In honor of H.M. Queen Elizabeth II's Diamond Jubilee, Houston Jewelry has installed a permanent free exhibit of life size replica's of the Crown Jewels of England, as well as replicas of some of the most famous jewels in the world, such as the Hope Diamond, and the Queen of Bavaria's Crown. The exhibit also features examples of genuine British Orders & Decorations crafted in precious metals by the Crown Jewelers and presented by the Crown. This unique exhibit is the only one of its kind in the United States.
Perhaps the most famous collection of jewels in the world-apart from personally owned royal gems-is that which comprises the Crown Jewels of England. The impressive coronation ceremony would lose much of its splendor without its jeweled regalia and richly-colored robes. These symbols of kingship, equality and justice; of spirituality and mercy, are indeed a stimulating and beautiful sight, while to describe the wealth of history and tradition behind the Crown Jewels of England is to open wide the pages of history, for the original Crown Regalia can be traced back to the year A.D. 853 and the reign of Aethelwulf, when the young Prince Alfred was sent to Rome to receive the Papal Blessing and the Crown.
Though intrinsically valued by some at somewhere around $50,000,000. the Crown Jewels are really priceless, for much of their true value lies in their symbolism and historical interest. To British people throughout the world, the Regalia provided a link between the present day and the Britain of more than a thousand years ago. Had it not been for the vanadium of Cromwell's Commonwealth Government which decided in 1649 to melt down or sell all symbols of monarchy, the Regalia would still contain the crown worn by Alfred the Great when he was crowned the first King of a Unified England at Winchester in A.D. 871, though visitors can still see in the Jewel House of London the jewels actually worn or handled by Edward the Confessor, the Black Prince, and the first Queen Elizabeth.
For more than a thousand years, the Crown Jewels have reposed in the Tower of London, but before that they were kept in the Abbey Church of Westminister, where they were not particularly well protected, so that many depredations were made upon them under the careless custodianship. When James II came to the throne, he found the Crown of England was so battered and so many gems pilfered from it to have been replaced by imitation gems that the repair and replacements cost $12,000. An attempt to rob he Royal Treasury in 1303 led to its removal from the Abbey and by the time Henry III ascended the throne, some of the King's jewels had already been moved to the White Tower. When what was brought from the Abbey was added to this, the collection was found to be so extensive that it was decided to build a special Jewel House to contain it. Here the King's treasure was kept in comparative safety-comparative because it was occasionally despoiled in order to raise money for war-making. It was usual, in the Middle Ages, for kings throughout Europe to accumulate wealth in the form of jewels and plate as a reserve fund upon which to draw when a war had to be financed.
But these depredations were as nothing compared with the vandalism of the Commonwealth Government in ordering all the insignia of British Royalty to be sold, melted down or destroyed. It gained only a few hundred pounds for Cromwell but it lost for posterity-the priceless symbols of royalty. King Alfred, the Great's crown of "gould wyerworke" set with slight stones and two little bells fetched only 248 pounds 10 shillings, while poor Queen Edith's little crown only realized 16 pounds. There is a legend that the ancient Crown of England still exists; that it was secreted by some Royalist and its hiding place never revealed.
Fortunately some of the Regalia did escape the pillage of 1649, notably the Gold Ampulla or Sacred Eagle, which held the anointing oil and the Anointing Spoon. Several of the famous gems with centuries of history behind them were also recovered and now occupy prominent positions in the royal crowns. Among these gems is the sapphire which was set into the Coronation Ring of Edward the Confessor; the pearl earrings worn by Queen Elizabeth I and the famous Black Prince's Ruby (actually a spinel, though it is recorded as a ruby). These are all set in the Imperial State Crown.
The Black Prince's Ruby, which looks like large clot of congealed blood is about one and a half inches wide and has been variously valued as worth from $200,000 to $250,000. Its history is bound up in bloodshed and murder, but it remains one of the most interesting and admired gems in existence. It was first heard of in 1369, when it was already many centuries old. It was at that time owned by the King of Granada who was murdered by Don Pedro of Castille (Peter the Cruel) who coveted the gem. In turn, he gave it to the Black Prince as a token of gratitude for his assistance on the battlefield of Navarertte, when English soldiers under the command of Edward III's famous son rendered the Spanish king invaluable help.
On the death of Black Prince, the ruby passed into the possession of his son, Richard II, but it soon figured again in battle, this time at Agincourt in 1415, when Henry V rode into the fray wearing the ruby in his coronet. Seventy years later, in 1485, Richard III wore it at the Battle of Bosworth Field. Richard was killed and the Crown, which had been hastily, but ineffectually hidden in a hawthorn bush, was retrieved and used to crown on the spot the first of the Tudors-Henry VII.
The last dramatic adventure to befall the ruby was its attempted theft from the Tower of London by the notorious Captain Blood. It was said to have been in his pocket when he was captured. His punishment provides a fascinating field of speculation, for far from being beheaded or given some other condign punishment for his daring robbery, it is said that the notorious captain was given an annuity. And this in the days when a man could be-and was-hanged for stealing a sheep. From its replacement at that time in the Royal Crown, the ruby remained in its accustomed setting until Cromwell swept the Regalia into the melting pot and the market.
His inventory contemptuously described the ruby as a large ballas ruby, pierced and wrapped in paper, value 4" - for which sum it was sold. Fortunately, the gem was recovered many years later and ever since the Restoration, it has been set in the front of the State Crown. Even older than the Black Prince's Ruby is the St. Edward's Sapphire set at the top of the Crown, for this was originally set in the Coronation Ring work by Edward the Confessor at his crowning in 1042. It remained with him in Westminster Abbey until 1101 when the ring was broken up and this and the other jewels removed.
The Stuart Sapphire, which Charles II had set in the front of the State Crown during the Restoration and which is now set in the back also has a romantic history. James II took it to France with him when he was dethroned and for a hundred years it remained a Stuart possession. Eventually Cardinal York, who had inherited it, bequeathed the sapphire to George III in 1807 and it was presented by him to his grand-daughter, Charlotte (d. 1817). After the deaths of both Charlotte and George III, the jewel was recognized by George IV in 1821. The king was able eventually to buy back the gem, though no details of the transaction, nor the price paid, were ever published. On her accession, Queen Victoria had the sapphire set in the Royal Crown below the ruby and there it remained until it was reset at the back of the Crown to make way for the Second Star of Africa the second largest diamond in the world at that time. This was mounted so that it could be removed for wearing as a brooch by the reigning queen on state occasions, as it is frequently worn.
Probably the most interesting of the State Jewels is the Imperial State Crown, because of the richness of its appearance, the beauty of its gems and the wealth of history associated with them. The form of the Crown has been altered from time to time but the same jewels have been used again and again.The present Crown was made for Queen Victoria in its present form in 1838. It has two complete arches which pass from front to back and from side to side, with the central orb on the top surmounted by a jeweled cross. The wide, jeweled band which forms the base of the Crown has in its center the Second Star of Africa, cut from the great Cullinan Diamond. Above this jeweled band are alternating gem-studded crosses and fleur-de-lis. The center of the band cross above the Prince's Ruby. At the point of intersection of the two arches on top of the crown hang four large pearls-the Queen Elizabeth I Pearls. In the jeweled cross surmounting the orb is set the Edward, the Confessor's Sapphire, while at the back is another large sapphire which once adorned the crown of Charles II. In all, the Imperial State Crown contains 2,783 diamonds, 277 pearls (one a Welsh river peal found in the River Conway and given to Sir Richard Wyn), 17 sapphires, 11 emeralds and 5 rubies.
The Imperial Crown of India is another magnificent piece, heavily encrusted with rich gems. It was specially made for the visit of King George V to India in 1912 when he was acclaimed Emperor. It had been intended to use the Imperial State Crown but it was discovered that the laws of England forbade its being taken out of the country, hence the necessity for making entirely new one redundant, if beautiful, item in the Royal Regalia since the Monarch is no longer Emperor of India. The Imperial Crown of India like the Imperial State Crown, has a jeweled headband with alternating arches and fleurs-de-lis, but there are eight half-arches. These half-arches are richly ornamented with diamonds and each is decorated with diamond-set lotus flower, while both the orb and the cross surmounting the Crown are diamond-set. In all, the Crown contains 6,170 diamonds, 4 sapphires, rubies and 6 remarkably fine emeralds. One of these, a magnificent gem weighing 34 carats, cut en cabochon, is set in the center of the jeweled band in front.
The Coronation Crown with which the Monarch is actually crowned is called St. Edward's Crown; however, this is not as its name would imply the crown which was used at the coronation of Edward the Confessor, for that was seized and destroyed by the Round heads. The present St. Edward's Crown was made in 1662 for Charles II and is of gold, set with diamonds, rubies, sapphires, emeralds and pearls. Above the band are alternating crosses and fleur-de-lis and over these stretch the two complete arches symbolizing the Heredity and Independence of the Monarchy. The arches curve downwards in the center to symbolize Royalty, whereas on the Imperial Crowns the arches maintain their upward curve-an emblem of imperial power.
Decorating the edges of the arches on the St. Edward's Crown are rows of pearls, while large drop pearls hang from the cross-bar of the gold and gem-studded cross surmounting the orb on the top. The Crown itself is very heavy-it weighs nearly 5 pounds-and for this reason it rests upon the head of the Sovereign for but a few moments at the coronation ceremony before being exchanged for the lighter Imperial Crown of State. Every Sovereign since Charles II has actually been crowned with the St. Edward's Crown, with the exception of Queen Victoria, for whom it was considered to be too heavy. Instead, she was crowned with the Imperial State Crown which was specially remade for her coronation. Even so, tradition was not to be denied, and as if it was felt that no coronation would be complete without the St. Edward's Crown, it was carried throughout the ceremony by the Lord High Steward.
These are the three most important crowns in the Regalia, but the collection includes some very beautiful crowns and diamonds made for Queens Consort. Queen Mary's Crown, set entirely with wonderful diamonds is used at the coronation ceremony and was Her Majesty's private property. In it are set the famous Koh-i-Noor diamond and two lesser Stars of Africa cut from the Cullinan diamond. These three diamonds are set in such a way that they can be removed and worn separately as pendant and brooch. The Koh-i-Noor was presented to Queen Victoria by the East India Company at the time of the annexation of the Punjab and it thought that the diamond originally weighed more than 1,000 carats. Before coming into the possession of the Crown, the stone (described in earlier records as an uncut but highly polished diamond) passed through many hands and was precuts from time to time, not always by scrupulous honest cutters. It weighed only 186 carats when it was presented to Queen Victoria and further re cutting reduced the diamond to its present size of 106 carats. Queen Victoria; however, never wore the Koh-i-Noor in her crown, but as a brooch and Queen Mary, Consort of King George V was the first queen to have the stone set in her crown.
Next in importance to the crowns as emblems of sovereignty are the Orb and Scepters. The Orb, surmounted by the Cross symbolizes the domination of the Christian Faith over the world. The Orb is never placed in the hands of a consort, but only of a reigning king or queen. The King's Orb is a ball of pure gold, richly girdled with a pearl-bordered fillet, inside which are set large rubies, sapphires and emeralds surrounded by diamonds while a similar jeweled band passes over the top half of the Orb. The surmounting Cross is separated from the Orb by a very fine large amethyst and the Cross itself is heavily jeweled with a fine sapphire occupying the center front and an equally fine emerald the back. The arms of the Cross are studded with diamonds and pearls.
The Queen's Orb has been used on only one occasion-the coronation of William and Mary, for which the ceremony it was specially made. It is very similar to the King's Orb, but is slightly smaller in size and does not have the large amethyst between the globe and cross.
There are five scepters in the Crown Regalia. The Royal Scepter with the Cross is a symbol of kingly power and justice, and is held in the Monarch's right hand at the coronation. Made for Charles II, it has been altered from time to time and is about three feet in length of gold richly studded with gems. At the top of the scepter is the Orb cut out of a large amethyst, richly girdled with diamonds and rubies surmounted by a magnificent diamond-studded cross with a fine central emerald. The Orb and cross both stand on the largest cut diamond in the world-the Great Star of Africa, the pear-shaped brilliant cut from the Cullinan diamond. This enormous stone weighs 516.5 carats and is quite flawless. It is held in place in the Scepter by two hinged clasps in such way that it can be removed and worn by the Queen.
The King's Scepter with the Dove is held in the left hand of the Sovereign and is a symbol of equity and mercy. This Scepter too is of gold surrounded by an orb with diamond-studded girdle and a golden cross upon which stands a white enameled dove with outstretched wings. The staff of the Scepter is richly enameled and jeweled. A second Scepter with Dove was made for the Queen at the coronation of William and Mary but has not been used since.
The Queen's Scepter with the Cross, which is held in the Queen's right hand (when the Queen is a consort and not a monarch) after she has been crowned is of gold and diamonds. It measures about two feet in length and at the top has a fleur-de-lis, diamond-set holding a gold orb with diamond-set girdle and arch surmounted in turn by a diamond-set cross. In the Queen's Consort's left hand is placed the Queen's Ivory Rod, three and a half feel in length consisting of ivory joined together with bands of gold. At the top is a golden orb, richly enameled surmounted by a cross on which rests a dove with closed wings.
Of the five Swords of State, the one of the greatest intrinsic worth is the Jeweled State Sword, the scabbard of which is thickly set with gems-diamonds, rubies and emeralds being used to depict the Rose of England, the Thistle of Scotland and the Shamrock of Ireland. At the bottom of the scabbard is a fine turquoise set around with diamonds while the hilt is richly jeweled and has a particularly fine diamond set at the top. The British Crown Jewels in the Jewel House at the Tower of London are protected by an armor-plate treasury which takes the fork of an octagon measuring about sixteen feet across a small area in which to contain the most famous collection of jewels in the world.
Items represented in this exclusive exhibit at Houston Jewelry include:
Also included are a genuine set of Baron's Robes worn in the House of Lords during the sovereign's annual speech given from the throne.