The Queen’s Diamonds – A Jubilee Celebration 2012

…Square-cut or pear-shaped,
These rocks don’t loose their shape.
Diamonds are a girl’s best friend

From Cupid to Cartier a belief in the effect of gold and gemstones on the affairs of many has not over the centuries been limited to an age or culture. However it does seem to have been part of every human society on the earth for thousands of years. Individual diamonds down through the centuries have achieved great renown. They have been passed down through generations, given as tokens of esteem between both enemies and allies. They have for centuries also led rulers to deploy diamonds in regalia, jewellery and precious objects to impress all those around them. They remain today as one of the most potent of all symbols of both sovereignty and love.

At London from 30th June to 7th October 2012 there will be a well chosen and spectacular exhibition Diamonds: A Jubilee Celebration at Buckingham Palace. This exhibition will feature an unbelievable and unprecedented array of diamond treasures. It will showcase the many ways in which diamonds have been used by British monarchs over the last few hundred years. The show will feature the Queen’s personal jewels, including some of those inherited by Her Majesty, as well as those acquired by her during her sixty year reign. It will also reveal how many of these simply amazing and extraordinary stones have undergone a number of transformations, having been re-cut or incorporated into new settings during their fascinating historical, cultural and societal evolution.

Queen Elizabeth II has inherited some amazing jewels in her collection and they are all owned by her, quite separately from those owned by the British Crown. In this exhibition the display will span three centuries, with the objects selected from her and the Crown collection as the splendid examples and diversity of diamond cutting and mounting that they embody, and for their historic importance. The Royal Collection has also released the book The Queen’s Diamonds in conjunction with the exhibition.

‘Big girls need big diamonds‘, said 20th century Hollywood actress Elizabeth Taylor (1932-2011), and she is one lady who would have known. She received many magnificent examples of diamond love jewellery, from her various husbands including a spectacular diamond weighing in at 69.4 carats. Diamond is the hardest natural material known on the earth and reflects the inherent qualities of endurance and longevity. It has also become symbolic of love relationships, which are also allied to the purity, magnificence and value of the stones. We would have to say, with their dazzling reflective qualities diamonds are indeed great Bling.

The incredibly beautiful Girls of Great Britain and Ireland Tiara, 1893 courtesy The Royal Collection

One of my favourite fashion items on display will be the ‘Girls of Great Britain and Ireland Tiara’, which was made in 1893 for the Queen’s grandmother Queen Mary (1867 – 1953) as a gift from the state.

The women in the Royal family have all worn it to great occasions.

Garrard the Crown Jewellers at London fashioned it in a ‘diamond festoon and scroll design’ that is aesthetically very pleasing.

Nine large oriental pearls were originally mounted onto the diamond spikes and set on a bandeau base of alternate round and lozenge shaped collets between two plain bands of diamonds. However these days the pearls seem to be mainly left in the vault.

The current Queen of England has worn this lovely tiara often without its base, and it is only in recent years that it has once again appeared with that lovely band of diamonds re-attached.

George W Bush toasting Queen Elizabeth II in 2007 who is wearing many of her diamonds

Table Snuff Box of Frederick the Great of Prussia. c1770 courtesy The Royal Collection

One of the most fabulous small decorative items is the Table Snuff Box that used to belong to Frederick II of Prussia. It is incredible, entirely exquisite. Its elaborately chased vari-coloured gold mounts and lavish use of diamonds is unique.

Sniffing snuff was the original method of taking tobacco, first used by the American Indians. It was reputedly Christopher Columbus who first noticed them sniffing a mysterious powder during his second voyage of discovery (1494-6) and brought the substance back to Europe.

For a long time snuff’s cost meant that it was, by and large, only used by the wealthy and elite across Europe in their salons in which polite conversation was cultivated and constantly punctuated it seems by the sound of sneezing.

The self-induced sneeze was invented by the aristocracy to distinguish themselves from everyone else. Just to sneeze haphazardly, was not sufficient: there had to be a special occasion.

Sneezing became an essential aspect of a conversation or communication; a kind of a blasé counterpoint, so to speak, or, if you like, a bored man’s punctuation. It was indulged in whenever one desired to show disapproval of, or a lack of interest in, the subject under conversation. As a result, anything ‘not to be sneezed at’ indicated something that was, in fact, perversely worthwhile.

Queen Victoria's Coronation Necklace and Earrings courtesy The Royal Collection

The beautiful box, which is a creative legacy of the designer and the patient craftsman who made it, is made of bloodstone and encrusted all over with nearly three thousand diamonds in floral and foliate shapes. It was made 1770 – 1775 and the diamonds are all backed with delicately coloured foils in shades of pink and yellow to aid reflection, being produced before the brilliant cut, which shone with light, became more commonplace.

Queen Victoria's Fringe Brooch one of the Treasures of The Royal Collection

The box was made in Berlin and is also thought to have belonged to Tsarina Alexandra Feodorovna (1798-1860) the consort of Tsar Nicholas I and was acquired by Queen Mary for the family collection.

While diamond cuts actually commenced during the Middle Ages what we know as the brilliant cut for diamonds was not invented until the eighteenth century. The cushion cut prevailed from the middle of the 17th century. It  had seventeen facets and these were called double-cut brilliants. A Venetian polisher Vincent Peruzzi later increased the number of facets to 33.

By the late eighteenth century the brilliant cut had facets of different shapes and sizes, which were meant to increase the brilliance by minimizing the amount of light that escaped from the bottom of the stone. This ‘old European’ cut was the forerunner for the modern brilliant cut, which emerged with the development of diamond saws around 1900.

Queen Victoria (1819 – 1901) had some pretty spectacular diamonds. Her fringe brooch, made in 1856 is really quite something. It was made in October 1856 by Garrard, who re-modelled an existing piece of jewellery and then added more stones that had just been presented to the Queen by the Sultan of Turkey, Abdul Mejid I in May of that year.

One of Queen Victoria's splendid Bow Brooches

Then there was her regal Coronation necklace and unbelievable earrings created for her, that were then subsequently worn by Queen Alexandra, Queen Mary, Queen Elizabeth (The Queen Mother) and Her Majesty The Queen at their respective coronations.

Queen Victoria in 1858 commissioned Garrards to make for her a set of three large bow brooches containing more 506 diamonds. However there is no known image of Queen Victoria wearing them, although Queen Alexandra, Queen Mary, Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother and the Queen however have worn them frequently.

Of all the items on display the exquisite diamond crown, which Queen Victoria commissioned and wore on her own Diamond Jubilee will be sure to attract a great deal of attention. It was made to wear with the mourning veil she wore in memory of her husband Prince Albert after he died in 1861. When she returned to public life after 1870 she first used this tiny crown at the State Opening of Parliament in Westminster on 9th February 1871.

In her will she left it to the state and it was deposited in the Jewel House at the Tower of London in 1937.

Exhibition curator Caroline de Guitaut holds Queen Victoria's small Diamond crown which she wore on her Diamond Jubilee

A kiss on the hand
May be quite continental,
But diamonds are a girl’s best friend

Cullinan Diamond in the Rough

One of the most extraordinary aspects of the display will be the many stones cut from the much celebrated Cullinan Diamond.

It was the largest diamond ever found by one Captain Frederick Wells in a mine in Pretoria, South Africa, on 25th January 1905.

It weighed 3.106 metric carats in its rough state and measured over 10 cm in length.

The great Star of Africa detail from the royal sceptre - one of the Crown Jewels of England

Asscger Spliting the Cullinan Diamond

Curator Caroline de Guitaut is reported as having said when the media was appraised of the coming exhibition:

“Until January 26 1905 no-one had ever seen a diamond of this size. So incredible was its discovery that the moment it was found at the Premier mine it was thrown out of the window of the mine manager’s office because it was thought to be a worthless crystal.”

The Cullinan diamond was celebrated because of its amazing blue white colouring and exceptional purity and was named for the chairman of the mining company, Thomas Cullinan.

It was in November, 1907 that Cullinan had the stone formally presented to King Edward VII on the occasion of his 66th birthday as a token of his loyalty and esteem.

At the time the Cullinan was gifted to Edward VII it  did not include the cost of cutting the stone. This was later entrusted to the celebrated firm of I.J. Asscher of Amsterdam.

A painstaking eight months of work working out how to cut the diamond began in February 1908.

Joseph Asscher was the most skilfull cleaver in the firm and he finally split the Cullinan and then it was cut, ground and polished. The result was nine principal numbered stones, 96 small brilliants and nine carats of unpolished fragments.

Cullinan V Diamond Brooch courtesy The Royal Collection

Cullinan III and IV made into a Brooch courtesy The Royal Collection

This dazzling show will reunite for the first time seven of the nine principal stones seven of which are now set in brooches, a ring and necklace.

After the cutting of the Cullinan Diamond the first two diamonds Cullinan I and II were put into the Crown Jewels Collection and Cullinan IV was presented by King Edward to his wife Queen Alexandra.

The remainder of the diamond stayed in Amsterdam with the Asschers until Prime Minister Botha of South Africa insisted that his government buy them back so that he could present them to Queen Mary.

Cullinan 1 is called The Greater Star of Africa and is pear shaped. It was set into the royal sceptre with the cross in 1911 for the coronation of George V. It is today on display with the crown jewels in the Tower of London and amazingly can also be removed and worn as a brooch

The Cullinan III and Cullinan IV diamonds became affectionately known as ‘Granny’s Chips’.

In 1911, Garrard set Cullinan VIII into a fine radiating platinum mount, in the same style as that for Cullinan V.

Cullinan III weighed 94.4 carats and is a clear shaped pear stone, while Cullinan VI weighed 63.6 carats and is a cushion shaped stone.

Elizabeth II inherited a brooch with the Cullinan IV hanging from the Cullinan III in 1953.

It is considered the most valuable brooch in the world with a value in excess of 50 million pounds. The first time Queen Elizabeth II choose to wear it was on a visit to the Asscher diamond works in March 1958 whilst on a state visit to Holland. According to reports at the time the Queen unpinned the brooch and handed it to Louis Asscher, who had witness the original Cullinan being cut by his brother.

Cullinan VII and VIII set as a brooch courtesy The Royal Collection

The Cullinan V was an unusual heart-shaped stone weighing 18.8 carats, given by the government of South Africa to Queen Mary in 1910.

It was designed as a brooch and the detachable centre of a ‘diamond stomacher’ made for the Queen to wear on her gown to attend the Delhi Durbar in 1911.

Edward VII purchased the Cullinan VI from Asschers and then gave it to Queen Alexandra who had it set into a regal circlet.

Today it is suspended from Cullinan VIII an emerald cut stone also given to Queen Mary in 1910 by the South African government.

The French are glad to die for love.
They delight in fighting duels.
But I prefer a man who lives
And gives expensive jewels.

The biggest scandal that ever took place over diamonds was with the French monarchy. Charles Bohmer desired to sell the most opulent piece of diamond jewellery he had ever made to King Louis XV for his last mistress Mme du Barry.

He had collected 647 brilliants weighing 2800 carats and assembled it into a four-tier necklace. The King died before he could conclude the sale and he then tried to sell it to Marie-Antoinette.

She refused and not to be deterred he tried again through a distant relation of the now Louis XVI, not knowing this particular lady had an axe to grind with the Bourbons.

Jeanne de la Motte was totally dazzled by the galaxy of diamonds spread before her and she conceived an audacious  plot, which became the most audacious swindle in French history.

It brought undone a great many people, including the King’s Cardinal and damaged the reputation of the monarchy, who became pawns in the ‘affair of the diamond necklace’

When looking at these few baubles its not hard to understand how and why it happened

Queen Mary's Coronation Crown with Cullinan III and IV featured courtesy - The Royal Collection

But square-cut or pear-shaped,
These rocks don’t loose their shape.
Diamonds are a girl’s best friend

Diamonds: A Jubilee Celebration
State Rooms at Buckingham Palace
Saturday, 30 June 2012 to Sunday, 07 October 2012

Please note that Buckingham Palace will be closed from 9 to 30 July 2012.
This exhibition is part of a visit to the Summer Opening of the State Rooms at Buckingham Palace in 2012.

*Lyrics are from Diamonds are a Girl’s Best Friend a song that was introduced by Carol Channing in the original Broadway production of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1949). It was written by Jule Styne (who also wrote the scores for such famed Broadway musicals as Funny Girl and Gypsy) and Leo Robin. It was based on a novel by Anita Loos and made famous by Marilyn Monroe in the 1953 film Gentlemen Prefer Blondes

Carolyn McDowall, The Culture Concept Circle 2012

Purchase the Book The Queen’s Diamonds from

Enjoy Marilyn Monroe singing Diamonds are a Girls Best Friend courtesy You Tube


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