07 January 2012

Random Jewel Tidbits: Sophie's Conundrum

The Earl and Countess of Wessex
Since we enjoy talking about sparkly things around here...shall we discuss the shady side of gems for a moment? As I wrote when we chatted about new jewels entering royal houses, the royals usually try to keep quiet about it. An example has now emerged to show us exactly why they tiptoe around this particular subject.

The Earl and Countess of Wessex made a short trip to Bahrain in December visiting troops in Afghanistan. And it has now emerged, from the gift lists put together by Buckingham Palace, that the Countess was given some jewelry while she was there.

She received a set of jewels from King Hamad Al-Khalifa and another from prime minister Sheikh Khalifa bin Salman Al-Khalif, who is also a member of the royal family. (No details were given on appearance, size, or value.) Bahrain was criticized for the violence involved in their handling of the Arab Spring protesters last year (more details on this situation here). And now, Sophie's under fire for accepting the jewels. An ex-Foreign Office minister is even calling for her to auction them off and give the proceeds to the regime's victims.

What a conundrum, eh? This is one of those "damned if you do, damned if you don't" situations. Had she not accepted the gift, that would have been a tremendous affront to her hosts. Similarly, requesting a modest gift, a donation to charity, or no gift at all in advance could also be insulting to the country that wants to give something they will be proud to see go back to Britain. But if she accepts it, she's criticized. (And selling it right away? If I gave the gift, I'd be even more insulted than if it had just been refused in the first place. But beyond that, the rules for official gifts prevent her from selling anything.) Diplomacy is not a black and white affair.

In my opinion, the criticism of the Countess in this situation is misdirected. The Foreign Office works with the royals on these visits. It's not just Sophie and Edward deciding to go somewhere so they can pick up a nice haul. If some consider the diplomatic acrobatics of the gifts to be a fail, I don't think that's Sophie's fault. What I imagine will happen is that the new jewels will stay in the vault for a while (maybe even several years) before use. I think they will be used at some point, how often being up to how much they suit the Countess' taste. And I think that's the best she can do in this situation.

The jewels aren't her personal property, it should be noted: she can hang on to them for her life, and then they go to the Royal Collection. As a gift given in the course of royal duties, they belong to the country at the end of the day.

What do you think is the best solution here?

Photo: Daylife/Getty Images