Our recent series on the Greville Bequest took an unexpected—but certainly understandable—hiatus earlier this month, but I wanted to wrap things up with a promised final article, on a possible second emerald necklace from the glittering royal inheritance.
If you need a quick refresher on Mrs. Greville, her jewels, and her decision to leave them to Queen Elizabeth (the Queen Mother), I’d suggest that you head over to the first article in our series, which covers all three of those topics. All of the pieces we’ve discussed so far in the series have confirmed Greville provenance—established by the palace, the Royal Collection, or other reputable jewelry historians. Today, we’re delving back into the world of Mrs. Greville’s astonishing emeralds, which included several remarkable pieces. She was famed for these emerald jewels, wearing them for important gala events throughout her time as one of Britain’s most celebrated social hostesses.
We know for certain that Maggie Greville bequeathed several specific emerald and diamond jewels to the Queen Mother in 1942. Confirmed Greville emerald pieces now in royal hands include a classic diamond and emerald necklace, as well as a pair of modern emerald drop earrings. Both are worn by the Queen Mother in the photograph above, taken in 1990. And there’s also the glittering Greville Emerald Kokoshnik Tiara, famously worn by Princess Eugenie for her royal wedding in October 2018.
We know for certain that Mrs. Greville’s collection included other emerald pieces, including at least one other emerald necklace. We don’t have a single, clear description of that necklace, so we have to imagine its composition based on several sources. In his book on Boucheron’s archives, jewelry historian Vincent Meylan notes that Maggie, at one point, took two separate emerald necklaces (“one small” and “one large”) to the firm and had them combined into a single grand necklace. In her biography of Mrs. Greville, Pam Burbidge discusses this transaction as well. But neither of those sources offers us any description of the original two necklaces or the single larger one that resulted from their combination.
Shortly after Mrs. Greville’s death in 1942, an item ran in the “Londoner’s Diary” column, then edited by Lord Randolph Churchill, in the Evening Standard, describing the jewels from Maggie’s collection rumored to have been inherited by Queen Elizabeth. Among them were “two fine emerald and diamond necklaces—one of square emeralds, the other with cabochon emerald drops.” Most believe that the first emerald necklace referenced is the one that the Queen Mother wore often in public. The second necklace is the one that may or may not now be in royal hands as well. Our only big hint, then, is the description of the necklace having “cabochon emerald drops.”
The mystery may have been solved in December 2019. For the Diplomatic Reception that year—which would ultimately be the late Queen Elizabeth II’s final appearance in gala jewelry—the monarch appeared wearing diamonds and emeralds, including a necklace that had not been seen before in public.
The other emerald and diamond jewels that she wore were familiar: the Vladimir Tiara in its Cambridge Emerald setting, the Greville Emerald Earrings, and two of the Queen Mother’s Cartier Art Deco Bracelets.
The necklace, though, had never been worn by the Queen in public before. The palace offered no comment on the piece, leaving royal jewelry historians and enthusiasts to work to suss out its provenance based on its appearance alone. The jewel appears to be, at least partially, a nineteenth-century piece. The square emerald and diamond clusters especially recall other similar necklaces from that era, including one now worn by Princess Astrid of Belgium.
But it’s the cabochon drops that sound the alarm regarding a possible Greville provenance for the piece. It certainly fits the description of the second emerald necklace (“the other with cabochon emerald drops”) presented in that December 1942 newspaper column. And I believe I could also be convinced that it might be the necklace that resulted when Mrs. Greville asked Boucheron to combine two existing jewels. There’s something about the cohesion of the necklace (or lack thereof) that makes me believe it could indeed have originally been two separate jewels.
Vincent Meylan hasn’t published any further work on the Greville archives specifically, but he has an Instagram account where he offered a comment on the necklace when it debuted back in December 2019. “Not very often that I find myself with an unanswered question about Queen Elizabeth jewels. But I have to admit my absolute ignorance concerning the origin of that stunning emerald necklace the queen was wearing yesterday evening at the diner of the diplomatic [corps] at Buckingham palace,” he wrote. “If I was a betting man, and I am, I would hazard that this could be the famous ‘second’ Greville emerald necklace.”
The timing of the necklace debut makes me wonder, too. The Queen also wore the Greville Emerald Earrings for the first and only time in public on that evening, which took place just about a year after Princess Eugenie wore the Greville Emerald Kokoshnik Tiara for her wedding. Could the Queen and Angela Kelly have also “rediscovered” the emerald earrings and necklace while sifting through the vaults at the same time that Eugenie’s tiara was brought out and spiffed up ahead of her wedding day?
I’m always loath to make final pronouncements about any piece of jewelry’s provenance without more solid evidence. But I’m with Meylan—if I had to bet, I’d say that this necklace, with its cabochon emerald drops, was indeed packed away in Maggie Greville’s famous tin trunk when it was delivered to Buckingham Palace in 1943.
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