Queen Elizabeth II’s jewelry box was brimming with bejeweled gifts from her loved ones. Among the most sentimental jewels, though, were the sapphires given to her by her beloved father as a wedding present.
When Queen Elizabeth II married Prince Philip in November 1947, she received a treasure trove of glittering wedding presents. Among them was a suite of antique sapphire and diamond jewels.
The necklace and matching earrings were a gift from her beloved father, King George VI. We don’t know precisely where he sourced the pieces, but we do know that they were made during the reign of his great-grandmother, Queen Victoria. The jewelry writer Leslie Field dates the necklace and earrings to 1850.
Princess Elizabeth began wearing the necklace almost immediately, often pairing it with other wedding presents, including the Girls of Great Britain & Ireland Tiara. She’s wearing the necklace and the tiara together here in this photograph, taken in Quebec during her tour of Canada in November 1951.
The earrings, though, had to wait until she pierced her ears in the summer of 1951—and for the piercings to well and truly heal, as the earrings are heavy pieces from the nineteenth century, in contrast with many of her newer earrings, which were set in light-weight platinum.
At the start of her reign, Elizabeth made some slight alterations to the necklace. As she did with nearly every necklace in her collection, she had the jewel shortened slightly, so that it would sit closer to her throat in the trendy, 1950s style that she preferred.
She’s wearing the shortened necklace in the photograph above, taken at the Royal Film Performance in the autumn of 1953. She’s also wearing the earrings here, as well as the Edinburgh Wedding Bracelet and the pearl setting of the Vladimir Tiara, which she had recently inherited from her grandmother, Queen Mary.
Because the necklace and earrings didn’t come with a matching tiara, Elizabeth often paired the jewels with various coordinating pieces from her collection, generally all-diamond or diamond-and-pearl tiaras. Here, during a meeting with Commonwealth prime ministers in 1960, she wears the set with Queen Alexandra’s Kokoshnik, a particularly glittering diamond tiara from her great-grandmother’s collection.
Here’s another view of that 1960 appearance. You’ll note that the necklace has undergone yet another transformation, as a diamond and sapphire pendant has been added to the piece. The pendant was detachable, so the necklace was still able to be worn in its original format.
One of Queen Elizabeth’s most important appearances in the sapphires came in the spring of 1961, when she and Prince Philip hosted a dinner for President John F. Kennedy and his wife, Jacqueline, at Buckingham Palace.
Elizabeth paired the sapphires with a blue gown, and she also wore another important diamond and sapphire jewelry piece from the British royal vaults: Prince Albert’s Brooch, the famous gift presented to Queen Victoria by Prince Albert on the night before their wedding in 1840.
By the early 1960s, Elizabeth decided that she needed a sapphire and diamond tiara to match with the necklace and earrings, creating a proper sapphire parure. She acquired a nineteenth-century necklace that had once belonged to Princess Louise of Belgium and had it set on a tiara frame. She makes an early appearance in the married parure above at the Royal Variety Performance in 1965.
Appropriately, another early outing in the Belgian Sapphire Tiara came in Brussels during her state visit to Belgium in the spring of 1966. Here, she wears the sapphire set for the return dinner at the British Embassy. (Beside her, Queen Fabiola wears her Spanish Wedding Gift Tiara with the Wolfers Necklace, while Princess Paola wears one of her diamond necklaces set on a tiara frame.)
In both the Royal Variety Performance appearance and this state visit outing, you’ll spot one more sapphire jewel: a diamond and sapphire bracelet, which Elizabeth had made to complete the set during this era.
Queen Elizabeth II would continue to wear the married parure of sapphires for gala events over the course of her long reign. Here, she wears the suite in Singapore in 1989.
And here, she wears the sapphires at the White House in Washington, D.C., in 1991.
She also brought the sapphires with her during her trip to Pakistan in October 1997.
Elizabeth also occasionally wore the original sapphire necklace and earrings without a tiara, as she did above for a private party celebrating the success of her Golden Jubilee year in the autumn of 2002.
For years, the sapphires were one of Elizabeth’s less-frequently-worn parures. But near the end of her reign, she brought out the set for two major public appearances. In October 2015, she wore the sapphires for a state banquet in honor of the visiting President Xi of China at Buckingham Palace.
And a year later, in November 2016, she wore them again for another state banquet at Buckingham Palace, this time in honor of President Santos of Colombia.
Elizabeth II’s final appearance in her beloved sapphires came in March 2019, when she wore them at Windsor Castle to pose for a photographic portrait commissioned by the Canadian government.
The jewels aren’t gathering dust in the vaults today, though. The set is a firm favorite of Elizabeth’s daughter-in-law, Queen Camilla, who chose the sapphires for the first state banquet of her husband’s reign in November 2022.
She wore the suite again in December 2022 for the annual diplomatic reception at Buckingham Palace. Camilla has experimented a bit with the necklace, wearing it both with and without the pendant, and having some of the original length restored to fit her neck more comfortably.
And she’s left behind the earrings—just like Elizabeth when she first received the set, Camilla does not have pierced ears. She’s substituted a pair of her own sapphire and diamond clip earrings instead, essentially adding yet another component to this evolving suite of jewelry.