Every Friday for the next several weeks, I’m featuring articles written by friends who have expertise in fascinating corners of the royal jewelry world. First up: a discussion of Canadian royal brooches from the fantastic Patricia Treble, a veteran Canadian royal journalist and royal brooch enthusiast who also publishes the Write Royalty website. Enjoy!
Ask any royal jewellery fan to name a Canadian royal brooch and the first answer is likely the diamond maple leaf, worn by four generations of royal women. But after that, it’s a struggle to name the rest. There are at least five and that “at least” caveat is because one of Canada’s offerings appears to have laid in a jewellery vault for more than a century before being pulled out again.
The Diamond Maple Leaf Brooch
In 1939, King George VI asked Asprey & Co. to make a brooch for his wife ahead of the first visit by a reigning monarch to Canada. The result is a diamond version of the leaf of a Canadian sugar maple, the country’s national tree. Queen Elizabeth (later the Queen Mother) wore the brooch often during their month-long tour of Canada.
After that, the iconic brooch was frequently worn by Windsor women at Canada-related events, in particular the first visits to Canada by Elizabeth II (1951), Camilla (2009) and Kate (2011). One of its last appearances was in October 2021 when the late Queen pinned it to her wool sweater as she met members of the Royal Regiment of Canadian Artillery performing guard duty at Windsor Castle.
The Enamel Maple Leaf Spray Brooch
In 1901, the Duke and Duchess of Cornwall and York (later King George V and Queen Mary) were on an exhaustive trip across Canada when the city of Montreal gifted the duchess with a maple leaf brooch. As a front-page story in The Quebec Chronicle described: “The gifts comprise a beautiful corsage ornament for Her Royal Highness. The jewel consists of a spray of maple leaves with six leaves. The leaves are enamel and set with diamonds, over 300 of which have been used, and at the base of the spray is a large pearl.”
After that gifting, the brooch vanished, only to reappear on the Queen’s last trip to Canada in 2010, when she wore the ornate brooch in Halifax and then again in Ontario. After that, it hasn’t been seen since.
The Saskatchewan Tourmaline Brooch
In 2013, Saskatchewan’s then-Lieutenant-Governor Vaughn Solomon Schofield brought the gift of a brooch to her visit with the Queen at Buckingham Palace. It was created by a local designer, Rachel Mielke of Hillberg & Berk, which supports female-centred charities around the world.
Knowing the late Queen liked wearing bright clothes, Mielke designed an equally vibrant brooch: “a contemporary flower design featuring five irregular petals of tourmaline in shades of pink, set into 18-karat white gold. Each petal is surrounded by diamonds—300 in total, with a white freshwater cultured pearl at the centre of the flower,” is how I described it at the time. A few months later, the Queen wore the brooch to church.
Read more at Maclean’s: A Royal Brooch’s Journey from Saskatchewan to Norfolk
Read more at The Court Jeweller: The Saskatchewan Tourmaline Brooch
Canada’s Sapphire Snowflake Brooch
In 2017, Canada gave the Queen a brooch in the shape of another iconic image of her northern realm: a snowflake. While she was visiting Canada House in London, the then-Governor General David Johnston presented her with the brooch for her Sapphire Jubilee (65 years on the throne) and Canada’s 150th anniversary of Confederation.
Again, Rachel Mielke of Hillberg & Berk designed the brooch, after winning an open government competition. For it, she used 48 Canadian sapphires, discovered by brothers Seemeega and Nowdluk Aqpik in 2002 on Baffin Island. As well, the diamonds are from Canada. Her design is inspired by the landscape of the Canadian Arctic, with the brooch’s centre elevated to represent the rocky geography where the sapphires were discovered. The late Queen wore the brooch several times, including for one of her last Canadian events, a video call in 2021 with the Canadian Armed Forces Legal Branch for its 100th anniversary.
The Williamson Pink Diamond Brooch
The centre of this diamond version of a jonquil flower is a 23.6-carat pink diamond, considered the finest pink diamond ever discovered. The uncut version of the diamond was a wedding present for the late Queen from a Canadian geologist, John Williamson, who co-owned a diamond mine in Tanzania. Later, he added more than 200 equally flawless diamonds used to form the rest of the flower brooch. The Queen wore it often, including at some of the most important events of her reign including her Silver Jubilee and the wedding of Charles and Diana in 1981.
Only in the 1990s, did the centre stone’s origins become known. As I wrote in 2012: “In 1996, Jimmy Sudra, a son of a mine worker, recounted how he was playing with his chums on the grounds of Mwadui when one of them noticed a ‘piece of glass’ in the dirt under a baobab tree. It was the pink diamond. ‘God must have placed it there, or why would it be found? So it was fit for only a monarch to wear,’ he recalled. Williamson had his most trusted workers and their children hold and bless the rock before shipping it to London, Sudra told the Daily Mail. Years later, when Sudra was to receive an honour from Buckingham Palace for charity work, he wrote to the Queen’s private secretary asking if she would wear the brooch to the investiture. She did. After giving Sudra his medal, she leaned forward, put her hand on that glittering rose-coloured diamond and asked, ‘Is this the diamond you handled?'”
Read more at Maclean’s: One of the Queen’s Favourite Brooches Has Canadian Roots
Read more at The Court Jeweller: The Williamson Pink Diamond Brooch
Huge thanks again to Patricia Treble for sharing her expertise on Canadian royal brooches with us! Be sure to visit Write Royalty to read more of her excellent work.