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April 18, 2016 10:33 am  #1


TBF-QEII-2 The Queen’s South African Diamonds

2. The Queen’s South African Diamonds

   These diamonds were presented as a necklace by the Government of the Union of South Africa, as a 21st birthday present to The Queen, during the Royal Family’s tour of South Africa in 1947. It was presented to The Queen, when she was still Princess Elizabeth, by Field Marshal Smuts, at a ball held at Government House, Cape Town on The Queen’s actual birthday.[1] The Queen described this necklace in a letter she wrote to Queen Mary, as “the biggest and most striking” of the presents she had received.[2] It is said that The Queen continues to call this necklace her “best diamonds”.[3]

   The necklace originally consisted of “a long chain of 21 graduated brilliants – the largest of 10 carats – each separated by a baguette and two small brilliants”.[4]

   Three days prior to receiving this necklace, The Queen had been given a six-carat diamond, by Sir Ernest Oppenheimer, the Chairman of De Beers, at the Big Hole diamond mine at Kimberly;[5] the moment that this diamond was presented to the then Princess Elizabeth by Sir Ernest's young grand-daughter, Miss Mary Oppenheimer, was captured on camera.[6]

   This single diamond was later converted into a “detachable snap piece” for the necklace,[7] and these can both be seen in a photograph taken from the Garrard Archives, in Gere and Culme’s Garrard.

   The necklace in its original form was exhibited, alongside the other gifts that the Royal Family had received from the South African Government, in St. James’s Palace in 1947, amongst the exhibition of The Queen’s wedding presents, and was recorded simply as “a necklace of 21 large diamonds (21st birthday gift) and a single diamond forming a pendant”.[9]

   The Queen subsequently wore this necklace in its original form at numerous occasions, most notably during the Pre-Wedding Ball, hosted by The King and Queen at Buckingham Palace on the 18th November, as was recorded in The Times, which noted that “she wore the necklace of 21 diamonds which was South Africa’s coming-of-age present to her”.[10] The Queen was also pictured wearing this necklace in its original form during the official visit to France in 1948.[11]

   In 1953, the decision was made for the necklace to be shortened to fifteen large stones. Six of the large brilliants were removed and these stones, along with the detachable snap-piece forming the clasp, were used to create this new bracelet.[12]

   Roberts describes these diamonds as a “necklace of 15 and the bracelet of seven graduated brilliants, in openwork platinum claw settings, each large brilliant mounted between a baguette and two small brilliants”.[13]

   The Queen has subsequently been photographed wearing this necklace and bracelet occasionally,[14] most notably to the State Banquet hosted in honour of the President of South Africa in 2010.[15]

Note:
   It should be noted that the story of The Queen making an audible gasp, which was picked up by the microphones, when she received this necklace is untrue.[16] It was when The Queen, still Princess Elizabeth, was presented with a set of five unset diamonds, whilst opening the East London Docks in South Africa on 3rd March 1947, that this gasp was heard. As The Time recorded, “probably the Princess did not know how near she was standing to the microphones, but her unaffected exclamations of delight at the beauty of the present, which were heard by an unexpectedly large audience, were all the more pleasing for that”.[17]

1. Roberts, The Queen Diamonds, p. 272
2. Roberts, The Queen Diamonds, p. 272; RA QM/PRIV/CC14/156 (Princess Elizabeth to Queen Mary, 1 May 1947)
3. Field, The Queen’s Jewels, p. 49
4. Roberts, The Queen Diamonds, p. 272
5. Ibid., p. 272
6. Suzy Menkes, The Royal Jewels, (London: Grafton Books, 1985), p. 141; Roberts, The Queen Diamonds, p. 275 (RCIN 2705086)
7. Roberts, The Queen Diamonds, p. 272; RA JEWEL/GARRARD/QEII
8. Charlotte Gere and John Culme, Garrard: The Crown Jewellers 1843 – 1993, (London: Quartet Books, 1993), p. 146
9. Marriage of HRH The Princess Elizabeth and Lieutenant Philip Mountbatten RN: List of Wedding Gifts, (London: St. James’s Palace, 1947), p. xiv
10. The Times, 19 November 1947, p. 4
11. Young, The Queen’s Jewellery, pl. 18; Roberts, The Queen Diamonds, p. 275 (RCIN 2002473)
12. Young, The Queen’s Jewellery, pl. 19 Menkes, The Royal Jewels, p. 140; Field, The Queen’s Jewels, p. 49; Roberts, The Queen Diamonds, p. 272
13. Roberts, The Queen Diamonds, p. 272
14. Young, The Queen’s Jewellery, pl. 100; Menkes, The Royal Jewels, p. 140; Field, The Queen’s Jewels, p. 49; Roberts, The Queen Diamonds, p. 274 (RCIN 2508453)
15. Roberts, The Queen Diamonds, p. 237
16. Field, The Queen’s Jewels, p. 49
17. The Times, 4 March 1947, p. 4
 

 

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