Just as Queen Elizabeth’s dressing was done mindfully, so was her choice of jewelry. She actually didn’t have to acquire much since a lot of it was passed on from her forebears. Many are classic pieces but some may have become unfashionable or unsuitable, so they have been dismantled and reworked through the ages.
Her first major piece was a simple gilt crown made in 1937 when she was an 11-year-old princess. Worn at the coronation of her father, King George VI, the gem-less piece marked the historic moment when she assumed the role of heir presumptive to the throne. Its simplicity may have impressed upon her that unlike all the glitter and glamour of all the diamond and gem-encrusted tiaras and jewelry that she would inherit and wear later when she became queen, her destiny would actually be a long life dedicated to duty and humble service to her country and people.
It is up to her heirs to uphold all the values that she held dear and in wearing them pass on these same values, symbols and meanings.
When she did ascend to the throne, wearing all the lavish jewels became a symbol of the crown, which her subjects looked up to and would give them the confidence in the state’s stability. Crown jewels are distinct from her personal collection since they “belong to the nation and are well-known and documented,” according to royal expert Kate Nicholl. They are handed from monarch to monarch in trust for the nation and are safeguarded in the Tower of London. Now that Queen Elizabeth II has died, the crown jewels will pass on to her heir, King Charles III.
These jewels are loaded with meaning and the queen used them to convey messages. The State Diadem, made in 1820 for George IV’s coronation, was worn for the opening of parliament and other major affairs, a powerful symbol of the United Kingdom with its design that incorporates the rose of England, thistle of Scotland and shamrock of Ireland.
For her meetings with foreign dignitaries and royal visits to Commonwealth nations she was also strategic in her choices, like using the Maple Leaf brooch for a visit to Canada. Originally given by George VI to his wife in 1939 to mark their state visit to Canada, the tradition was passed on with the Queen lending it to Camilla and Kate for their respective Canadian tours.
In reality, it’s quite difficult to tell which belongs to the Windsor monarch’s personal collection and which belongs to the crown. Most pieces known as crown jewels even started as personal pieces. Although the name Windsor dates back to 1917, the jewelry collection began during the reign of Queen Victoria, who collected them as the British Empire expanded. The major pieces in Queen Elizabeth’s collection, however, were passed on from her grandmother, Queen Mary, who was obsessed with diamonds and gemstones that she acquired through royal travels around the world, diplomatic gifts and close ties with important jewelers.
The Lover’s Knot Tiara of diamonds and pearls, for example, was ordered by Queen Mary from the House of Garrard in 1913, modeled after that of her grandmother, Princess Augusta of Hesse. Queen Elizabeth II loaned this piece to Princess Diana for a time and recently to Kate Middleton, who is now the Princess of Wales.
For Meghan Markle’s wedding to Prince Harry, it was the Queen Mary Diamond Bandeau that was lent. Created in 1932, the Art Deco-style tiara’s central jewel was originally a brooch received by Queen Mary as a wedding present in 1893.
The Delhi Durbar Tiara made for the 1911 Delhi Durbar marking the coronation of King George V and Queen Mary and Emperor and Empress of India was lent to Camilla, who wore it as her first tiara to wear to a royal event as Duchess of Cornwall.
For her choice of jewelry for important occasions, Queen Elizabeth may have sometimes had a naughty streak. During the 2018 visit of US President Donald Trump, she wore brooches that were given by people or states known to be the president’s foes or pet peeves at that time: A green one from the Obamas on the first day and another one from Canada on the second day.
Oftentimes, the jewelry was very personal and sentimental. Her favorite pearls were gifts from her father, who gave her first pearl necklace at age three, adding two pearls for every birthday thereafter. A “Honeymoon Brooch” given before her wedding was worn in the official honeymoon portraits with Prince Philip and on their 73rd wedding anniversary. The Scarab Brooch in rubies by Andrew Grima, given by the Prince in 1966, was worn during his memorial service while the Richmond Brooch, a special gift from Queen Mary on her wedding day, was worn for his funeral.
With the jewelry now passing on to King Charles III, who will no doubt pass them on to the next generation of royals, the beloved Queen will be remembered for how she wore these pieces with sensitivity and how they corresponded with important moments in her life, as well as the history of the nation. It is up to her heirs to uphold all the values that she held dear and in wearing them pass on these same values, symbols and meanings so that Elizabeth Regina II’s spirit will live on.