Jewels and Joy: Understanding the Royal Wedding Jewellery

Watched by millions across the world, the wedding of the new Duke and Duchess of Sussex was probably the television highlight of the year. Coincidentally, it was also the biggest jewellery shock of the year. With the Queen’s kind gift, Meghan wore a tiara that dazzled, but bemused, even the most seasoned of jewellery specialists. Yet, her tiara choice makes complete sense when understood in relation to the Queen’s choice of jewellery for the day. Here, we unravel the bejewelled story.

Meghan’s tiara and the Queen’s brooch were arguably the two most eye-catching jewels of the day and they also are they key to understanding Meghan’s jewellery choice. Both the tiara and the brooch originally belonged to Queen Mary, the Queen’s grandmother, who bequeathed these two jewels to the Queen in 1953. Queen Mary’s jewellery represents some of the finest jewels in the Royal Collection; though she received many of these jewels as gifts, she injected her own sense of style into every piece, enjoying altering and redesigning her jewellery and layering multiple jewels at one time to create a dazzling impression. Queen Mary really knew how to wear jewellery!

Queen Mary passed this understanding and appreciation of jewellery to her granddaughter. Though Queen Elizabeth II is more restrained in the number of jewels she wears at once, she talks fondly of her grandmother’s extravagant jewellery use, referring to the sizeable Cullinan III and IV diamonds (cut from the large Cullinan rough diamond) set in a brooch as ‘Granny’s chips’.

The Queen often wears jewels previously worn or adapted by Queen Mary and her loan of Queen Mary’s tiara to Meghan, whilst wearing another of Queen Mary’s jewels herself, sent a message to the world that Meghan has been accepted into the family. The tiara could also conveniently act as the bride’s ‘something borrowed’!

As with many of Queen Mary’s jewels, including the Richmond Diamond brooch worn by the Queen at the wedding, the tiara is adaptable. The central floral motif is a brooch with ten cushion-shaped diamonds that was given to the then Princess Mary on the occasion of her marriage to Prince George, Duke of York, in 1893 by the County of Lincoln. Always looking for ways to adapt her jewellery collection, Queen Mary commissioned a bandeau tiara to allow her to wear the brooch in a different way. The tiara was completed in 1932 and features a space at the front specifically for the brooch. The bandeau is made of platinum and diamonds and uses eleven connected sections to carefully curve around the wearer’s head. The delicate design of the metalwork includes pierced shapes resembling lace, decorated with pavé-set large and small circular-cut diamonds. The fine craftsmanship and intricate design allowed the diamonds to dazzle in the sun on Meghan and Harry’s carriage journey through Windsor.

The Queen also dazzled with her impressive brooch as she entered St. George’s Chapel. Known as the Richmond Diamond brooch, the jewel was another wedding present to Princess Mary, gifted to her by the people of Richmond. The scrolling design of the brooch is created in silver and gold and set with many circular-cut diamonds. At its centre sits a pearl and an additional drop-shaped pearl can hang from the brooch. Queen Mary’s love of versatility is again evident in this brooch, as more pendent pearls can be attached and it she supposedly wore the jewel not only as a brooch, but also as a hair ornament, a necklace pendant and as an attachment to the Cambridge Lover’s Knot tiara. At Meghan and Harry’s wedding, the Queen chose to wear the brooch without the pendent pearl.

The appearance of these jewels at the royal wedding demonstrates the considerable influence the Queen has in choosing the right jewels to match the occasion. Both wedding gifts to Queen Mary, the tiara, with its centre brooch, and the Richmond brooch bring the gravitas, sentiment and tradition of royal weddings to the present day. At the wedding, the whole world, not only Meghan, understood the unity and strength of the family she has entered. The jewels themselves reveal and symbolise the connected and intimate nature of one of the world’s most watched families.

The Duchess of Sussex wearing Queen Mary's Bandeau Tiara. Image from BBC.

Decisions, Decisions: Meghan’s Wedding Tiara

The first of this year’s two royal weddings is fast approaching and excitement is building. For those of us who love jewellery, the question of Meghan’s wedding jewels is bigger than her choice of dress, flowers and veil combined. Critically, will Meghan wear a tiara?

 Jewellery courtesy of Bentley & Skinner

Jewellery courtesy of Bentley & Skinner

Tiaras are a common choice for royal brides, but there is strict protocol about who can wear them and when. Supposedly, only married women wear tiaras, beginning with their family tiara on their wedding day and tiaras from their spouse’s family thereafter. Interpretations of this social expectation vary, but tiara themselves always carry a special meaning.

 

Tiaras descend from the laurel wreaths and floral headdresses of antiquity; these natural head ornaments were later immortalised in gold. The ancient Greeks and Romans wore gold diadems for self-adornment and to display their wealth, as well as gifting these precious ornaments to the gods. In Europe, by the thirteenth century, a woman of any status could wear a tiara at their wedding to symbolise their marital joy and acknowledge the benefits and security that were believed to come with marriage.

 

Like most women today, Meghan may not have a family tiara to-hand, but her new in-laws certainly do! The Queen occasionally generously loans jewels from the Royal Collection and from her personal collection to younger members of the family. In 2011, the Queen loaned the diamond-set Cartier Halo tiara, also known as the Scroll tiara, to the Duchess of Cambridge on her wedding to Prince William. It seems highly unlikely that Meghan would wear the same tiara, but the relatively small size of the Cartier Halo tiara suggests that Meghan may also choose something small to acknowledge the Duchess of Cambridge’s position as future queen.

 

A favourite of the Queen, Princess Diana and the Duchess of Cambridge, the Cambridge Lover’s Knot Tiara is a slightly larger, but beautiful, choice for a wedding tiara. The design incorporates large drop-pearls hung from diamond-set bows, known as lover’s knots, and was commissioned by Queen Mary based on a tiara belonging to her grandmother, Princess Augusta of Hesse, the Duchess of Cambridge. Made in 1913 for Garrard, the tiara was crafted by the talented craftspeople of E. Wolff & Co., now E. Wolfe & Co., who discuss their history of tiara manufacture with me in my online jewellery school’s Foundation Course. Between 1898 and 1911, E. Wolff & Co. made more than 1,016 tiaras, a number that demonstrates the huge demand for tiaras in the early twentieth century! Though the relatively large size of this tiara may dissuade Meghan from wearing it, the jewel carries great sentimental value for Prince Harry. Worn frequently by his mother, Meghan and Harry may decide that this tiara is another way of including the late Princess in their wedding ceremony.

 

If Meghan chooses to wear a tiara this weekend, she will follow both ancient and royal tradition, but there are always exceptions to tradition. On her wedding, Queen Victoria wore a wreath of fresh orange blossoms that mirrored the orange blossom brooch Prince Albert gave her before their marriage. Later, Prince Albert recreated the wreath in gold, porcelain and enamel to mark their wedding anniversary. Will Meghan follow this royal decision and wear flowers in her hair instead of jewels?

 

Alternatively, Meghan could choose to wear clips arranged in her hair instead of a complete tiara. Diamond-set stars clipped into hairstyles were popular in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries and provide an interesting and more manageable alternative to the tiara.

 

As we become less and less accustomed to fixing tiaras into our hair, our understanding of how to secure tiaras is lessening.  Today, tiaras prove problematic for hairdressers who have to battle with pins and hair products to ensure no mishaps occur whilst the bride walks up the aisle! Meghan may therefore decide to avoid the issues and weight of a tiara and opt for something smaller, but still eye-catching, instead.

 

As we wait in suspense for the big day, we can rest assured that Meghan’s choice of jewels will have been just as important, if not more so, than the myriad of other decisions the new couple have made in the lead up to their big day. Most importantly, we’re excited to see how Meghan takes on the royal tiara expectations and reinterprets them to suit her individual style.

 

Congratulations to the royal couple!

 

Joanna discusses royal tiaras and engagement rings with presenter Michael Buerk on a Wedding Special of BBC’s series Royal Recipes. Airing on Tuesday 15 May at 15:45 on BBC 1 and Wednesday 16 May 07:15 on BBC 2. 

https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b0b3lwdx


Joanna will also be commenting live on the wedding jewellery on BBC on Saturday 19 May.

The Allure of Adornment, a 5000 year old tradition: Indian Treasures at the Victoria & Albert Museum

27TH NOVEMBER 2015

BOOK

From nomadic war lords of the silk trading routes to the Mughal Courts, jewels, gemstones and pearls have been used to represent wealth, power and status, as symbols of political aspirations and desires– as well as love – through the centuries. The importance of jewellery in the Indian subcontinent has never waned with its origins buried in antiquity. The wearing of jewellery has a strong ritual significance and worshipping deities adorned with precious stones in temples is said to cure a multitude of ills and be a great influence for good. With the exchange of ideas governed by the trading routes we will discover how the combination of East and West cultures have influenced jewellery designs of yesterday and observe how gems and jewellery play an important role in Indian culture today.  


The Art of the Great Parisian Fine Jewellery Houses

3RD DECEMBER 2015

BOOK

Paris is the custodian of the famous ‘high jewellery’ houses such as Cartier, Boucheron, Chaumet and Van Cleef & Arples who have created jewels that have adorned Kings, Queens, Maharajahs, millionaire industrialists of the 1900’s, bankers, entrepreneurs, Hollywood royalty and some of the most beautiful women in the world. These jewellery houses have continued their quest to create jewels that are innovative in design and beautifully crafted, ingredients needed to make iconic creations that will stand the test of time. The skill’s of the Parisian goldsmith is unrivaled and Joanna has had the unprecedented privilege of being invited to Cartier’s workshops in Paris to discover and witness first hand what goes into making ‘high jewellery’ that will ultimately be sought after and collected by international jewellery connoisseurs. But it is also the stories that lie behind the commissions and the fabulous diamonds, pearls and gemstones that have been used which bring the jewels alive and by sharing these tales we will travel through history following some of their remarkable journeys that have helped make Paris the centre for jewellery luxury and excellence.