There were many interesting royal jewelry moments at the recent coronation (thanks to the King and Queen, the royal princesses and duchesses, the extended Windsor family, and the foreign royals all in attendance), but one of the most interesting of them all was an appearance of a special diamond necklace on the Princess of Wales.
The Princess of Wales wore a necklace from the royal vaults that has been part of the collection since 1950. But its history goes back even further than that—or, at least, the history of its diamonds does. The necklace exists today thanks to a mother and son from the family: Queen Mary and King George VI. In 1911, shortly after her husband ascended to the throne, Queen Mary directed Garrard (then the crown jeweler) to mark a group of 154 loose collet-set diamonds as heirlooms of the crown. (A “collet” is a metal “collar” surrounding a diamond, an alternate to prongs for setting a gemstone in metal) She used those diamonds regularly as she tinkered with her own jewels, often to add length to her existing diamond collet necklaces.
In 1950, near the end of his reign, Queen Mary’s son, King George VI, commissioned Garrard to use 105 of those loose collets to make a new necklace. The necklace is a classic design with three rows of diamonds suspended as a festoon from a pair of triangular clasps, which are connected by more collets in a single chain.
In The Queen’s Diamonds, Sir Hugh Roberts writes that the necklace was made “for Princess Elizabeth.” Intriguingly, though, the sleuths over at the History of Famous Jewels and Collections have discovered photographs of King George VI’s wife, Queen Elizabeth (the Queen Mother) wearing the necklace for a dinner at the French embassy in London during President Auriol’s March 1950 state visit to the United Kingdom. It appears to be one of the only (if not the only) time that the Queen Mother was photographed wearing the necklace. After all, she already had two similar necklaces at her disposal: the grand five-stranded Greville Festoon Necklace, and the combination of Queen Victoria’s Coronation Necklace paired with her own Coronation Necklace to achieve a similar effect.
Roberts notes that in 1953, shortly after she inherited the throne and the Heirlooms of the Crown, Queen Elizabeth II had the festoon necklace shortened. Garrard removed ten diamonds from the necklace at her direction, suggesting that it wasn’t sized specifically to her liking when it was made three years earlier. Indeed, following the fashion of the 1950s, Elizabeth had nearly every necklace in her collection shortened so that they would sit more closely to her throat.
Queen Elizabeth II wore the festoon necklace early and often. She appeared in the jewel for two early important state visits. Here, for a dinner in The Hague during her March 1958 state visit to the Netherlands, Elizabeth pairs the necklace with Queen Alexandra’s Kokoshnik Tiara and additional diamond jewels, including the Greville Chandelier Earrings (worn just a few days ago for the first time by the Princess of Wales) and Queen Mary’s Lover’s Knot Brooch.
A year earlier, in April 1957, she wore the necklace during her state visit to France, a glamorous diplomatic trip that also included appearances from the Vladimir Tiara and Delhi Durbar Emeralds at the Opera Garnier and Queen Alexandra’s Kokoshnik Tiara for a yacht cruise on the Seine. She selected the festoon necklace for a dinner in the Salle des Cariatides at the Louvre Museum. The room, previously a royal ballroom finished during the reign of King Henri II (father-in-law of Mary, Queen of Scots), now hosts marble masterpieces from the museum’s collection of antique Greek and Roman sculptures.
For the dinner, the penultimate event of the state visit, the Queen wore “her third new evening gown in three nights,” according to the Daily Telegraph‘s correspondent, who added that the dress was “a Kingfisher blue gown with a deep neckline and cut low at the back. Round the very full skirt was a spiral of embroidery worked in crystals and brilliants.” With the gown, the Queen wore “the red sash of the Legion of Honour and a diamond tiara.” The tiara was the Girls of Great Britain & Ireland Tiara, and her other jewels included the Greville Chandelier Earrings, Queen Mary’s Lover’s Knot Brooch, and the Edinburgh Wedding Bracelet.
Indeed, the combination of the Girls of Great Britain & Ireland Tiara and the Diamond Festoon Necklace would remain a favorite of Queen Elizabeth II for decades. Here, in a smashing photograph taken at RADA’s 60th anniversary celebrations in 1964, the Queen wears the tiara and necklace together with the Mackinnon Floret Earrings and a coral satin evening gown.
Elizabeth wears the tiara and necklace here (again with the Greville Chandelier Earrings and Queen Mary’s Lover’s Knot Brooch) for a banquet at the Royal Palace in Stockholm on the first day of her state visit with King Carl XVI Gustaf and Queen Silvia of Sweden in May 1983.
The festoon necklace also made more than one appearance on Queen Elizabeth II at the State Opening of Parliament. Here, she wears the necklace and the Antique Girandole Earrings (with, of course, the Imperial State Crown) during the ceremony in November 2002.
The jewel also appeared occasionally on the late Queen at the Royal Variety Performance. Here, she wears the necklace with the Antique Girandole Earrings for the performance at Liverpool’s Empire Theatre in December 2007.
And here, she wears the necklace with the Queen Mother’s Diamond Floral Earrings for the performance at the Blackpool Opera House in December 2009.
Queen Elizabeth also loved to bring the festoon necklace with her for trips to the United States. In October 1957, during a state visit as Queen of Canada, she wore the necklace for a dinner with Commonwealth diplomats at the Australian embassy in Washington, D.C. The Daily Telegraph described her dress as “a Norman Hartnell grand gown of lime green lace, embroidered all over with gold, pale green diamonds and emeralds. Its full skirt sprang from a short basque, and its chiffon centre panel was repeated in the swathed bodice, which was held by a halter garland of green lace leaves.” The look was finished off with more diamonds: the Mackinnon Floret Earrings and the Bombay Presidency Bangle Bracelets.
Two decades later, she wore the festoon necklace again at the White House, this time for a state dinner hosted by President Gerald Ford during the bicentennial summer of 1976. She wore the diamond necklace with a bright yellow evening gown—a favorite color of hers during this era—and more diamond pieces, including Queen Alexandra’s Kokoshnik Tiara and the Greville Chandelier Earrings.
The Queen made her final state visit to the United States in May 2007, and the festoon necklace was once again packed in her luggage. She wore it with a white evening gown and additional diamond jewels—the Girls of Great Britain & Ireland Tiara, Queen Mary’s Lover’s Knot Brooch, earrings made from another of Queen Mary’s brooches, and one of Queen Mary’s Chain-Link Bracelets—for the white-tie dinner on May 7 at the White House.
Here’s one more view of the Queen’s jewels from the state banquet. This angle shows one of the festoon necklace’s triangular clasps in nice detail.
The Queen’s final appearance in the festoon necklace took place on October 23, 2018. The occasion was a banquet at Buckingham Palace during a state visit from King Willem-Alexander and Queen Máxima of the Netherlands. She paired the necklace with the Girls of Great Britain & Ireland Tiara and the Cullinan III & IV Brooch for the dinner.
After the Queen’s death, the necklace went back in the vaults with her other grand gala jewels. But on the morning of May 6, the day of King Charles III and Queen Camilla’s coronation, we learned a tantalizing bit of news: the Princess of Wales was planning to wear the necklace with her coronation ensemble at Westminster Abbey. When she arrived for the ceremony, however, the necklace was nowhere to be seen. Most concluded that she’d planned to wear the necklace but had changed her mind at the last minute.
But when the official coronation portraits were released, there it was! Princess Catherine was wearing the necklace for the first time—one of the most significant royal jewelry loans she’s received to this date. The neckline of her gown was different in the portraits than the one that showed beneath her robes at the ceremony, leading many to conclude that there was some sort of capelet or other additional piece to her gown that morning—and perhaps that was what kept the festoon necklace out of view during the coronation itself. Regardless, it was wonderful to get a glimpse of Kate wearing the necklace, and here’s hoping it’s the first of many appearances in this classic piece of royal jewelry.