation Necklace. (A rock crystal copy was made and put in its place on the crown.)
Elizabeth wore the earrings and necklace (with its pendant) for a series of portraits taken in 1939 by Cecil Beaton, including the image above. She also wears her own coronation necklace, as well as Queen Mary’s Fringe Tiara, which would later be worn by three British royal brides.
On her Coronation Day—June 2, 1953—Queen Elizabeth II wore comparatively few jewels, allowing the Coronation Necklace and Earrings to take center stage. In this picture, taken on the balcony of Buckingham Palace after the ceremony, she’s also wearing her coronation armills, as well as the Sovereign’s Ring and the Imperial State Crown.
The necklace and earrings have remained firm favorites of the Queen, who has worn them for formal occasions throughout her reign. Though she often wears them as a matched set, she has also mixed them with other jewels on occasion. One such outing came at the opening of parliament in Ottawa in October 1957, when she wore the necklace with Queen Victoria’s Pearl Drop Earrings, as well as Queen Alexandra’s Kokoshnik and the Edinburgh Wedding Bracelet. (She’s also wearing her Coronation Dress, made by Sir Norman Hartnell.)
In this portrait, a detail from the image released to celebrate her Silver Wedding Anniversary in 1972, the Queen wears the Coronation Necklace and Earrings with King George IV’s Diamond Diadem.
The set has also made frequent appearances at state dinners and banquets. Here, the Queen wears the necklace and earrings with Queen Alexandra’s Kokoshnik and the Dorset Bow Brooch during a reception at Buckingham Palace in October 1984 to mark the 80th anniversary of the Franco-British entente cordiale.
The Coronation Necklace and Earrings also frequently accompany the Queen to the State Opening of Parliament in London. Here, she wears them with King George IV’s Diamond Diadem as she leaves the Palace of Westminster after the State Opening in May 2015.