This classic 1930s clip brooch, with distinctive Art Deco flair, has been worn by two women married to British kings. Today, we’ve got a closer look at the autumnal jewel.
The brooch features diamonds and two shades of golden brown gemstones—either citrines or topazes—set in an Art Deco design typical of the mid-1930s. The top of the piece features a curving diamond-set clip fastener, another feature popular in that period.
The brooch originally belonged to Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother, the wife of King George VI and the mother of Queen Elizabeth II. The piece likely entered her collection in the 1930s, shortly after it was made.
In March 1938, Queen Elizabeth wore the brooch as she and King George VI made a visit to the Battersea and Wandsworth districts of London. They toured several housing estates, even visiting with some residents inside their flats.
Queen Elizabeth paired the brooch with pearls for the March 1938 visit. Some photographs make it look as if she attached the brooch to a pearl necklace as a pendant, but it’s not exactly clear whether the two pieces were actually connected. I have a feeling that the pearls are simply resting against the top of the brooch.
Here’s another image, which I think does show that the pearls are sitting atop the brooch rather than connected to it.
To the best of my knowledge, no official information has ever been shared about the brooch’s provenance. But if I had to bet my lunch money, I’d say that it’s from Cartier, made in London between 1935 and 1937.
That’s because Cartier’s London workshop produced other jewels with similar designs and stones during that particular period of time, and one of Cartier’s most reliable customers was none other than King George VI. This tiara, for example, was made by the English Art Works for the firm in London in 1937, the year of King George and Queen Elizabeth’s coronation. The centerpiece of the tiara can be removed and worn separately as a clip brooch. The geometric positioning of the stones and the design similarities make me believe that they may have been designed and produced by the same workshop around the same time.
It’s worth noting that there’s some debate about whether the stones used in this tiara are citrines or topazes. In Tiaras: A History of Splendour, Vincent Meylan describes the piece as “a bandeau of citrines and diamonds.” In Cartier 1900-1939, however, Judy Rudoe describes the golden stones used as topazes.
There’s also another documented Cartier jewel from the period that shares even more design similarities with the Queen Mother’s clip brooch. This bracelet, which was sold at Christie’s in November 2014, was described by the auction house as “an Art Deco citrine and diamond bracelet, by Cartier.” The lot notes further described the piece as having a “geometric design, composed of baguette and circular-cut brandy coloured citrine panels, joined by old-cut diamond and square-cut golden citrine cruciform highlights.”
The color combination and placement of stones in the bracelet strongly echoes the design of the Queen Mother’s brooch. Like the tiara, the bracelet was made in England and signed by Cartier London, and it dates to 1935. The literature cited in the Christie’s notes references Nadine Coleno’s Amazing Cartier: Jewellery Design Since 1937, stating that the book features additional Cartier citrine and diamond bracelets of the same style made around 1939.
The brooch never became one of the Queen Mother’s most-worn jewels, but it apparently remained in her collection for the rest of her life. The next royal wearer of the piece was Queen Camilla, who began wearing it (and many other pieces of the late Queen Mother’s jewelry) shortly after becoming the Duchess of Cornwall in 2005. Her first documented appearance in the brooch was, I believe, at Trooping the Colour in June 2007.
Camilla wore the brooch with a yellow jacket and pearls for the Trooping festivities in London that spring. The brooch was pinned on a slight angle.
But in general, Camilla has preferred to wear this golden brown jewel in the autumn month of November. She chose the brooch for a service of thanksgiving at Westminster Abbey in November 2007 in honor of the 60th wedding anniversary of Queen Elizabeth II and the Duke of Edinburgh.
This photograph from the service gives you a nice view of the clip brooch’s dimensionality. Camilla wore the piece with a brown coat for the occasion, but the golden hues of the jewel still managed to glow against the darker background.
Camilla paired the brooch with a tweed jacket in November 2008, when she joined in a charity dog walk in London’s Green Park. She used the jewel to secure a paper poppy on that occasion.
She also wore the brooch with poppies in November 2009 during a Navy Centennial Event in Victoria during the royal tour of Canada. The event, which took place more than a decade ago, is the last sighting of Camilla in the brooch in my notes. If there have been more recent ones that I’ve missed, please let me know in the comments below! I’d love to see Queen Camilla wear this one again soon.
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