22 November 2011

Royal Splendor 101: New Jewels

In all our talk on the ins and outs of owning royal jewels, we've mainly talked about existing gems and how they are passed down (and around). But there's one last question looming: do they ever get new stuff? Well, sure. The trick is that they do it very, very quietly. Gone are the days of Queen Mary and her unabashed collecting practices; when things join a royal collection these days - by purchase or by gift - the royal houses usually do what they can to keep the details private, and vague if they can't achieve total privacy.

Take, for example, the case of Princess Letizia's new tiara. It's been reported as both a 5th anniversary gift from Felipe and as a gift from the jeweler, Ansorena. I suspect that ambiguity surrounding the tiara's origin suits the royal family just fine, because while accepting lavish gifts is dicey territory, so is the purchase of new jewelry when your country's economy is struggling.
This, supposedly, is Letizia's new tiara (only the center fleur de lys has been worn, as a brooch)
It's worth a diversion here to note that you can define "new jewels" in a few different ways. There are actual brand new things: new jewels, new design, everything shiny and fresh. Then there are old things worn in new ways: something existing in the royal collection that is just worn in a different way (like Sophie's wedding tiara), or something old that's been purchased by a new family (like when the old Poltimore Tiara was bought new for Princess Margaret). Plus, there are new jewels made from reconfigurations of old jewels torn apart, or from spare single jewels just rolling around at the bottom of the royal jewel case (fine, they're probably not just rolling around - but unmounted jewels are not an unusual inclusion in a collection). 
Suspected and known new tiaras: a possible purchase for Rania, a wedding gift for Charlene, a converted necklace/stomacher originally from a Belgian royal for Elizabeth, a potential purchase for Sophie, and a wedding gift for Sarah
Another area where ambiguity is sought after: gifts (a.k.a. free jewels, baby). As I said, gifts from jewelers or other commercial entities can border on inappropriate territory in the eyes of some, but so can gifts from other heads of state. The exchanging of gifts is a standard part of any state visit, and those gifts are often quite benign (framed photographs, orders, etc.). But sometimes, they can include some serious jewels.
Potential gifts from Middle Eastern rulers: Queen Sofia's jewels, Queen Margrethe's necklace, Queen Silvia's set
Yes, I'm talking mainly about Middle Eastern rulers here, a group that tends to possess - and utilize - great wealth. On the whole, they tend to patronize certain jewelers and go with a rather modern style of jewelry, so much so that you could almost pick a Middle Eastern gift out of a lineup (and sometimes that's just what you have to do). New things worn first at return banquets or on subsequent trips to the gift giver's country are also provenance clues.

Different countries will have different policies on how official gifts are handled (if they become personal property, if they have to be declared, that sort of thing), but the unofficial rule for new jewels on the whole still applies: keep it quiet and be as vague as possible. Why? Because even though it's not commercially motivated, a gift can still be too lavish for today's public relations-run world. In other words: they make excellent fodder for scandal-inducing headlines. Queen Paola ended up in hot water after a visit to the Congo, a former Belgian colony, when she received a diamond demi-parure as a gift. She didn't ask for the present, surely, and who knows what the first lady of the Congo was thinking when she decided to give such a lavish gift to a former ruler while her country is struggling with plenty of issues of its own. Paola gave the gift over to the Belgian state (with the caveat that members of the royal family can still wear it) to dispense with the scandal. Still, one expects it will be quite some time before we see it in use.

Camilla made a particularly grand example of the kerfluffle official gifts can cause when she started using the fruits gained on one trip to Saudi Arabia early in her marriage.
All of these necklaces (ruby, sapphire, and emerald) are from a single Saudi visit
Yup, all of these necklaces came from one trip. (Not bad for a day's work, am I right? Sheesh.) The furor began when she debuted the ruby one because...well, look at it. Good grief. How is that not going to make headlines? Clarence House tried to keep it quiet by refusing to place a value on the gift and by stating that it was a private matter. Problem is, it's not a private matter. These are official gifts, and there are rules in Britain because official gifts have caused trouble before (Charles got in trouble in the early 2000s for passing gifts to staff who then sold them and for selling some himself, to name one incident). Here's the rule: these are in Camilla's possession now, but because they were given to her as a part of her role representing the country, they pass to the sovereign when she dies. At that point, the sovereign can include them in the Royal Collection.

Such hassle! Poor royals, just trying to be magpies and getting diamond-blocked at every turn. This is why we can only dream that a royal family would buy a well-known auction piece - hoping that the Spanish royal family will reclaim La Peregrina, for example. It's a far-fetched hope that they would buy something like that, because they wouldn't want the headlines that would accompany the purchase. Even a magpie like me can't blame them for doing what they can to avoid the controversy. (I mean, I'll accept it, but I won't like it. Yes, I am pouting right now.)

And thus ends my looooong digression on jewel ownership and sharing - I hope that sheds some light on those questions about royal collections some of you have sent in (well, as much light as we can shed without getting into the minor details of every single jewel and every single royal family). As always, if you have any ideas for other topics you'd like covered, let me know.