Many of the grandest pieces of jewelry made their way into Queen Elizabeth II’s collection thanks to her jewel-mad grandmother, Queen Mary. Today’s earrings, the Gloucester pendants, are no exception, although their history can be traced back generations further than even Mary herself.
The earrings were made at some point during the first half of the nineteenth century. Jewel historians like Sir Hugh Roberts don’t pinpoint a particular maker, although it’s generally agreed that they were made by an English jeweler.
The earrings originally belonged to Princess Mary, Duchess of Gloucester and Edinburgh. She was one of the daughters of King George III, and also his last surviving child. She did not have any children herself, so when she died in 1857, she bequeathed the earrings to her niece, Princess Mary Adelaide of Cambridge.
The earrings that Princess Mary Adelaide received were larger than the ones that the Queen wears today. Along with the pearls pendants surrounded by the elaborate diamond frame, the earrings also featured a detachable stud with a central pearl surrounded by a cluster of diamonds. The earrings also had another setting: the diamond frame could be removed, leaving just the pearl drops suspended from the studs. Mary Adelaide wears them in that setting in the portrait photograph above, taken by Alice Hughes around 1890. (She’s also wearing the Teck Hoop Necklace.)
Princess Mary Adelaide later became the Duchess of Teck, and the mother of Queen Mary. Mary’s the one who inherited the earrings from her mother in 1897, several years before she became Queen. She also apparently preferred to wear just the stud portion of the earrings, which we call the Gloucester Diamond and Pearl Earrings. In 1947, as her granddaughter, Princess Elizabeth, was leaving for a tour of South Africa, Mary gave her the pearl clusters. Elizabeth wore them later that year on her wedding day and on her honeymoon (pictured above, wearing the earrings with pearls and the Sapphire Chrysanthemum Brooch).
When Queen Mary died in 1953, the pendant portion of the earrings were also left to Elizabeth, who was now Queen Elizabeth II. By that point, a separate diamond stud had been attached to the pendants, so the two sections are now two completely different pairs of earrings, both in the Queen’s collection. Above, she wears the pendant earrings with Queen Alexandra’s Kokoshnik and Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee Necklace in Paris in April 1957.
The Queen has made them an important part of her jewel rotation, often wearing the pendants with two other diamond and pearl pieces: the Vladimir Tiara and Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee Necklace. She has also occasionally swapped in other jewels with the earrings, including Queen Alexandra’s Kokoshnik. Above, for a banquet in May 1967 during a state visit from King Faisal of Saudi Arabia, the Queen wore the earrings with the Vladimir Tiara and the new diamond necklace given to her by Faisal during the visit. She’s also wearing, I believe, a bracelet setting of Queen Mary’s Diamond and Pearl Lattice Choker Necklace (scroll down on this post to see pictures of Princess Anne wearing it as a necklace).
For a state banquet at the Grand Trianon during the May 1972 state visit to France, the Queen wore the earrings with the Vladimir Tiara, the Golden Jubilee Necklace, and Queen Alexandra’s Wedding Brooch.
Here, she wears her married parure of pearl and diamond jewels—the earrings, the Vladimir Tiara, and the Golden Jubilee Necklace—for a state banquet at Windsor Castle in honor of President Reagan in June 1982.
In May 1998, the Queen wore the same trio of jewels—the earrings, the Vladimir Tiara, and the Golden Jubilee Necklace—with the Kensington Bow Brooch for a dinner at the Victoria & Albert Museum in London during a state visit from Emperor Akihito of Japan.
The earrings have often been worn for the State Opening of Parliament ceremonies. Here, the Queen wears them with the Diamond Diadem and the Golden Jubilee Necklace at the Palace of Westminster for the event in June 2001.
The Queen wore the earrings steadily for gala events through the early 2000s, though she has reached for other pairs in recent years. One of her most recent state banquet appearances in the earrings came during the November 2005 state visit from the Norwegian royal family. For the Buckingham Palace banquet during that visit, she wore the earrings with their trusty companion jewels, the Vladimir Tiara and the Golden Jubilee Necklace, plus the Dorset Bow Brooch.
One of her most exciting appearances in the earrings at the dawn of the millennium came in November 2003, when she wore the diamond frames without the pearl pendants for the Royal Variety Performance in Edinburgh. She paired them with a diamond necklace—Queen Alexandra’s Diamond Collet Necklace, if I’m correct.
(And yes, the Queen did have a skin lesion on her eyebrow in the autumn of 2003. It was removed the following month.)
The pendant earrings are made of typical nineteenth century materials: gold and silver along with the diamonds and pearls. Because of this, I’d expect them to be significantly heavier than some of the Queen’s newer pendant earrings, many of which are set in platinum. I’m guessing that may be one of the reasons that HM tends to select other earrings for white-tie occasions these days, leaving the Gloucester Pendants in the back of the jewelry box. If my calculations are correct, one of the last appearances of the earrings came in December 2008, when she wore them for the State Opening of Parliament. Since then, she’s mainly reached for Queen Victoria’s Pearl Drop Earrings instead.