When the Platinum Jubilee comes into effect next week, queen elizabeth will likely take the opportunity to showcase some of its most prized diamonds and gemstones. But for the first major jubilee event, A Gallop Through History, at the Royal Windsor Horse Show earlier this month, she ditched her finery and dressed up. In a blue silk floral dress, blue cardigan and gray crystal-studded shawl, she looked more like your average grandmother than the longest-serving British monarch. She did, however, indulge in a display of regal luxury by sporting what appeared to be a three-row pearl necklace.
Ultimately, the queen’s devotion to pearls may be a hallmark of her style; even her most casual outfits are maintained with a bit of sheen. Two days before the competition, she went to the show to see her own horse compete and was spotted wearing a white shirt and a thick navy blue cardigan, along with pearl earrings and earrings. a visible pearl necklace around her neck. The Queen has an unrivaled collection of jewelry that she doesn’t always get to show off, but the mainstays of her wardrobe are her vast collection of pearl necklaces. She has so many, in fact, that even experts can have a hard time telling which is which.
Unlike her more extravagant gems, which are kept in leather cases and polished by her dresser and close friend Angela Kelly, the queen keeps a selection of her most worn jewels on trays sorted by color. In his 2019 book describing his work, The other side of the coin, Kelly explained that the Queen sometimes needs help with the most complicated jewelry and tricky clasps, but she can handle everyday pieces on her own. Kelly also offered a reason why the Queen loves pearl jewelry so much: She loves brightly colored skirts, dresses and hats, and pearls can help “soften” a color.
There is also a sentimental significance behind his affinity for the gemstone. A handful of the Queen’s most prized pearl jewelry were gifts from loved ones. Her grandmother, Queen Mary, left her one of her favorite pairs of earrings, large single-button pearls with a small diamond affixed to each. Button pearls form when an incomplete pearl is attached to the side of an oyster, leaving them with a flat bottom that makes them ideal for earrings. On her wedding day, the queen’s parents gave her two pearl necklaces that belonged to Anne and Caroline, two queens of the 17th and 18th centuries. As her devoted private secretary, Jock Colville, later recounted in his edited diaries, she wanted to wear the necklaces during the ceremony but realized at the last minute that they were on public display with the rest of her wedding gifts. Colville rushed to collect the pearls, borrowing a limo from the queen’s great-uncle, King Haakon VII of Norway, to avoid the traffic. While pearl button earrings are in her regular rotation, she only releases Queen Anne and Queen Caroline necklaces, with their lavish, creamy spheres, on rare occasions. One of the last times she wore the earrings with the two strands of pearls was during her Diamond Jubilee in 2012.
The queen’s love for pearls dates back to the very beginning. In March 1927, when Princess Elizabeth was just 11 months old, her parents, the Queen Mother and King George VI, left her in the care of her grandmother, Queen Mary. At this moment, The New York Times reported on Elizabeth’s penchant for biting off Mary’s pearl necklaces. While visiting the Home Arts and Industries exhibit, Mary purchased a strand of colorful beads in an effort to distract Elizabeth. “These pearls are for the baby to bite,” Mary noted, according to the newspaper. “She will insist on trying to bite my collars.” At the age of three, she was first photographed in a necklace with six beads on its chain, which her parents would continue to add throughout her childhood.
Britain’s royal association with pearls, however, dates back to the Middle Ages, and monarchs as early as Edward II, who reigned in the 14th century, were known to wear them. By the time Queen Elizabeth I took the throne in 1558, shipments to the Americas had begun to return with large quantities of pearls, and as Dona Dirlam, Elise Misiorowski, and Sally Thomas explained in the Summer 1985 issue of Gems & Gemmology, she imbued them with a sense of “power, opulence and royal dignity”. Pearls began to denote a sense of purity and chastity, and due to her reputation as a “virgin queen”, they were deeply associated with her reign. When she died in 1603, a wax effigy showed her in jewelry, and celebratory poems mentioned her enthusiasm for them. The Imperial State Crown, which the Queen wore at her coronation and many state openings of parliament, contains a set of pearls believed to have belonged to Elizabeth I.