Today, the royal family celebrates the late Queen Elizabeth II’s birthday for the first time without her. Since her death last September, countless tributes to the late monarch have been shared. I’m joining in the chorus once again today with a birthday celebration of one of her signature jewelry pieces: the three-stranded pearl necklace, worn for nearly all of her daytime engagements during her 70-year reign.
From the time of her accession in 1952 until her death more than 70 years later, Queen Elizabeth II was rarely seen in public during the day without one of her multi-stranded pearl necklaces. We don’t know precisely how many she had in her collection, and we don’t know the provenance of most of them. It can be very difficult to tell the individual necklaces apart with any degree of confidence. Pearl necklaces must be restrung on occasion to keep them in good shape, and that process can slightly change the length and spacing of the pearls, which makes visual identification particularly difficult. Seeing the clasp of the necklaces can help a bit with that, but it can be difficult to access clear photographs of each clasp. Such a conundrum!
So, for today’s post, I’m focusing solely on a trio of three-stranded necklaces identified by Leslie Field in her important 1980s book, The Queen’s Jewels. (We’ll talk about some of the other necklaces, including that one now worn by the Princess of Wales, in other upcoming articles.) Field writes, “The Queen, like her mother, always wears pearls during the day, usually a three-row necklace, of which she has three. One is of graduated pearls from the family collection, which the Queen had made up with a diamond clasp soon after her accession. The second triple-row necklace was a Coronation present to the Queen in 1953 from the Amir of Qatar. It too has a clasp of brilliant-cut diamonds. The third was a gift from King George to celebrate his Silver Jubilee.”
For ease of discussion, we’ll call the necklaces the 1935 Pearls (the Silver Jubilee gift), the 1952 Pearls (the graduated pearls commissioned by the Queen herself), and the 1953 Pearls (the coronation gift from Qatar).
Let’s start with the 1935 Pearls, shall we? Field elaborates a bit in her book on this necklace: “When King George V celebrated his Silver Jubilee, on 6 May 1935, he gave his two granddaughters their first serious jewellery: pearl necklaces. Princess Elizabeth was given three perfectly matched rows, and Princess Margaret, being four years younger, two rows. The Princesses […] wore their pearls for their parents’ Coronation two years later.” In the picture above, taken on the balcony of Buckingham Palace after the coronation of King George VI and Queen Elizabeth on May 12, 1937, 11-year-old Princess Elizabeth wears the 1935 Pearls with her golden coronet.
If you see a photograph of Elizabeth wearing a three-stranded pearl necklace before her accession (like in this photograph from 1950 with baby Princess Anne), it’s almost certainly the 1935 necklace. The other way to identify this one is to look at the evenness of the pearls themselves. Unlike the other necklaces discussed by Field, all of the round pearls in the 1935 necklace are the same size.
Though she generally preferred other necklaces during her long reign, the Queen did still wear the 1935 Pearls on rare occasions. Here’s one of her later appearances in the pearls, at a reception at Mansion House in London in December 2009. The pearls were at least 74 years old at this point!
The three-stranded pearl necklace that Elizabeth wore most often during her reign was the 1952 necklace, which she commissioned herself.
Unlike the 1935 necklace, the 1952 necklace features graduated pearls. The pearls near the clasp are smaller, and the pearls in the center of the necklace are slightly larger, much like the arrangement of diamonds in a rivière necklace.
The necklace has a diamond clasp with three rows of diamonds echoing the three rows of pearls.
The late Queen wore this particular necklace countless times during her reign, with appearances all over the world. Here, the necklace stands out nicely against her dress during the 1986 tour of Australia.
And here’s a lovely look at the gleaming, creamy pearls of the 1952 necklace in a photograph taken in May 2017. The Queen liked to pair the 1952 necklace with diamond and pearl button earrings that she inherited from her grandmother, Queen Mary.
The third necklace mentioned by Field is still a little bit of a mystery. It’s the three-stranded pearl necklace gifted to the Queen in 1953 as a coronation present by the Emir of Qatar, Sheikh Ali bin Abdullah Al Thani. Field tells us that the 1953 necklace also has a diamond clasp, but beyond that, no definitive identification is made. In a thread about the Queen’s pearls shared on the Royal Jewels of the World Message Board by a poster named Baxter in February 2015, there’s speculation that the 1953 necklace is the one pictured above, a triple strand of graduated pearls with larger spaces between each row.
I tend to agree with that identification, largely because the late Queen Elizabeth II wore the necklace in July 1997 for a meeting with the Emir of Qatar (Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani) at Buckingham Palace. It was worn on occasion throughout the years, including appearances during the Golden Jubilee celebrations in 2002, but it was never worn as frequently as the 1952 necklace. Which of these daytime pearls from the Queen’s collection are your favorites?