Our journey through the glittering world of the Greville Bequest continues with a pair of jewels handed over early on to the future Queen Elizabeth II: the Diamond Chandelier Earrings.
The remarkable earrings are a showcase of the different diamond cuts offered by skilled artisans in the first half of the 20th century, and they evolved over a period of several years before reaching their current and final form. Mrs. Greville ordered the first iteration of the earrings from Cartier in December 1918, just after the end of World War I. In The Queen’s Diamonds, Sir Hugh Roberts describes the original pair as “fancy-cut brilliant drop earrings.”
Almost four years later, in September 1922, Maggie returned to Cartier to have the earrings revised. Twelve more diamonds—six marquise-cut stones and six “baton brilliants,” according to Roberts—were used to lengthen the earrings. But that wasn’t the final stop for these earrings. Greville again took them back to Cartier in February 1929, and ten more diamonds were added, producing the chandelier-style earrings that you see pictured above. The ultimate effect, to quote the Royal Collection Trust, is “a lexicon of modern diamond cuts.” These include a trio of pair-shaped diamond pendants, plus diamonds in baguette, baton, emerald, half-moon, trapeze, and square cuts.
Mrs. Greville famously bequeathed her jewelry to Queen Elizabeth (the Queen Mother) on her death in September 1942, and when the tin trunk containing the jewels arrived at Buckingham Palace the following year, the chandelier earrings were included in the glittering haul. We’ve previously discussed Elizabeth’s sensitivity regarding the unexpected jewelry windfall—mindful of public opinion, especially in a time of war, she endeavored to keep the details of the immense bequest as quiet as she possibly could.
Eventually, after the war’s end, Elizabeth began wearing some of the pieces from the bequest in public. But, as you might expect, it seems that some of the pieces left by Mrs. Greville weren’t to Elizabeth’s taste, or didn’t really suit her. With her husband, King George VI, she decided to pass some of the pieces along to their daughters to mark major celebrations and occasions. Procuring new jewelry pieces during that era of war and austerity was a challenge anyway. When Bertie was looking for a bejeweled birthday present for Princess Elizabeth in 1944, Queen Elizabeth wrote to Queen Mary about the difficulty of finding something suitable: “It is almost impossible to buy anything good, but he may find something secondhand.” (He did: the Aquamarine Clips, which had originally been purchased by his brother, the late Duke of Kent.)
The best and most fiscally-sound secondhand solution was to search within existing royal collections to find jewelry gifts. Queen Elizabeth often liked to pass along jewels that she’d worn in her younger years that no longer suited her. But when Princess Elizabeth married Prince Philip of Greece and Denmark in November 1947, something grander was called for. The Greville Bequest answered that call. The grand, impressive diamond chandelier earrings were among the jewels offered by the King and Queen to their daughter to celebrate her wedding. The earrings weren’t a style favored by the elder Elizabeth, but they would certainly look beautiful on a young, modern princess.
There was one problem: the chandelier earrings were made to be worn by a woman with pierced ears, and Princess Elizabeth’s ears were not pierced. For the first few years after the royal wedding, the earrings were relegated to a place in Princess Elizabeth’s jewelry box. But shortly before her accession, in the summer of 1951, she made the decision to pierce her ears after all. In her early book on the Queen’s jewelry, Sheila Young noted, “Just before she visited Canada in 1951 Princess Elizabeth had her ears pierced.”
Once Elizabeth’s ears were pierced, the diamond chandelier earrings were quickly incorporated into her regular gala jewelry rotation. The opportunities to wear grand jewels increased exponentially a few months later, when she became Queen Elizabeth II. Here, she wears them with the Nizam of Hyderabad Suite for the first Royal Variety Performance of her reign in the autumn of 1952. The press took notice of the jewels, too. Early articles on her jewelry from the 1950s note that the Queen “frequently wears diamond chandelier earrings given to her by her parents.”
In her younger years, the earrings were staples of her collection. She liked to pair them with other sleek, modern jewels, including Queen Alexandra’s Kokoshnik and the Diamond Festoon Necklace (worn her during a dinner at the White House in July 1976). As time went on, though, the Queen moved on to different (often shorter) earring styles.
Though HM wore the earrings less frequently, royal jewel historians remained interested in the unusual and striking chandelier earrings. Writers producing work in the 1980s and 1990s, however, didn’t have access to the full story behind their provenance. The Queen Mother and the Queen both kept the origins of the earrings quiet, and writers like Suzy Menkes and Leslie Field identified them simply as a wedding gift from King George VI and Queen Elizabeth. Field dubbed the jewels “the King George VI Chandelier Earrings.”
At the dawn of the 21st century, the royals became more relaxed about discussing the Greville provenance of numerous royal jewels. Though they still have not made public a complete inventory of the bequest, numerous exhibitions and publications by the Royal Collection Trust have revealed the Greville origins of jewels like the chandelier earrings.
Around the time that they were being exhibited to celebrate the Queen’s Diamond Wedding Anniversary (in 2007) and Diamond Jubilee (in 2012), the Queen unexpectedly wore the chandelier earrings in public once more. She paired them with the Girls of Great Britain and Ireland Tiara, Queen Alexandra’s Diamond Collet Necklace, and Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee Brooch during a royal tour of Canada in the summer of 2010. I’d love to see these earrings come out of the vaults again soon—wouldn’t they look fabulous on the Duchess of Cambridge?