by Sophie Marquis
The Crown Jewels are among the nation’s most precious treasures, comprising over 100 extraordinary objects, including the Sovereign’s Orb, Armills, spurs, maces, swords, gilt and silver-gilt banqueting plate, insignia, robes, orders and medals, each expressing the status and role of the monarch. At the heart of the collection are the sacred Coronation Regalia which we will see in the coronation ceremony of King Charles III and The Queen Consort on the 6th of May. With stories of curses and tales of thievery, the ceremonial treasures amassed by the kings and queens of England have a rich history.
The departure of the St Edward’s Crown, Imperial State Crown and the Queen Mary’s Crown from the Jewel House in the Tower of London into the hands of Mark Appleby, The Crown Jeweller, one of only three people allowed to handle them, signals the coronation will honour the tradition of crowning the monarch.
The most sacred of these crowns is The St Edward’s Crown; deeply symbolic, it is worn only at the moment of crowning. It was made for the Coronation of Charles II as a replacement for the medieval crown melted down by parliamentarians in 1649. The original was thought to date back to the 11th century as the crown of the royal saint, Edward the Confessor the last Anglo-Saxon King of England. The St Edward’s Crown follows the original crown in having four crosses-pattée and four fleurs-de-lys and two arches, surmounted by an orb and a cross, representing the Christian faith. At previous coronations the stones were hired and set into the crown, it was only on the Coronation of King George V that the 444 gemstones featuring rubies, amethysts, sapphires, garnets, topazes and tourmalines were purchased and permanently set into the solid gold frame.
In 1661, The Royal Goldsmith, Robert Vyner was commissioned to replace the destroyed regalia, including The St Edward’s Crown at a cost of nearly £12,185. The only piece of Royal goldsmiths’ work to have survived from 1649 is the silver-gilt Coronation Spoon. It is the oldest object used at coronations, thought to date back to Henry II in the 1100s. The spoon survived as it was sold to the Yeoman of King Charles I’s Wardrobe who returned it for the coronation of Charles II.
The Imperial State Crown, made for the Coronation of King George VI in 1937 by Garrard & Co, is the crown King Charles III will wear as he leaves Westminster Abbey and greets us from the balcony of Buckingham Palace. The crown is adorned with several famous jewels, not to mention the 2,868 diamonds, 11 emeralds and 269 pearls, with four of the large pearls said to have been worn in the ruff of Elizabeth I. The first of these impressive gemstones is the St Edward’s Sapphire, a beautiful octagonal-rose cut blue sapphire set in the finial cross, it is one of the oldest gemstones in the regalia, said to have been worn in a ring by Edward the Confessor, that he gave to a beggar, later revealed as St John the Evangelist who returned the ring to Edward.
The legendary large red stone in the Imperial State Crown, unlike its namesake The Black Prince’s Ruby, is an impressive red spinel. The irregular 170 carat cabochon has seen many guises; having been pierced for use as a pendant, the upper hole later filled with a small ruby in gold slip mount, but now graces the heart of the crown. The legend of the spinel as one of the most valuable gems in the world started when Don Pedro, King of Castile offered the red stone to Edward, Prince of Wales, known as The Black Prince, in exchange for shelter having said to have stolen the spinel from the Sultan of Grenada in 1366. The spinel is said to have been worn on the battlefield of Agincourt in 1415 by Henry V and at the Battle of Bosworth by Richard III. The spinel was a favourite of Queen Elizabeth II’s and serves as a symbol of prosperity and is testament to the longevity of her reign.
Although early origins of the Stuart Sapphire are obscure, it is believed the 104 carat blue gemstone was an acquisition made for Charles II, then smuggled to France by James II in 1688, passed down to his son Prince James Francis Edwards and eventually wound its way into the collection of Henry, Cardinal of York. The stone was then purchased from a Venetian merchant by the dealer Angioli Bonelli who returned the sapphire to George IV. After quite the journey, the sapphire was set into the band of Queen Victoria’s State Crown designed by the crown jewellers of the time Rundell, Bridge & Rundell in 1838. The sapphire was reset in the rear of the band in 1909 and replaced by the Cullinan II diamond, a 317.4 carat cushion-cut.
The Cullinan diamonds are revered gemstones in the Royal Collection. The 3,106 carat rough diamond was discovered at the Premier Mine in Pretoria in 1905 and named after the Chairman of the mining company Thomas Cullinan. In 1907 the stone was gifted to Edward VII as a symbol of peace between Britain and South Africa after the Boer War. Cutting and polishing of the diamond took eight months to complete, producing 9 large stones and 97 small brilliants. The Cullinan I, the Star of Africa, at 530.2 carats is the largest colourless cut diamond in the world and is set in the Sovereign’s Sceptre with Cross. The Sceptre with Cross, placed in the right hand of the monarch in the service has been used at every coronation since 1661 represents temporal power and good governance. When the Cullinan I was added to the sceptre in 1910 it had to be reinforced as the diamond is so heavy. The Queen Mary’s Crown has been chosen by Camilla and marks the first occasion in modern times that an existing crown will be used in the Coronation of the Consort. The crown is undergoing modifications to include The Cullinan III, IV and V diamonds, which were part of Queen Elizabeth II’s personal jewellery collection.
The Queen Consort shall also be presented with an exceptional ruby and old cushion-cut diamond ring. The ring was made for Queen Adelaide in 1831 along with the Sovereign’s ring for the coronation of William IV, and since 1902 has been worn by all Queen Consorts. The Sovereign’s Ring, the symbol of kingly dignity has been worn by all Sovereigns since its creation is a stunning sapphire set with a ruby cross in a diamond surround.
The Sovereign’s Orb, made of gold in the seventeenth century is divided into three sections with bands of jewels for each of the three continents known in the medieval period, is set with a superb amethyst, which at the time was one of the rarest and most precious gemstones. It represents the Sovereign’s power and the Christian world.
These magnificent sacred and secular objects signify the power and responsibility of the monarch and represent part of our heritage as a nation. I for one am looking forward to seeing these glistening treasures at the coronation.
About the Author – Sophie Marquis
Sophie is a jewellery and fine art consultant specialising in rare gemstones. After roles for art fairs, dealers, artists, the Art & Antiques Unit at the Met and in the Finance sector, it was working as a specialist at an auction house that she discovered her passion for gemstones and went into the world of luxury jewellery and watch retail at the Crown Jewellers. Sophie has a BA in Economics, Art History & Philosophy from Durham, an MA in Fine & Decorative Arts; specialising in porcelain and Impressionist paintings and is a Fellow of the Gemmological Association of Great Britain. Sophie can be found treasure hunting at auctions or prospecting down mines.
Images: The above coronation jewellery images courtesy of Royal Collection Trust / © His Majesty King Charles III 2023.
2023 Royal Emblem image to mark King Charles III Coronation: Credit Buckingham Palace (royal.uk/coronation-emblem)