Our Royal Family owns the most dazzling jewel collection in the world, its value estimated at up to £5 billion, but in reality priceless.
From the stones to the settings, everything has significance – be it a political power play, a family heirloom or simply a treasured gift.
Yet if those precious stones could talk, they would have stories to tell of love and passion, divorce, tragedy and family rows.
Now a new Channel 5 programme, The Queen’s Jewels: Heirlooms & Legacy, takes a closer look at some of the majestic pieces that make up the royal collection – and tells the incredible stories behind them as they’ve passed through the generations…
BATTLE OF THE BRIDES
The Queen has a huge collection of tiaras. She wore her mother’s tiara for her wedding day (pictured), it was created for Queen Mary in 1919 from a diamond necklace
The Duchess of Cambridge favours the Cambridge Lover’s Knot tiara (left in 2018), made for Queen Mary. It was Diana’s favourite too (right in 1991), although she found it heavy to wear
The Queen has a huge collection of tiaras, although she once complained, ‘One can’t really dance in a tiara.’
One of her favourites – the ‘something borrowed’ from her mother that she chose to wear for her wedding – is the Queen Mary Fringe tiara, created for Queen Mary in 1919 from a diamond necklace given to her by Queen Victoria and shaped like a kokoshnik, a Russian headdress.
Queen Mary later gave it to her daughter-in-law, the future Queen Mother.
But on the morning of our Queen’s wedding the tiara snapped and had to be rushed for emergency repair. The mend is just visible in the Queen’s wedding photos.
The Queen shares her jewellery with family members, but there’s a pecking order.
The Duchess of Cambridge favours the Cambridge Lover’s Knot tiara, made for Queen Mary in 1914.
Meghan Markle set her heart on a dramatic emerald tiara for her wedding – but so had the Queen’s granddaughter Eugenie, a princess of royal blood (right in the tiara on the day). In the end Meghan wore an exquisite Art Deco tiara, the Queen Mary Diamond Bandeau (left)
It was Diana’s favourite too, although she found it heavy to wear.
Diana was married in the Spencer family tiara, but Kate had no family jewels so she borrowed the Cartier Halo tiara, made for the Queen Mother then regifted to the Queen for her 18th birthday.
When it was Meghan’s turn, she set her heart on a dramatic emerald tiara – but so had the Queen’s granddaughter Eugenie, a princess of royal blood.
In the end Meghan wore an exquisite Art Deco tiara, the Queen Mary Diamond Bandeau.
As royal author Lady Colin Campbell points out on the show, ‘There was that big kerfuffle when Meghan Markle wanted to wear the tiara that Princess Eugenie had already had earmarked, and quite rightly she was excluded from wearing it.’
Royal commentator Daisy McAndrew adds, ‘The difference was that one had known all her life she was going to have a royal wedding and had probably been looking at the jewellery all her life, imagining which tiara she’d have.’
MEMORIES OF MUMMY
Prince William and Prince Harry had a pact that whoever needed an engagement ring first could claim their mother’s sapphire one (left on the princess at her engagement announcement). That was William, and it is now worn by the Duchess of Cambridge (right)
After Princess Diana’s death, William and Harry chose keepsakes from her jewellery collection. William selected the gold Cartier Tank watch that had been a gift from his grandfather Earl Spencer, while Harry chose his mother’s sapphire engagement ring.
The ring wasn’t considered too special, being off the shelf from Garrard, the royal jewellers. Today the ring is priceless because of its connection to the tragic princess
But the brothers had a pact – whoever needed an engagement ring first could claim it, and of course that was William.
The ring wasn’t considered too special, being off the shelf from Garrard, the royal jewellers.
The Queen and Prince Charles had presented Diana with a tray of rings, and the Queen’s eyes popped, according to Diana, when she chose the biggest.
Today the ring is priceless because of its connection to the tragic princess.
Harry’s engagement ring for Meghan is all the more romantic because he designed it himself.
He sourced the central diamond from Botswana, where he’d done a lot of charity work, and two smaller diamonds belonging to his mother.
Yet Meghan later replaced the traditional plain gold band with one studded with pavé diamonds.
Harry’s engagement ring for Meghan is all the more romantic because he designed it himself. He sourced the central diamond from Botswana, where he’d done a lot of charity work, and two diamonds belonging to his mother. Pictured, on their engagement announcement
When she left for her evening reception at Frogmore House on her wedding day, Meghan was wearing the whopping aquamarine known as Diana’s ‘divorce ring’.
The blue stone has a controversial past. Rumour has it that a gem hunter who bought the stone abroad smuggled it back to the UK – secreted about his person.
And the next time he saw it was on a magazine cover – being worn by the Princess of Wales.
On the first day of Trump’s visit in 2018 the Queen wore a 1950s moss agate brooch presented by the Obamas on a previous visit. Pictured, the Queen wearing the brooch with Obama in 2011
The Queen also sported the diamond teardrop the Queen Mother had worn at her husband George VI’s funeral during President Trump’s visit, as seen above in July 2018
The Queen is famous for her political neutrality – but was she sending coded messages to Donald Trump when she chose to wear a brooch gifted by his predecessor Barack Obama, a man whose presidency has been roundly criticised by Trump?
On the first day of Trump’s visit in 2018 she wore a 1950s moss agate brooch presented by the Obamas on a previous visit.
It could have been perceived as a compliment to America, except on the third day (in between she’d sported the diamond teardrop the Queen Mother had worn at her husband George VI’s funeral) she wore the Sapphire Jubilee Snowflake brooch (left), a gift from Canada – a nation Trump has also insulted.
‘That can’t have been a coincidence, it was a pointed message,’ says royal commentator Daisy McAndrew.
When the Queen wore the Snowflake brooch again recently, it was interpreted as a message of support for Harry and Meghan in Canada.
Or was it a nod of thanks to that nation for having them?
WALLIS SIMPSON’S BRING UNDER THE HAMMER
Wallis Simpson’s signature piece was a ruby, diamond and sapphire flamingo brooch bought by the Duke of Windsor in 1940
The Duke of Windsor lavished jewels upon Wallis Simpson. Ten years after the Abdication, many important pieces were stolen from them during a rare visit to England in 1946.
The haul – worth up to £20 million today – was never recovered. Some wondered if the theft was set up by the Royal Family to retrieve family gems.
The duchess still had plenty of bling though. Her signature piece was a ruby, diamond and sapphire flamingo brooch bought by the duke in 1940.
After Wallis’s death in 1986, her jewels were sold at auction by Sotheby’s in Geneva, realising a record £31 million.
Elizabeth Taylor had set her heart on the £400,000 diamond Prince of Wales Feathers brooch because her late husband Richard Burton was born in Wales.
She’s said to have outbid Prince Charles, who wanted it for Diana.
Perhaps the quirkiest piece was a Cartier diamond charm bracelet hung with crosses, each bearing an inscription ‘handwritten’ by the duke.
One commemorated the duchess’s appendectomy, another marked their 1937 wedding and another recalled an assassination attempt on Edward VIII in 1936. ‘God save the King for Wallis,’ it said.
The Daily Mail was there, bidding for jewels to be offered to readers in a competition.
After Wallis’s death, Elizabeth Taylor set her heart on her £400,000 diamond Prince of Wales Feathers brooch (pictured). She’s said to have outbid Prince Charles, who wanted it for Diana
A ruby and sapphire brooch was won by Wolverhampton couple the Brindleys. It was sold for £36,000 in 2006.
Another treasure that made headlines was the Poltimore tiara Princess Margaret wore at her wedding – allegedly acquired by her from Sotheby’s for just £5,500.
In 2006, four years after her death, it sold for £1 million.
Viewers of The Crown will recognise it as the tiara the princess wore in the bath at Kensington Palace when she was photographed by her husband Lord Snowdon in 1962.
According to royal biographer Lady Colin Campbell, ‘Margaret was thrilled because she looked so hot.’
The Queen’s Jewels: Heirlooms & Legacy, tomorrow, 7pm, Channel 5.