The pageantry has officially returned to the State Opening of Parliament in London! We saw numerous sparkling jewels on display during today’s ceremony, including a crown, a diadem, and multiple tiaras.
King Charles III and Queen Camilla of the United Kingdom attended the State Opening of Parliament for the first time during his reign on Tuesday, wearing their robes and jewels for the occasion.
In a move that surprised me a bit, King Charles elected to wear the Imperial State Crown during the ceremony. I really thought we’d see the crown placed nearby on a cushion, as it has been in recent years, but Charles went for it! The Brits are the only royals in Europe who still wear crowns at all, and, after the coronation, the State Opening of Parliament is the only time that the monarch regularly wears the crown in public.
Today’s ceremony marked the first time that we’ve seen a King open parliament in person since October 1950, when Charles’s grandfather, King George VI, presided over the ceremony. The following year, he was too ill to attend in person, and the speech from the throne was delivered by the Lord High Chancellor on his behalf.
The Imperial State Crown is the “working” crown of the British monarch. Originally made by Rundell and Bridge in 1838 for the coronation of Queen Victoria, its design was based on earlier state crowns worn by English and British kings. The frame of the crown was substantially rebuilt in 1937 ahead of the coronation of King George VI. It’s altered to fit each monarch who wears it.
The Imperial State Crown is set with 2,868 diamonds, as well as hundreds of pearls and other gemstones. Notable stones featured on the crown include the Black Prince’s Ruby, a spinel that is said to have been in English royal hands since the 1360s, the 317-carat Cullinan II Diamond, and the Stuart Sapphire, which is said to be the same gem taken by King James II when he fled the country after the Glorious Revolution in 1688.
Queen Elizabeth II wore the Imperial State Crown for the first time on her coronation day in June 1953, and she continued to wear it regularly for the State Opening of Parliament over the next six decades.
We saw Elizabeth II wear the Imperial State Crown in public for the final time on May 18, 2016, when she wore it to deliver her speech from the throne. In the years that followed, the crown was present for the ceremony but not worn by the monarch.
This may be King Charles’s first State Opening of Parliament as monarch, but he’s been attending the ceremony frequently for more than half a century. His first appearance at the State Opening, alongside his sister, Princess Anne, took place in 1967.
In recent years, he’s attended regularly as support for his mother, Queen Elizabeth II, after the retirement of his father, Prince Philip. At the last State Opening of Parliament, which was held in May 2022, Charles stepped in and read the Queen’s Speech during the ceremony. The Imperial State Crown rested on a cushion beside him, in the place where the monarch’s throne usually sits.
But today, Charles was on the monarch’s throne, wearing the crown for the first time as he officially opened the parliamentary session.
This was the second time that we’ve seen Charles wear the Imperial State Crown. The first was during his coronation ceremony at Westminster Abbey on May 6, and on the Buckingham Palace balcony afterward. Queen Camilla also wore a crown—Queen Mary’s Coronation Crown—with her coronation gown that day.
Queen Camilla didn’t wear a crown on Tuesday (and she won’t wear a complete one again in the future), but she did make a second appearance in her coronation gown. Re-wearing a coronation dress has been common over the years for British queens. We saw Queen Elizabeth II wearing hers occasionally for ceremonial events throughout the 1950s.
Here’s a look at the gown from Charles and Camilla’s arrival at the Palace of Westminster ahead of Tuesday’s ceremony. You’ll note that Camilla also pinned a paper poppy to her handbag.
Instead of a crown, Queen Camilla wore the next best thing: the Diamond Diadem. Made for the coronation of a British king in 1820, the diamond and pearl circlet has been worn by British queens (both regnant and consort) for centuries.
King George IV ordered the diadem from Rundell, Bridge & Rundell in 1820, just before his coronation. The piece was made of silver, gold, diamonds, and pearls, and it was worn by the new king on his coronation day in 1821 with a large velvet cap adorned with an ostrich feather. In a practice common at the time, the gemstones were initially rented—and the rental fee ended up being charged twice when the controversy over Queen Caroline delayed George’s coronation—but Rundall & Bridge ended up simply selling the stones to the royal family rather than removing them from the delicate settings of the diadem. The 1,333 diamonds set in the diadem, including a rare pale-yellow stone in the center of one of the crosses, are still the original stones from 1820.
The Diamond Diadem may have been made for a king, but since 1831, it’s been worn solely by royal women, starting with George’s sister-in-law, Queen Adelaide. Later, it became a favorite jewel of George’s niece, Queen Victoria, when she ascended to the throne in 1837. She wore it for a whole range of events, including royal christenings and royal weddings, as well as state occasions. Victoria designated the diadem as one of the Heirlooms of the Crown, ensuring that it would be available for the use of all future queens, both regnant and consort.
Victoria’s wishes have been carried out. Queen Alexandra began wearing the diadem in 1901 when her husband, Edward VII, ascended to the throne. Above, she’s pictured wearing the diadem (and a whole lot of additional jewelry pieces!) during the wedding of Prince Gustaf Adolf of Sweden and Princess Margaret of Connaught in 1905.
The next wearer of the piece was Queen Mary, who used the diadem regularly from her husband’s accession in 1910 until his death in 1936. Above, she wears the diadem with other jewels, including several other Heirlooms of the Crown, in a fabulously bejeweled portrait that dates to 1912.
In 1937, ahead of the coronation of King George VI and Queen Elizabeth, the diadem was adjusted to fit Queen Elizabeth’s head. However, she rarely (if ever) wore the piece in public. She generally preferred to wear her own coronation crown, with the arches removed, for events like the State Opening of Parliament.
The next wearer of the diadem was their daughter, Queen Elizabeth II. She made her debut in the piece at the State Opening of Parliament in November 1952. Because she had not yet been crowned, she wore the diadem rather than the Imperial State Crown during her speech from the throne.
Like King George IV before her, Queen Elizabeth II also wore the Diamond Diadem during her procession to Westminster Abbey for her coronation on June 2, 1953.
And like Queen Victoria, Queen Elizabeth II wore the diadem regularly over the years. She mostly reserved it for travel to and from the State Opening of Parliament, but she also occasionally wore it for other state occasions as well.
Here’s a look at Elizabeth wearing the diadem at the State Opening of Parliament later in her reign. When she stopped wearing the Imperial State Crown during the ceremony, she wore the lighter Diamond Diadem to deliver her speech instead.
For her Diamond Diadem debut, Queen Camilla also wore additional diamond pieces, including her coronation earrings and a diamond collet necklace. At first glance, I thought this might be the Coronation Necklace worn without the Lahore Pendant, but I think it could be another necklace from the collection as well. This necklace looks longer on Camilla than the Coronation Necklace did on Coronation Day, though I suppose it could have been lengthened. What do all of you think?
Camilla pared down her usual stack of bracelets for the event, wearing just a few delicate gold bracelets paired with a substantial diamond tennis bracelet.
There were other tiaras on display at the ceremony as well, both on the wives of members of the House of Lords and on the Queen’s Companions. I was able to grab a closer look at the tiaras worn by the two companions present for today’s ceremony. Here’s the Marchioness of Landsdowne wearing the family’s diamond floral tiara. We previously saw her wear the central section of the tiara as a brooch on Coronation Day.
And here’s Lady Sarah Keswick, daughter of the 16th Earl of Dalhousie. She’s wearing a gorgeous diamond fringe tiara and a diamond fringe necklace with pearl drop earrings. You’ll also note that both ladies are wearing a diamond badge with Queen Camilla’s royal cypher, plus King Charles III’s coronation medal on a navy, red, and white ribbon.