If you’ve ever taken a trip to London, you’ve likely been told that the Crown Jewels residing in the Tower of London are an absolute must-see. The British Crown Jewels are among the most famous and valuable jewelry collections in the world and are kept under careful guard. Visitors must view the collection from a moving sidewalk, which prevents anyone from getting too close to the precious jewels. The history of royal jewelry expands far beyond Britain, and many other countries feature fascinating collections which tell stories of fallen monarchies, important battles, momentous coronations and more. Read on for a glimpse into some of the most famous royal jewelry collections, from past centuries through the present.
History of Royal Jewels and CollectionsSince its inception, jewelry has been a way of displaying wealth and power. Collecting a wide array of treasured gemstones and carefully crafted pieces can make one appear worldly and well-connected, essential for any ruler. Royal jewelry collections can feature everything from diamond jewelry such as a famous diamond ring to massive gemstones weighing hundreds of carats.
Royals have often been the tastemakers of their time and defined popular styles of jewelry with their individual choices. From influencing popular necklace styles to bringing certain gemstone colors like sapphires into fashion, the importance of these royal jewels cannot be understated.
Famous Royal Jewelry Collections
Anyone interested in the history of necklaces will be fascinated by the important collections of these countries.
The French Crown Jewels historically included some of the most important gemstones in the world, including the Regent Diamond. Today only a small minority of the collection is held in the Louvre, largely due to the fact that the majority of the Crown jewels were sold off at auction in a radical move to cement the end of the monarchy. Interestingly, many of these jewels were bought by one man in particular - Charles Tiffany, who used these famed jewels to market his company, Tiffany & Co. Tiffany created custom red boxes, including the above example, to perfectly fit each of these royal treasures. Crafted of Burmese rubies, old mine-cut diamonds and natural pearls, this impressive necklace is a rarity even among the famed collection.
The Indian state of Hyderabad once owned the world's greatest diamond mining location: the Golconda mines. Golconda diamonds are revered for their impressive quality, and all of history’s most famous diamonds were once mined here, including the Hope Diamond, Koh-i-Noor and Dresden Green. The rulers of this state were called Nizams, and the last Nizam of Hyderabad, Mir Osman Ali Khan VII, was deemed the single richest man in the world by Times Magazine in 1937. When India annexed the state of Hyderabad, the Nizam’s expansive collection of jewels was deemed a national treasure. The jewels are rarely displayed, but the Indian government paid over $70 million to the Nizam’s descendants in 1995, demonstrating their incredible value.
BritainThe British Crown Jewels contain treasures collected largely in the past 350 years by the ruling monarchs. Including everything from crowns and tiaras to some of the rarest diamonds known, such as the Cullinan diamond, the collection is considered almost priceless. The British Crown Jewels also technically contain several non-jewelry items, including state swords and more.
Given the vast number of gemstones and rare jewelry included in the collection, it’s difficult for anyone to pick a favorite. Even Queen Elizabeth II often alternated between different pieces for momentous occasions, although she favored certain pieces and wore them frequently, notably the Girls of Great Britain and Ireland Tiara. The Queen also possessed her own personal jewelry collection, separate from the official crown jewels, which includes many of her most famous tiaras.
Royal Jewels for Royal Traditions
Royal traditions often require the wearing of jewelry for religious and political reasons. Jewelry conveys power and wealth and can often play a special role during coronations and important ceremonies.
For many ancient rulers, jewelry also played an important role in funerary attire. In Ancient Egypt, the jewels worn when entombed could accompany one into the afterlife. The tombs of Egyptian pharaohs are famous for their impressive burial items, including everything from luxurious gold jewelry to colorful gemstone pendants meant to preserve the body as part of the mummification process. Everything from the types of earrings worn to the gemstones and metals used in their construction had religious significance, allowing the deceased to not only pass over peacefully but to have an enjoyable afterlife.
Crowns and tiaras are steeped in royal traditions, with the vast majority existing in museums as relics of past rulers, and of course regulated by the Royal Collection Trust. The British Crown Jewels are exceptionally fascinating because of their ongoing use by the reigning monarchs in the royal family. In fact, some pieces of the collection are currently being prepared for the May 2023 Coronation Ceremony, including St Edward’s Crown jewel, the Imperial State Crown and Queen Mary’s crown which will be worn by queen consort Camilla. Some royal jewels like these three crowns can only be worn by those with specific titles, while others are available to the extended royal family for important occasions. Queen Elizabeth II often loaned tiaras to be worn in royal weddings, including the Halo Tiara to Princess of Wales Kate Middleton, the wife of Prince William, and Queen Mary’s Bandeau Tiara to Meagan Markle, the wife of Prince Harry. Queen Elizabeth II also reportedly loaned the Lover's Knot Tiara to Princess Diana as a wedding gift. Princess Diana was also heavily influential in her style of British Crown Jewels and her own personal collection in which sapphire was greatly present.
If you’re fascinated by jewelry from the past, learn more about the history of earrings in our blog post.