For me (and many of my fellow Americans), the first days of July mean parades, barbecues, and fireworks. In honor of the upcoming Fourth of July holiday, I’ve scheduled out several days of royal jewelry content with an American presidential twist. First up: a look at an interesting state dinner look from Queen Elizabeth II at the White House in 1991.
In May 1991, in the middle of a heatwave, Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip arrived in Washington, D.C. for their third state visit to the United States. Following a morning of engagements—including the famous “talking hat” moment—Elizabeth and Philip were the guests of honor at White House state dinner.
They were hosted by President George H.W. Bush and First Lady Barbara Bush for the dinner, which had a guest list of 130 hand-picked attendees. There were several touches that nodded to the Queen’s own history, including the choice of music for her entrance into the dinner. The Marine Band played William Walton’s “Orb and Sceptre” as she stepped into the state dining room. The orchestral march was composed to celebrate Elizabeth’s 1953 coronation.
The Queen wore an icy white evening gown with embroidered detailing for the dinner, paired with a special set of sapphire jewelry that had important personal resonance for her.
As she delivered traditional remarks during the dinner—”Here we feel comfortable and among friends,” she noted—her sapphire and diamond tiara sparkled on her head. The tiara was made in the nineteenth century and was originally worn as a necklace by Princess Louise of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, daughter of King Leopold II of Belgium. Princess Louise’s father—a notably terrible person in just about every regard—chose to auction off her jewels to pay off debts she had incurred. The jewel’s exact path from Belgium to Britain is unclear, but Queen Elizabeth II acquired it in 1963 and had it mounted on a tiara frame.
She purchased the new tiara to complete an existing set of sapphires in her jewelry box. When she married Prince Philip in 1947, her father, King George VI, gave her a suite of diamond and sapphire jewelry that also dates to the nineteenth century. The set originally included just a necklace and a pair of earrings. As usual, she had the necklace shortened, and she also had a sapphire and diamond pendant added to it.
In the 1960s, the Queen also added one more piece to the set: a diamond and sapphire bracelet. From then on, the suite became one of her favorites for diplomatic galas, partly because it coordinated so well with the kingfisher blue sash of the Order of the Garter. (No sash for the Queen at this White House banquet—but she did wear the Royal Family Orders of her father and her grandfather.)
Barbara Bush also gussied up for the state dinner, wearing an evening gown from the Canadian fashion designer Arnold Scaasi. The dress featured floral appliques on the bodice and a purple silk skirt.
Barbara was famous for her love of pearls, and she wore a double-stranded pearl necklace and a pearl bracelet for the dinner. This time, though, she also added a pair of door-knocker earrings with major purple drops to coordinate with the skirt of her gown.