Our Platinum Jubilee countdown of ten of the Queen’s most fantastic platinum jewels continues today with a look at a treasured set of diamonds from South Africa.
In April 1947, back when the Queen was still Princess Elizabeth, she was in the midst of a royal visit to South Africa with her parents, King George VI and Queen Elizabeth, and her sister, Princess Margaret. Princess Elizabeth celebrated her 21st birthday during the tour, making her famous dedication speech from Cape Town on April 21, 1947. After a day filled with celebrations, Elizabeth’s birthday festivities culminated with a gala banquet and ball at Government House.
During the gala, Field Marshal Jan Smuts, then Prime Minister of the Union of South Africa, presented Elizabeth with a magnificent diamond and platinum necklace. The jewel featured 21 graduated brilliant diamonds, with additional round and baguette diamonds between each larger brilliant. The largest of the brilliants weighed in at ten carats. During the presentation, Smuts declared, “This little gift will remind her of this wonderful visit to South Africa and of this milestone in her life. It will be a symbol of the link she has established with our country and its people. It will remind her of the deep and sincere feelings of sympathy and goodwill which this historic visit has stirred in the hearts of all my people.”
In The Queen’s Diamonds, Sir Hugh Roberts notes that the princess let out “unaffected exclamations of delight” when she was presented with the necklace. The present was improved upon even more when a detachable snap closure was added, using a six-carat diamond that had been given to Elizabeth three days before her birthday by Sir Ernest Oppenheimer, the chairman of De Beers.
The necklace quickly became a part of Elizabeth’s gala jewelry rotation. During an official visit to Paris in May 1948, Princess Elizabeth wore the original necklace for a dinner at the Élysée Palace. She paired the necklace with several other jewels, including the Girls of Great Britain and Ireland Tiara, the Diplomatic Corps Floral Earrings, the Edinburgh Wedding Bracelet, and one of the Nizam of Hyderabad Rose Brooches.
In 1952, the year of the Queen’s accession to the throne, the necklace was renovated by Garrard. The piece was shortened significantly, and the sections that were removed—six large brilliants, plus the six-carat detachable snap piece—were used to create a coordinating bracelet. The Queen has almost always worn the jewels together as a set since the changes were made. She has called them “her best diamonds,” and she loaned them in 1959 to a special exhibition, “The Ageless Diamond,” at Christie’s in London.
One of her earliest appearances in the new necklace and bracelet came in 1953. She packed the diamonds in her jewelry case for the big 1953-54 Commonwealth tour. On Christmas Day 1953, she wore the necklace and bracelet at Government House in Auckland as she made her Christmas Day radio broadcast to the Commonwealth. (She’s also wearing Queen Mary’s Diamond Cluster Earrings, which she had inherited earlier that year.)
The Queen has continued to wear the diamonds throughout her reign, especially at gala events in or related to South Africa. Here, she wears the necklace and bracelet (plus the pearl setting of the Vladimir Tiara and her small pear-shaped diamond earrings) for a state banquet in Pretoria in November 1999.
And in March 2010, she wore them for a state banquet at Buckingham Palace during a state visit from President Jacob Zuma of South Africa. On that occasion, she paired the necklace and bracelet with Queen Alexandra’s Kokoshnik, the small pear-shaped diamond earrings, and the Queen Mother’s Cartier Lily Brooch.