The Queen’s Jewel Box: Her First Pearls

Thanks to Leslie Field who wrote The Queen’s Jewels: The Personal Collection of Elizabeth II (aka the definitive book on the Queen’s massive jewelry collection), we have all sorts of information about when and how the Queen acquired many of her pieces. It was published in 1987, and Field was assisted by the Queen’s Household in her research which is pretty incredible; it must have been such a fun project to work on.

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We know that the Queen loves her pearls; she often wears her pearl and diamond stud earrings (inherited from her grandmother Queen Mary) and on any given day might have two or three strings of pearls around her neck. So let’s dive into the pearl section of the Queen’s jewelry box, and in particular how it all began.

The Queen was give her first pearls when she was born, which was actually a family tradition begun by Queen Victoria. Here is  an excerpt explaining how it came to be:

Queen Victoria started a family tradition by giving each of her five daughters two fine pearls a year from birth, so that when they were grown-up they would have enough for a necklace. However, by 1866, when she was also buying pearls for a growing number of granddaughters, Queen Victoria asked her eldest daughter, Vicky, married to the Prussian Crown Prince, to explain to her sisters that with the price of a pearl having risen to between 30 pounds and 40 pounds she had to cut back and could only provide on a year for their daughters, since she was still making up the necklaces for her own two youngest daughters, Louise and Beatrice.

This family tradition continued with King George VI, who gave his daughter Princess Elizabeth (the present Queen) a thin chain to which two pears were added on each birthday. Here she is wearing it in 1929 when she was three years old.

Princess ELizabeth arriving at Lady Nunburnholme's children's party to celebrate the 1st anniversary of the birthday of the Hon Ben Wilson, the 4th Baron of Nunburnholme. (source)

Princess Elizabeth arriving at Lady Nunburnholme’s children’s party to celebrate the 1st anniversary of the birthday of the Hon Ben Wilson, the 4th Baron of Nunburnholme (source)

It seems that Anne did not receive her own thin chain and two pearls when she was born;  according to Field, Princess Anne is wearing the Queen’s childhood pearl necklace in the portrait below.

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I wonder if the necklace is still with the Queen or if it was truly a gift to Princess Anne. If it was, she may have passed it along to Zara and Zara’s daughter Mia. I’ve scoured the internet but can’t find any photos of Zara or Maya in the necklace; I’ll have to keep on the lookout!

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By the same token,  I wonder if we will see Princess Charlotte in a similar necklace. I’m sure Kate would be all over a tradition like that what with how she likes dressing Prince George in vintage children’s styles and Prince William’s own baby clothes.

The next pearls that the Queen received were for the occasion of King George V’s Silver Jubilee in 1935. The Queen received 3 rows of pearls and Princess Margaret received two rows since she was younger.

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Both princesses wore the necklaces for their parent’s coronation in 1938.

On the Buckingham Palace balcony after the coronation (source)

On the Buckingham Palace balcony after the coronation (source)

The pearls necklaces on the two princesses can be better seen in this 1940 portrait. Cute that Princess Margaret’s necklace is all twisted up.

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And here with a young Prince Charles and Princess Anne.

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This was taken at Balmoral in 1952.

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This photograph of the Queen with Princess Anne was taken in 1960 at Windsor Castle.

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This is another great photograph

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Jumping ahead many years, The Queen chose this necklace in March, 1981. This was the day her private council consented to Lady Diana and Prince Charles’ engagement, shown here together at Buckingham Palace.

here she is wearing the same necklace in 1997.

A portrait taken by Lord Snowdon in 1997 (source)

A portrait taken by Lord Snowdon in 1997 (source)

The Queen also chose to wear the three-stand necklace to the funeral service for the Princess of Wales in 1997.

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The necklace is still in the Queen’s regular rotation. It is shown here in Scotland in 2015.

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Pearls do go with everything! If you’re in the mood for some more posts on pearls, here’s one on Princess Diana’s Spencer chokers and one on the magnificent sapphire and pearl choker that became her signature. Researching the post has me wishing we all wore pearls every day, just out and about. This three-strand beauty is on my wishlist, and I’m seriously thinking I’d wear it with my jeans and a button down.

What do you think of this lovely tradition of starting pearl necklaces at such a young age? Any requests for specific jewels to look at in future posts?



Categories: British Royal Family

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9 replies

  1. The ‘add-a-pearl’ necklace was a tradition in many places, it seems. I have one that belonged to my grandmother. It was never completed so it still has a feeling of a little girl’s necklace. Which, I suppose, is why I have it, as I am the only girl granddaughter.

  2. I do enjoy your informative posts – thank you! Just one little point – Zara’s daughter is Mia not Maya..

    I do agree about pearls going with everything. I have several pearl necklaces of different lengths but they are, I regret to say, cultured pearls, because like Queen Victoria I have had to cut back!

  3. Love this post. My grandmother started a pearl necklace for me when I was little. It consists of tiny seed pearls. She stopped adding to it when I was in my late twenties. I recently had a jewler’s estimate done to see how much it would cost to complete it. This article makes me want to drop the $800 to do it!

    I wonder why the Queen’s first pearl necklace, the one pictured later on Princess Anne, was never finished all of the way around?

    • Hi April! Wow – so lovely that your grandmother started one for you as well. It is interesting that the Queen’s necklace was never finished- I’ve been wondering why that was myself. My best guess is that the king got forgetful or decided to spring for the multi strand necklaces for the girls instead so figured there was no need to finish it. So exciting you might finish yours off yourself! 🙂

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