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Sapphires as Heirlooms

The British Crown Jewels

Sentry outside the Jewel House at the Tower of London

The history of empires and sapphires are intertwined, and the British Empire is no exception.  The term “crown jewels” refers to a number of crowns, scepters, orbs, swords, rings, and other regalia worn by a sovereign during various state functions including the coronation ceremony.

Today, the British Crown Jewels are kept in the Tower of London.  The Imperial State Crown is one of the most famous of the items housed there.  It has a base of four crosses alternating with four fleurs-de-lis, above which are four half-arches surmounted by a cross.  It is encrusted with gems, and includes several famous jewels such as St. Edward’s Sapphire, a sapphire taken from the ring of Edward the Confessor, and the 104-carat Stuart Sapphire.  The Imperial State Crown is not normally used at the coronation, although Queen Victoria and King Edward VII both used it for this purpose.  They preferred it to the traditionally used St. Edward’s Crown because it was too heavy and uncomfortable.

Aside from the Crown Jewels, members of the royal family have developed valuable personal jewelry collections, and they are known for their fondness for sapphires.  Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II’s personal collection is kept in a large vault beneath Buckingham Palace.  Among her most cherished items is the Prince Albert Brooch, a huge sapphire, which was given to Queen Victoria by Prince Albert the day before their wedding.

The Imperial State Crown

Queen Elizabeth wearing the Albert Brooch

Queen Victoria and Prince Albert marriage painting by George Hayter

Both Princess Diana and Princess Anne also received sapphire engagement rings.  Diana’s ring has now been used to celebrate Prince William and Kate Middleton’s engagement.

Kate Middleton and Prince William

Elizabeth II’s Private Jewelry Collection

Aside from the Crown Jewels of the United Kingdom, the royal family has amassed its own jewelry collection, which is notably heavy on sapphires, a royal favorite.

Unlike the Crown Jewels, the jewels in the Queen’s collection do not belong to the state but are the personal property of Elizabeth II.  Many of the jewels in the Queen’s collection were inherited from her ancestors.  Due to laws that prohibit the Crown Jewels from leaving the United Kingdom, pieces from the Queen’s collection are worn on state visits to foreign countries.

Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II’s personal collection is kept in a large vault beneath Buckingham Palace.   The value of this collection is currently estimated at about $39 million.  However, the last large-scale valuation of the royal family’s collection was conducted in 1989 by Mr. Laurence Krashes, senior appraiser for Harry Winston.  At the time, Mr. Krashes was not given access to the jewels.  Instead, he was forced to rely on photos and records to make his assessments, so his valuations are not considered terribly reliable.

It is also difficult to appraise jewelry with a special provenance.  There is an indeterminate multiplier effect attached to any jewel associated with celebrity.  Although every piece in the royal collection is charged with status or prestige, pieces cherished by Diana, for example, might have special value should they, for some reason, come up at auction.

Below, we describe a few of the sapphire baubles that are found in the Queen’s collection.

King George VI Victorian Suite

The George VI Victorian Suite was originally given as a present from George VI to his daughter Princess Elizabeth in 1947.  The suite, which was originally made in 1850, is comprised of a long necklace of oblong sapphires and a pair of square sapphire earrings.

In 1952, Elizabeth had the largest sapphire of the necklace removed in order to shorten the necklace.  The gemstone was incorporated into a new pendant in 1959.  When Sir Noël Peirce Coward saw the Queen wearing the suite in 1954 he wrote: “After the show we were lined up and presented to the Queen, Prince Philip and Princess Margaret.  The Queen looked luminously lovely and was wearing the largest sapphires I have ever seen.” In 1963, the suite was enhanced by the addition of a new sapphire tiara and bracelet, which were made to match the original pieces.  In 1969, Queen Elizabeth wore the complete parure when she and the Duke of Edinburgh attended a charity concert.

The Prince Albert Sapphire Brooch was given by Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha to Queen Victoria the day before their wedding in 1840.  Obviously touched, the Queen wrote in her diary that Albert came to her sitting room and presented her with a beautiful sapphire and diamond brooch.  The centerpiece of this brooch is a large luminous blue sapphire, which is surrounded by twelve diamonds.  Queen Elizabeth inherited the brooch in 1952 when she ascended the throne.

Marie's Brooch

The Empress Marie Feodorovna of Russia’s Brooch consists of a large cabochon sapphire, which is surrounded by two rows of diamonds.  A large pearl drop hangs suspended from the base of the jewel.  The brooch was a gift to Princess Dagmar of Denmark from her sister and brother-in-law, the Prince and Princess of Wales, on the occasion of her marriage to Tsar Alexander in 1866.  Queen Mary purchased the brooch from the Dowager Empress Marie’s estate in 1929, and Queen Elizabeth inherited the jewel in 1953.

Queen Mary’s Russian Brooch has a large square-cut diamond and square cabochon sapphire set in a scroll frame of round diamonds.  Because it is such an unusual piece, it has been worn both vertically and horizontally by different members of the royal family.  It was originally given by Empress Marie Feodorovna of Russia to Princess May of Teck (later Queen Mary) in 1893.

The Queen Mother’s “Leaf” Brooch contains of a number of irregularly shaped cabochon sapphires, as well as small emeralds, amethysts, and a ruby.  These gemstones are framed by diamond baguettes formed into the shape of a stylized Art Deco leaf.  The jewel was made by Cartier, and the Duke of York bought it for his wife in 1928.  She gave it to Queen Elizabeth for her birthday during the Second World War.

The Queen’s Flower Spray Brooch was also made by Cartier.  It consists of two flowers, one made of blue sapphires, the other of pink sapphires and rubies.  The lighthearted jewel was given to the Queen by her parents in 1945.

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