The origins of the royal jewellery collection, distinct from the state regalia of the Crown Jewels, isn’t entirely known. Estimated to have started around the 16th century, the collection is an amalgamation of gifts and the spoils of overseas wars and revolutions. The bulk of the collection dates from the 19th and 20th centuries.
Kept in the Tower of London, the Crown Jewels of The United Kingdom are ceremonial regalia worn by British monarchs during their coronations. The tradition stretches back to the 12th century, although most of the current collection is around 350 years old. Of the 23,578 stones in the collection, the glittering 530 carat Cullinan 1 diamond dominates. It is the largest clear cut diamond in the world and was discovered in South Africa in 1905.
The first glimpse of royal wedding jewellery came in 1853 when Queen Victoria and Prince Albert reenacted their wedding of 1840, before the advent of modern photography. In the frugal spirit of the age, Victoria opted for a floral wreath of orange blossoms rather than a tiara.
Queen Elizabeth II showed no such restraint when she wore the Queen Mary Fringe Tiara at her wedding to Prince Philip in 1952. A present to Queen Mary in 1919, it has since been worn by Princess Anne and Princess Beatrice on their wedding days.
For her highly-anticipated wedding to Prince William in 2011, Kate Middleton chose the Cartier Halo Tiara, borrowed from the Queen and originally a present from George VI to his wife, the Queen Mother.
When it comes to more casual royal jewellery, the Queen’s three-strand pearl necklace is an almost permanent fixture for daytime occasions, as can be seen in this Queen Elizabeth documentary. She received the necklace as a gift from her father George VI, who died when she was just 25. Due to the particular resonance of the original piece, she had an identical necklace made so she can rotate them.
A staple piece for Kate Middleton is a couple of oval green amethyst hoops encompassed by jewels and set in 18k yellow gold. They were a present from Prince Willam for their first Christmas together as a married couple. She is also regularly seen wearing the Cartier Ballon Bleu watch, another present from William and a nod to his mother who was rarely seen without one of the brand’s watches.
There has been much speculation about who will inherit the Queen’s vast personal jewellery collection. As the future queen consort, Kate should be in line to receive some of the most precious pieces of the collection. She already has an impressive collection having inherited many pieces from Princess Diana including her much worn South Sea pearl earrings and sapphire engagement ring. Meghan Markle has also been spotted wearing some of Diana’s pieces including an emerald cut ring and a pair of golden butterfly earrings, inset with blue stones and diamonds.
Whoever is eventually lucky enough to receive a share of the Queen’s collection, they will be able to enjoy some of the world’s most stunning and desirable jewellery imaginable.