During her 75 year reign, the late Queen Elizabeth II wore some dazzling pieces of jewellery. Included among these were many Crown jewels but also jewels that she commissioned for herself. However, it was pearls that always stood out as her favourite gem, so much so, it was rare to see her without them.
Queen Elizabeth’s love for this lustrous gem began at an early age. She grew up seeing her mother and grandmother wearing necklaces, brooches, earrings and rings set with the finest natural pearls. This was because pearl jewellery was (and is) an elegant and beautiful choice. In addition, they the fit the etiquette of refined daytime wear but just as easily transitioned to evening splendour.
The Queen herself was particularly fond of wearing pearl necklaces. She would pair her pearl necklaces with colour-blocked outfits, making this her signature style.
Queen Elizabeth wearing her three strand pearl necklaces on different occasions (Getty Images)
Queen Elizabeth was often seen wearing different three-strand pearl necklaces. In fact, the three-strand pearl necklace became her most readily recognized jewelled accessory. While it is difficult to tell many of her three-strand necklaces apart, three of them stood out as her favorites.
The first was a gift to her from her father, King George VI, which was in keeping with a long-held family tradition that started many generations ago. According to jewellery historian Leslie Field, Queen Victoria would give her daughters and granddaughters one pearl, as a gift, on each birthday. By the time the princesses turned eighteen, they had collected enough pearls to string into a necklace. Queen Elizabeth’s father, following this custom, gave her two pearls on her birthday every year. Consequently, when she turned eighteen, the Queen was able to wear these pearls in an impressive three-strand necklace. Since this necklace was a gift from her beloved father, with whom she was especially close, it always held a special meaning for her. The Queen loved this necklace tremendously and later had an identical one made so she would not wear out the much-loved original.
Another special three-strand natural pearl necklace was gifted to Queen Elizabeth by her grandfather, King George V in 1935, during his Silver Jubilee celebrations. Two years later, in 1937, during her father’s coronation, the young Princess Elizabeth was seen wearing this very necklace. Due to its sentimental value, this necklace too was a treasured part of Queen Elizabeth’s jewellery collection.
The third three-strand necklace was given to the Queen by the Emir of Qatar on the occasion of her coronation in 1953. This necklace has an ornate diamond clasp and is longer than her other three-strand pearl necklaces, making it perfect for evening wear. Just like her other three-strand pearl necklaces, this necklace too became a special addition to Queen Elizabeth’s jewellery collection.
To many royal family watchers, Queen Elizabeth’s three-strand pearl necklaces were seen as an integral part of her “official uniform.” To honour the memory of her late grandmother-in-law, Princess Katewore one of the Queen’s three-strand pearl necklaces to a lunch reception at Buckingham Palace. This was during the official mourning period following the demise of Queen Elizabeth II in September 2022.
Queen Elizabeth on her wedding day, 1947, wearing the Queen Anne and Queen Caroline necklaces (From the Hulton-Deutsch Collection/Corbis/Getty Images); Queen Elizabeth at her Diamond Jubilee concert, 2012, wearing the same necklaces (Getty Images)
On her wedding day 1947, Queen Elizabeth (then Princess Elizabeth) wore not one but two natural pearl necklaces - the Queen Anne necklace and the Queen Caroline necklace. Always worn together, these two necklaces often look like a single two-strand necklace, probably because the colour, lustre and size of the pearls of both necklaces match so well. These two necklaces were given to Princess Elizabeth as a wedding gift from her parents. The shorter of the two necklaces (with 46 pearls) was believed to have belonged to Queen Anne, the last Stuart monarch and the second necklace, (with 50 pearls) belonged to Queen Caroline, who was the consort of King George II.
The Queen wore these necklaces on several different occasions, most noteworthy of these being during her Diamond Jubilee concert at Buckingham Palace in 2012.
Queen Elizabeth wearing her Japanese pearls’ choker necklace during her trip to in Bangladesh in 1983 (Getty Images); Queen Elizabeth wearing the same necklace at a banquet at the Chinese embassy in London, 1999 (Getty Images)
To commemorate her first state visit to Japan in 1975, Queen Elizabeth was given a set of very fine Japanese cultured Akoya pearls by the government of Japan. A few years later, the Queen commissioned her court jeweller, Garrard, to set these pearls into a four strand choker necklace with a curved diamond clasp. The fact that Queen Elizabeth did not wear many choker-style necklaces made this Akoya pearl necklace particularly fascinating for royal family watchers. The Queen wore this necklace during an official visit to Bangladesh in 1983, at former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher’s 70th birthday in 1995 and at a banquet at the Chinese Embassy in London, in 1995. She also loaned it to her daughter-in-law, the late Princess Diana as well as to her granddaughter-in-law, Princess Kate.
This necklace was once again thrust into the spotlight when Princess Kate wore it to Prince Philip’s funeral last year and then to Queen Elizabeth’s funeral last month. Princess Kate’s choice of jewellery on both these sad occasions underscores the importance of this necklace for Queen Elizabeth.
That the Queen loved pearls and especially pearl necklaces is an unforgettable part of her royal story. What is truly extraordinary is that she took the royal tradition of wearing pearls and give it her own special flair.
Featured Image: Queen Elizabeth II (1926-2022)(Getty Images)