As we approach tomorrow’s first anniversary of Queen Elizabeth II’s passing, let’s continue our look at her royal sapphires with a set given to her in the Middle East in the 1970s.
In the early months of 1979, Queen Elizabeth II and the Duke of Edinburgh embarked on an extended tour through six different Middle Eastern nations. From February through to the beginning of March, Elizabeth and Philip visited Kuwait, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, and Oman.
During the penultimate stop of the tour, the royals were hosted by Sheikh Rashid, one of the founders of the UAE, in Dubai. During a banquet on February 25, the rulers exchanged official gifts. Pictured above are the presents that Sheikh Rashid offered to Queen Elizabeth II: a pair of solid gold camels set between two gold palm trees and a modern demi-parure of diamond and sapphire jewelry.
The camels are great, but it’s the sapphires we’re here to discuss. Above, Sheikh Rashid shows the jewelry suite to Elizabeth II before the banquet. The set was made in London by Asprey, and it featured a necklace with a looping design, plus coordinating earrings and a ring, all made of gold and set with sapphires and diamonds.
By all accounts, the Queen (who wore the Girls of Great Britain & Ireland Tiara for the banquet) was particularly taken with the new sapphires. Look at her hand on her chest in the photograph! Leslie Field writes in The Queen’s Jewels that “the perfectly matched sapphires are so large and the looped design of the diamond necklace with its sapphire cluster pendants is so ornate that the Queen is reported to have exclaimed in amazement when she saw it.” You can almost hear her gasp straight through that picture, can’t you?
Despite her obvious delight when receiving the gift, Elizabeth didn’t wear the sapphires particularly often in the years after the visit. A rare appearance in the suite, during a 1983 dinner in Vancouver, is pictured above. Note the sheer size of the earrings from the set! She paired the sapphires with the Girls of Great Britain & Ireland Tiara for the event.
It should probably come as no surprise that Queen Elizabeth had the suite altered not long afterward. She had the necklace shortened (as was her usual practice) and had a second set of earrings made using the sections that were removed. Then, she had the original earrings and the ring’s sapphire cluster reimagined as a trio of stones on a bracelet.
Even after the suite was renovated, it wasn’t worn particularly often. That changed in the early 2000s, when the Queen chose it for a range of different occasions. She wore the new earrings and the necklace together at the finale of the Royal Windsor Horse Show in 2002, an event coordinated to celebrate her Golden Jubilee. Sadly, the necklace got lost a bit against the pattern of her outfit for the occasion.
Three years later, in May 2005, she brought out the set again for another trip to Canada. She wore the earrings, necklace, and bracelet with Queen Alexandra’s Kokoshnik Tiara for a government dinner in Edmonton, Alberta.
Official portraits of the monarch were taken in the gown and jewels she wore for the dinner as well.
Later the same year, in November 2005, Queen Elizabeth also chose the Dubai Sapphires for the annual diplomatic reception. Unusually, she chose to pair the set with the Belgian Sapphire Tiara, rather than her usual combination with the George VI Sapphires.
If my notes are correct, the Queen’s final appearance in any of the pieces from the suite took place on Garter Day in June 2009, when she wore the earrings with her robes.
But we have seen the sapphires pop up on another family member! The current Princess of Wales, when she was still the Duchess of Cambridge, wore the earrings from the suite for an NHS event at the Palace of Holyroodhouse in Edinburgh in May 2021. I’m crossing my fingers that we’ll see Kate wear the entire sapphire set at a gala event sometime soon!