Thursday, January 24, 2013

Mastery of Design: Queen Victoria’s Diamonds, 1858

The Coronation Necklace and Earrings
R. S. Garrard & Co., 1858
Commissioned by Queen Victoria
The Royal Collection

Queen Victoria believed that a monarch should always look the part. Jewelry, she thought (quite correctly) when worn properly was one of the best ways to convey the sense of dignity, grandeur and nobility required of a ruler. The best stone for this was the diamond. Queen Victoria loved diamonds—she enjoyed wearing them. For the Queen, like many of us, diamonds put one in mind of tasteful magnificence. Given Queen Victoria’s diminutive size—she was not even five feet tall—she was quite sensitive about the scale of her jewelry. She desired large stones, but in settings that were appropriate for her stature. Many of the pieces of jewelry that she inherited were remade so that the scale would suit her small frame. Her beloved Prince Albert supervised all of the alterations personally.

By 1853, all of her most exquisite diamond pieces had been remade by Garrards, The Royal Jewelers at the time. In 1856, she was painted by Franz Winterhalter wearing an exceptional suite of diamonds—her favorite. However, in 1857, some minor unpleasantness with the King of Hanover (he felt that the jewels that had belonged to Queen Charlotte should have been rightfully his and not Victoria’s) caused Queen Victoria to have to give up the majority of her diamonds. Not to fear, however. When you’re the Queen, there are always more diamonds to be had. By 1858, Queen Charlotte’s necklace and earrings had been recreated using stones cleverly culled from a variety of sources. Winterhalter painted Victoria again, in 1859, this time wearing her new diamonds.

Winterhalter's 1859 Portrait
British National Portrait Gallery
This necklace is just too magnificent. The earrings aren’t bad either. I’ll just let them speak for themselves. Victoria loved them so dearly, they were the only diamonds she allowed herself to wear during her extended period of mourning. They reminded her of Prince Albert. Of particular note, these diamonds are now known as “Coronation Necklace.” While Victoria didn’t wear them at her coronation, they have been worn at the 1902, 1911, 1937 and 1953 coronations.

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