The Queen’s Jewel Box: Her First Pearls

Thanks to Leslie Field who wrote The Queen’s Jewels: The Personal Collection of Elizabeth II (aka the definitive book on the Queen’s massive jewelry collection), we have all sorts of information about when and how the Queen acquired many of her pieces. It was published in 1987, and Field was assisted by the Queen’s Household in her research which is pretty incredible; it must have been such a fun project to work on.

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We know that the Queen loves her pearls; she often wears her pearl and diamond stud earrings (inherited from her grandmother Queen Mary) and on any given day might have two or three strings of pearls around her neck. So let’s dive into the pearl section of the Queen’s jewelry box, and in particular how it all began.

The Queen was give her first pearls when she was born, which was actually a family tradition begun by Queen Victoria. Here is  an excerpt explaining how it came to be:

Queen Victoria started a family tradition by giving each of her five daughters two fine pearls a year from birth, so that when they were grown-up they would have enough for a necklace. However, by 1866, when she was also buying pearls for a growing number of granddaughters, Queen Victoria asked her eldest daughter, Vicky, married to the Prussian Crown Prince, to explain to her sisters that with the price of a pearl having risen to between 30 pounds and 40 pounds she had to cut back and could only provide on a year for their daughters, since she was still making up the necklaces for her own two youngest daughters, Louise and Beatrice.

This family tradition continued with King George VI, who gave his daughter Princess Elizabeth (the present Queen) a thin chain to which two pears were added on each birthday. Here she is wearing it in 1929 when she was three years old.

Princess ELizabeth arriving at Lady Nunburnholme's children's party to celebrate the 1st anniversary of the birthday of the Hon Ben Wilson, the 4th Baron of Nunburnholme. (source)
Princess Elizabeth arriving at Lady Nunburnholme’s children’s party to celebrate the 1st anniversary of the birthday of the Hon Ben Wilson, the 4th Baron of Nunburnholme (source)

It seems that Anne did not receive her own thin chain and two pearls when she was born;  according to Field, Princess Anne is wearing the Queen’s childhood pearl necklace in the portrait below.

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I wonder if the necklace is still with the Queen or if it was truly a gift to Princess Anne. If it was, she may have passed it along to Zara and Zara’s daughter Mia. I’ve scoured the internet but can’t find any photos of Zara or Maya in the necklace; I’ll have to keep on the lookout!

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By the same token,  I wonder if we will see Princess Charlotte in a similar necklace. I’m sure Kate would be all over a tradition like that what with how she likes dressing Prince George in vintage children’s styles and Prince William’s own baby clothes.

The next pearls that the Queen received were for the occasion of King George V’s Silver Jubilee in 1935. The Queen received 3 rows of pearls and Princess Margaret received two rows since she was younger.

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Both princesses wore the necklaces for their parent’s coronation in 1938.

On the Buckingham Palace balcony after the coronation (source)
On the Buckingham Palace balcony after the coronation (source)

The pearls necklaces on the two princesses can be better seen in this 1940 portrait. Cute that Princess Margaret’s necklace is all twisted up.

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And here with a young Prince Charles and Princess Anne.

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This was taken at Balmoral in 1952.

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This photograph of the Queen with Princess Anne was taken in 1960 at Windsor Castle.

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This is another great photograph

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Jumping ahead many years, The Queen chose this necklace in March, 1981. This was the day her private council consented to Lady Diana and Prince Charles’ engagement, shown here together at Buckingham Palace.

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here she is wearing the same necklace in 1997.

A portrait taken by Lord Snowdon in 1997 (source)
A portrait taken by Lord Snowdon in 1997 (source)

The Queen also chose to wear the three-stand necklace to the funeral service for the Princess of Wales in 1997.

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The necklace is still in the Queen’s regular rotation. It is shown here in Scotland in 2015.

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Pearls do go with everything! If you’re in the mood for some more posts on pearls, here’s one on Princess Diana’s Spencer chokers and one on the magnificent sapphire and pearl choker that became her signature. Researching the post has me wishing we all wore pearls every day, just out and about. This three-strand beauty is on my wishlist, and I’m seriously thinking I’d wear it with my jeans and a button down.

What do you think of this lovely tradition of starting pearl necklaces at such a young age? Any requests for specific jewels to look at in future posts?


Dressing The Queen

A couple of years ago at Windsor Castle, I struck up a conversation with a member of the staff. She was very friendly and easy to talk to. The conversation took a few turns and she nonchalantly revealed that she had previously worked as an assistant dresser to The Queen. Obviously that was fascinating so I wanted to ask a million questions about what that was like while trying to behave like a normal person and not overstep the mark.

To her credit she was very discrete and spoke of her amazement that Kate had done the tour of Canada without an official dresser and that  while The Queen had been wonderful to work for, she wanted to try something new which lead her to a new role.

Dressing the Queen (via )
Dressing the Queen (via Amazon)


So of course I was excited to be given a copy of Dressing the Queen: The Jubilee Wardrobe by Angela Kelly. Since starting as one of the Queen’s dressers in 1994, she has risen up the ranks and now holds the unique title of Personal Assistant, Adviser and Curator to Her Majesty The Queen (Jewellery, Insignias and Wardrobe). So, yeah, she has a pretty awesome resume.

Behind the Scenes: the Queen and Angela Kelly (via The Telegraph)
Behind the Scenes: the Queen and Angela Kelly (via The Telegraph)

Published back in 2012, it’s an insightful book with gorgeous pictures that shows how much thought and effort goes into the creation of each of The Queen’s many bespoke outfits and gowns, how not a scrap of fabric is wasted (the Queen’s stock room includes fabric from 1961), and how they are all carefully maintained.

It also reveals a bit of the close working relationship that Angela and The Queen clearly have. The fact that the Queen even gave her blessing to the book is huge! She has also given Angela a grace and favour home in Windsor, as well as the honour of the Royal Victorian Order which recognizes personal services to The Queen. In a 2007 interview with The Telegraph that the Queen consented to, Angela explained

“I just want everything to be right for The Queen – to make life easier for her because she is so busy. My job is to ensure that when The Queen meets people she looks right.

“I would never overstep the mark and I remain in awe of The Queen. But she has allowed me to become closer to her over the years. We [the royal dressers] are not treated like flunkies. It’s not like that. The Queen treats us with real respect.

“I don’t know why the Queen seems fond of me – because I don’t give her an easy time! I do think she values my opinion, but she is the one who is in control. She always makes the final decision.”

Angela Kelly at work on the Queen's dress for the Jubilee Concert (Via The Daily Mail)
Angela Kelly at work on the Queen’s dress for the Jubilee Concert (Via The Daily Mail)

Here are a few tidbits from the book – for more I recommend reading it yourself!

Secrets of a Tiara

The Queen in one of her favourite tiaras (via The Daily Mail)
The Queen in one of her favourite tiaras (via The Daily Mail)

The Girls of Great Britain of Ireland Tiara is gorgeous (to learn more about it, click here if you like), and my favourite tiara of all time. It’s even cooler now that Angela Kelly pointed out this special design feature I hadn’t previously realized. In shadow, it looks like a row of girls holding hands! See?

Holiday hands!! (picture from Dressing the Queen)
Holiday hands!! (picture from Dressing the Queen)

Also, Angela is one of the very few people who has access to the vaults that stores the Queen’s jewellery. As she puts it in the book,

“It is a great honour and privilege to be entrusted with the care of the Queen’s private jewellery and to help select the items that are worn on a daily basis. Again, the final choice is always made by The Queen, but based on a selection that I will have made to complement the outfit she will be wearing and appropriate for the occasion.”

Queen Mary’s Jewellery Trays

The jewels that The Queen selects on any given day are presented to her on special trays that also once belonged to the Queen’s grandmother, Queen Mary.

That's not just any tray (via Macleans)
That’s not just any tray (via Macleans)

The lace cover that is pulled back actually has Queen Mary’s monogram on it and were sewn by Queen Mary herself.

Umbrellas for Every Occasion

A few of the Queen's brollies (via The Daily Mail)
A few of the Queen’s brollies (via The Daily Mail)

The Queen knows that she needs to stand out in a crowd, and that people want to see her no matter what the weather. So, she has a large collection of see-through umbrella’s trimmed with every possible color to match her outfits.

There really is so much more in the book – I could go on and on! So, what do you think? Sounds like a fascinating job to me. For much more on how the outfits are created and jewellery maintained, I recommend checking out the book yourself!