14 November 2012

Wedding Wednesday: The Queen’s Wedding Gifts

On November 20th, the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh will celebrate 65 years of marriage. Sixty. Five. Just two crazy kids in love, I tell ya. Now, if you’ve hung around here long enough, you’ll know I prefer my parties to be sparkly. Therefore, we’re celebrating this anniversary (one that you don’t see much these days) with a look at some of the jewels the Queen picked up back in 1947 (a gift haul you really don’t see much these days).
Some of the gifts on display at St. James' Palace
Princess Elizabeth and Lieutenant Philip Mountbatten received around 2,500 gifts. They ranged from the practical (a refrigerator, pairs of stockings) to the thoughtful but not exactly useful (a live turkey sent from an American girl concerned about the food supply in post-war Europe, a piece of lace made from yarn hand spun by Mahatma Ghandi which earned some serious scorn from Queen Mary, who mistook it for a loincloth). And then, there were the jewels.

Left: the tiara from the Nizam of Hyderabad (now broken up, with brooches remaining) and the Boucheron ruby necklace from the bride's parents, with earrings made with wedding gift pearls. Right: the Girls of Great Britain and Ireland Tiara and Dorset Bow Brooch from Queen Mary, the necklace from the Nizam of Hyderabad, and the bracelet from the groom.
First, they rolled in from family members. Queen Mary gave a large pile of gems: the Girls of Great Britain and Ireland Tiara (which became the Queen's favorite), the Dorset Bow Brooch, a ruby and diamond bracelet with a rose center from Cornwall, a large diamond stomacher, a pair of pearl and diamond button earrings, and a pair of diamond bangle bracelets. Several of these items were among Queen Mary's own wedding presents.
Princess Alice, the groom's mother, gave her own Meander Tiara. This was never seen on the Queen; she gave it to Princess Anne who wears it frequently.
The bride's parents, King George VI and Queen Elizabeth, also had several jewels to add to the collection. They included the Queen Anne and Queen Caroline strands of pearls she wore on her wedding day, a Boucheron ruby and diamond necklace from the jewels the Queen Mother had inherited from Mrs. Greville, a sapphire and diamond Victorian necklace and earrings, and diamond chandelier earrings (also from the Greville jewels).
The brooch at left includes the Williamson Pink diamond, a wedding gift from Dr. John Williamson. The center brooch was given by Carrington & Co., and the brooch on the right is one of several gold brooches among the wedding gifts.
More jewels poured in from organizations, governments, dignitaries, and individuals. The Swiss contributed a diamond evening watch the Queen would later lend to Diana, Princess of Wales. The people of Burma sent a necklace of rubies that was later used by the Queen (with the diamonds from the Nizam of Hyderabad's tiara gift) to make the Burmese Ruby Tiara. Many brooches were received, from groups like the Jewellers and Silversmiths of Great Britain and the Principality of Monaco.
Left: the Greville Chandelier Earrings from the King and Queen, the City of London Fringe Necklace, the bottom piece of Queen Mary's stomacher gift worn as a brooch, and the diamond bangles from Queen Mary (on her right wrist). Right: the Girls tiara, and the sapphire set from the King.
Some of these jewels have become lifelong favorites, but many appear to have never been used. (For example, the Emperor of Ethiopia gave a "gold tiara chased in openwork with symbolic devices" which has never publicly been worn.) The number of jewels available to Elizabeth would drastically increase just a few years after the wedding, as she became Queen and gained access to many Crown pieces (1952), and as she inherited a large chunk of Queen Mary's jewel collection after her death (1953). This lowered her dependence on her wedding presents to add sparkle to her outfits...though of course there were probably some presents that would not have been used in any case. (Hey, we all have issues of personal taste.)

The celebration of this anniversary is going to continue over at the Queen's Jewel Vault. I'll be featuring a selection of wedding gifts until the end of the month, so tune in over there if you're in the mood for some sparkle. The first entry is up now.

Which is your favorite wedding gift?

Photos: Leslie Field/Geoffrey Munn/Getty Images