The Crown is not merely an object but the physical representation of an institution. What is fascinating about the crown itself, resplendent amidst the many other jewels and regalia of the monarchy in its home at the Tower of London, is that it is so steeped in history and, indeed, mythology.
To begin with, there are in fact no less than three principal crowns. Chief amongst these is St Edward’s Crown, dating back to 1661. This is only used for the coronation ceremony, last seen in 1953 for the crowning of the late Queen Elizabeth II at Westminster Abbey. It was made for the coronation of King Charles II, replacing the lost medieval crown of Edward the Confessor which had been melted down after the execution of Charles I. The gold frame of the St Edward crown weighs nearly 5lbs and is covered in semi-precious stones which were fitted at the behest of King George V in 1911, where previously the gemstones had been hired.
The second is the Imperial State Crown which was made in 1937 for the coronation of King George VI. It is the crown worn by the monarch when leaving Westminster Abbey after the main ceremony. This version was made to replace the previous state crown made for Queen Victoria in 1838 and is adorned with an extraordinary array of jewels: 2868 diamonds; 17 sapphires; 11 emeralds; 269 pearls; and four rubies. Some of the most legendary gemstones are part of this crown, not least of which is the Cullinan II diamond, more of which later, along with the Black Prince's Ruby, the Stuart Sapphire and the St Edward Sapphire. This last stone is set in the centre of the topmost cross, believed to have been worn in a ring by St Edward the Confessor and discovered in his tomb in 1163.
The third significant crown is that of the Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother, made in 1937 and containing the legendary Koh-I-Nur (aka Koh-I-Noor or ‘Mountain of Light’) diamond. The crown itself was made for Queen Elizabeth, the wife of King George VI, to wear at their coronation in 1937 and State Openings of Parliament during her husband's reign. The crown was made by Garrard & Co., the then Crown Jeweller, partly modelled on the design of the Crown of Queen Mary. It is the only crown for a British king or queen to be made with a platinum frame. But, like the Imperial State crown, it is covered in gemstones including over 2800 diamonds.
The two aforementioned diamonds, the Koh-I-Nur and the Cullinan are, themselves, steeped in history and legend, as well as a few popular myths. The older of the two gems is the Koh-I-Nur, previously owned by Mughal and Persian rulers, the 191 carat stone is believed to have been mined at the Kollur mine in India, with the first references to it possibly dating to the 14th century. It fell into British hands following the annexation of the Punjab in 1849 when the Lahore treasury was seized. It was presented to Queen Victoria in 1850 and the following year was unveiled during the Great Exhibition. Its reception by the public was somewhat lukewarm, it being of a traditional Mughal cut and shape which appeared a little dull to European eyes. Prince Albert made the decision to re-cut the diamond to bring out more of its brightness. The work was carried out by Garrards, the first cut being under the watchful eye of Prince Albert himself, accompanied by the Duke of Wellington. In spite of assurances that very little of its original weight would be lost, the diamond was reduced to only 105.6 carats.
The Cullinan remains the largest gem-quality rough diamond ever found, weighing over 3106 carats. It was excavated at the Cullinan mine, South Africa, in 1905 and then presented to King Edward VII in 1907. It was cut into nine diamonds by Joseph Asscher in Amsterdam, a process that took several months to complete. It was said that the fist cut itself was of such significance, given the value of the stone, that Asscher fainted upon making the initial blow. This origins of this story are unclear but it is, sadly, completely untrue. What did happen, though, is that the first cutting tool to be used broke and had to be replaced with another. The largest stone, Cullinan I or the ‘Star of Africa’, was placed in the head of the Royal Sceptre. The next largest, Cullinan II, positioned at the front of the Imperial State Crown.
The value of the crown jewels in their entirety is incalculable. So significant historically and culturally as well as the mere weight and quality of precious metals, gems and semi-precious stones, that they have no precedent and barely any equal in the world. What they represent to Britain is a national treasure and a symbol of continuity, as familiar to us as the Royal Family itself. They are also an exemplary standard in terms of jewellery making, the template to which the finest works of the jewellers art aspire to.
If you are curious about your own treasured possessions and want to obtain a free valuation of your antiques and collectables, the Halls Fine Art team will be waiting for your call on 01743 450700 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
As a mark of respect Halls Fine Art will be closing on Monday 19th September to commemorate Her Majesty’s reign.
If you are hoping to view our forthcoming Autumn Auction on 21st September we will be open for viewing:-
Sunday 18th September 11am – 2pm
Tuesday 20th September 10am – 4pm