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Queen Mary

Queen Mary of Teck

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Born of aristocratic roots but not wealthy ones, Mary amassed a legendary jewellery collection throughout her reign. She had married the future King George V in 1893, only after her first fiancé, his brother, died unexpectedly before their wedding day. The jewellery she received as wedding gifts could have filled a Bond Street salon but Mary was well ahead of her time, so she repurposed many of the stones into more contemporary designs and kept a meticulous inventory of their provenance. One of her more impressive pieces was the the Delhi Durbar Necklace, featuring nine of the Cambridge emeralds, which had astonishingly been won by Mary’s grandmother in a charity lottery. The emeralds were passed down the family by way of children and mistresses until Mary commissioned Garrard to set them alongside diamonds to make up the necklace and added the near flawless 8.8 carat Cullinan VII diamond as a pendant. This diamond is one of nine cut from the 3,100-carat Cullinan diamond which had been gifted to Mary’s father-in-law, King Edward VII. The Lovers Knot Brooch is another recognisable jewellery icon. Bought from Garrard in 1932, this scalloped shaped ribbon brooch features brilliant cut diamonds and is designed with hinges at the top of the tails allowing them to flicker with movement. Mary died in 1953 during the reign of Queen Elizabeth II, who inherited much of her enviable jewellery collection and was seen wearing the Queen Mary’s Lovers Knot Brooch at the wedding of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge in 2011.

Empress Farah of Iran

Coronation of the Empress of Iran, 1967

ullstein bild Dtl. / Getty Images

Widely considered to be the most valuable in the world, the Imperial Crown Jewels of Iran, now housed in Tehran, were amassed throughout centuries of monarchic rule, but it was the last Shah, Mohammad Reza and his third wife, Farah, who brought their monumental jewellery collection extraneous attention. On her wedding day, Farah wore a tiara by Harry Winston featuring the 60-carat Noor-ul-Ain pink diamond. Whilst impressive, this stone is believed to be just a fractional cut from the Iranian owned Daria-i-Noor 182-carat pink diamond, the largest of its kind and worth over £100 million. In 1966, Van Cleef & Arpels were chosen to create the Coronation jewels to be worn by Farah at the ceremony the following year. According to Iranian tradition, gems from the National Treasure had to be used so Pierre Arpels chose from thousands of unmounted gemstones of every possible shape and hue – the completed crown eventually included 36 emeralds, over 100 pearls and nearly 1,500 diamonds. In 1971, the Shah purchased an emerald necklace for his wife to wear to the extravagant celebration to mark the 2,500-year anniversary of the Imperial State of Iran at Persepolis. The stones were originally set in a tiara owned by Empress Eugenie of France, wife of Napoleon III, but with exile looming, she hid them in a fan box and sent them to her god-daughter, the future Queen Victoria Eugenie of Spain who had them mounted into a necklace. But having been exiled herself, the necklace was sold at auction in 1961, finding its way into Farah’s jewellery box. 

The Duchess of Windsor

The Duchess of Windsor seated with the Duke of Windsor and their two small dogs, circa 1941

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King Edward VIII abdicated 85 years ago to marry divorcée Wallis Simpson. The duke showered Wallis with gifts throughout their lives together, often including gems which had been given to Edward from all over the British Empire and which came to be known as the ‘alternative crown jewels’. The pieces were engraved with secret inscriptions of hidden meaning known only to the two of them, like the 1936 Van Cleef & Arpels ruby and diamond bracelet, inscribed with the words ‘Hold Tight’ – a significant message given that the order predated both her divorce and his abdication. The Cartier panther is another jewellery motif often associated with the Windsors. Wallis’s Cartier panther bracelet was commissioned in 1952, shortly after she lost some of her jewels in a burglary. The articulated design features diamonds and onyx with emerald-set eyes. The Cartier charm bracelet worn on her wedding day has nine gem-set crosses, each engraved with meaningful dates including the couple’s marriage, an assassination attempt on the former king and even the date of an X-ray. Her gold-set ruby and sapphire floral brooch from Van Cleef & Arpels inspired the look-a-like Hawaiian Collection for Wallis-style-adopters and you can see the only known replica in real life at the Van Cleef & Arpels Florae exhibition being held in Paris until mid-November 2021. The duke said that no other woman should ever wear her jewellery but after her death many of her items were sold at auction in 1987 and, as requested, all proceeds were left to the Pasteur Institute in Paris, a medical research foundation specialising in AIDS and cancer research.

The Imperial Family of Japan

The Imperial Household of Japan during Emperor Naruhito’s enthronement ceremony, 2019

Handout / Imperial Household Agency of Japan via Getty Images

One of the oldest, continuous hereditary monarchies in the world, the Imperial Family of Japan has some serious vintage jewellery in its vaults. Once believed to have been direct descendants from the gods, each new Emperor is presented with three treasures as a symbol of divine imperial power. This regalia includes a 2,700-year-old bean-shaped green jade jewel so sacred that no mere mortal has actually ever seen it. The jewel is said to represent the emperor’s benevolence and to this day is kept in a shrine only being brought out for accession ceremonies. A more recent tradition is the one of presenting each member of the Imperial family with a white diamond tiara for their 20th birthday or marriage into the family. Spotted at the 2020 New Years’ Eve ceremony was Empress Masako wearing her Sunburst tiara, Princess Akishino wearing her wedding tiara and her daughters Princess Kako and recently married Princess Mako, wearing their birthday parures.

Mir Osman Ali Khan VII

Mir Osman Ali Khan VII

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The last Nizam of the princely state of Hyderabad was declared the richest man in the world by Time Magazine in 1937, largely thanks to territorial ownership of the Golconda diamond mines, source of the most valued diamonds in the world. A total of 12 million carats of diamonds have been mined at Golconda, including the Koh-i-Noor of the British Crown Jewels and the Orlov Diamond of the Russian Imperial Sceptre. Mir Osman Ali Khan is believed to have found the 184-carat Golconda Jacob Diamond hidden in the toe of his father’s shoe and thereafter simply used the £100 million stone as a paperweight. The state regalia of the Nizams totals 173 pieces and includes gem-encrusted crowns, turban ornaments, pendants, anklets and toe-rings and, as once said, enough pearls to pave Piccadilly. After the 1947 independence of India, Hyderabad was invaded and foreign sale of the royal jewellery was banned. The collection has only been showcased a few times since being officially bought by the Indian government in 1995 and division of his fortune has been at the centre of decades of legal wrangling, unsurprisingly given the rumour that Mir Osman Ali Khan fathered over 150 children.

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