Today, we celebrate the birthday of the patron saint of royal jewelry lovers, Mary of Teck. Queen Mary’s towering legacy continues to resonate today, and in her honor, we’re taking a closer look at a gorgeous set of official portraits from her time as Princess of Wales.
There are generally two dates given online for this particular royal portrait session. Some outlets and agencies date the photographs to 1902, while the Royal Collection states that the pictures were taken in 1905. The latter date seems to be the accurate one. The session took place at the studios of W.&D. Downey in London, likely a few weeks before Mary and George embarked on a royal tour of India in November 1905. The Southern Echo wrote on October 5, 1905 that the Waleses had given “special sittings for portraits designed to be produced in colour for commemorative purposes in connection with the visit to India.”
Part of the date confusion surely stems from the dress that Mary chose for the 1905 portrait session. She wore the same gown she’d worn for the coronation of her parents-in-law, King Edward VII and Queen Alexandra, in August 1902. On that occasion (pictured above) she wore the Girls of Great Britain & Ireland Tiara with her dress and robes.
Mary also wore diamonds and pearls with the dress for the 1905 portrait session, but she chose a different tiara that was one of the newer additions to her collection for the photographs.
The tall, looping diamond tiara was made for her by Boucheron in 1902. The jewel was set with 675 diamonds, including more than a hundred gemstones that had been given to Mary during the 1901 royal tour of South Africa by the directors of De Beers. The Daily Record wrote in August 1901, “The De Beers Company will make a presentation to the Duchess of Cornwall [and York] on her arrival in South Africa of 173 diamonds, weighing 261 carats, valued at £1400. The stones are of unique shape, colour, and quality.” The presentation was made through Lady Hely-Hutchinson, the wife of the Governor of the Cape Colony, Sir Walter Francis Hely-Hutchinson.
The new Boucheron tiara featured prominently in these official portraits, but the jewel didn’t have a long tenure in Mary’s jewelry box. In 1911, the tiara was dismantled so that the diamonds could be used in the construction of the new Delhi Durbar Tiara.
Mary coordinated the Boucheron tiara with several other diamond pieces from her collection for the portrait. She wore a pair of diamond solitaire earrings, plus two diamond necklaces. The choker necklace is the Love Trophy Collar, made for Mary by Garrard in March 1901. Sir Hugh Roberts explains that the diamonds used in the choker were “taken from a scroll and ribbon-pattern collar, which itself had been made with stones taken from seven 12-pointed stars and a pair of diamond star earrings, given by Queen Mary’s grandmother, the Duchess of Cambridge, in 1885, and from a floral spray given by her aunt, Augusta, Grand Duchess of Mecklenburg-Strelitz, in the same year.” (Roberts posits that the jewels were originally gifts celebrating Mary’s 18th birthday.) The choker necklace still exists in the royal vaults today, but it hasn’t been worn by more recent generations of the family.
The diamond fringe necklace worn in the portraits, however, no longer exists. The jewel, which could also be worn as a tiara, was a wedding gift to Mary from the people of the County of Surrey in 1893. The necklace was dismantled in 1913, and the diamonds were used to make two tiaras that still exist today. Thirteen of the largest stones were used to replace the pearls that originally sat atop the Girls of Great Britain & Ireland Tiara, and the rest of the diamonds were used to make a new diamond honeysuckle tiara, now worn by the present Duchess of Gloucester.
Even more diamonds and pearls were affixed to Mary’s bodice for the portraits. The Kensington Bow Brooch, another 1893 wedding gift, was pinned near the neckline of the gown. Mary later wore the brooch for her own coronation, and then later passed it on to her granddaughter, Queen Elizabeth II, who treasured it for more than half a century.
Below the brooch, she wears a grand pearl and diamond stomacher that was bequeathed by Princess Mary, Duchess of Gloucester and Edinburgh to Princess Mary Adelaide of Cambridge, Duchess of Teck. Queen Mary also wore the stomacher for the 1902 coronation. The fate of this particular piece of jewelry is a bit uncertain—it’s not clear whether it was dismantled at some point or whether it is perhaps still in the royal vaults today.
And finally, Mary wears four bracelets in the photograph, all of which appear to be made of gold and three of which appear to be set with diamonds as well.
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