What Role Does the Crown Jeweller Play in a Coronation?
We explore Garrard’s role of Crown Jeweller through never-before-seen archival records and images from the coronation of George V and Queen Mary in 1911.
Ever since we were appointed the first official Crown Jeweller by Queen Victoria in 1843, Garrard has had close ties with the Royal Family. With the upcoming coronation of King Charles III and Queen Camilla sparking renewed interest in the regalia that will be used during the ceremony, we are travelling back in time to the coronation of King George V and Queen Mary to explore the role Garrard played in the occasion.
While King Charles has promised a more modest, 21st century coronation, the ceremony on 6th May will be steeped in ancient traditions that have changed little over the centuries. Central to the ceremony will be the Coronation Regalia, part of the Crown Jewels of the United Kingdom. Throughout its time as Crown Jeweller, Garrard was responsible for maintaining and caring for the Crown Jewels. In the months leading up to the coronation of King George and Queen Mary, this meant checking, polishing and fine-tuning every piece of the regalia to ensure it was fit for purpose on the day.
In a memorandum from our archives dating from December 1910, created to annotate a photograph of the Coronation Regalia for publication in the Illustrated London News, all 19 pieces are formally listed. Alongside is a more detailed description of the Sovereign’s Sceptre – originally made for Charles II’s coronation in 1661 – which outlines the significant alterations made to the Sceptre by Garrard in advance of George V’s coronation in June of the following year.
At the request of George V’s father, Edward VII, Garrard was commissioned to create a new setting at the top of the Sceptre to hold the Cullinan I diamond. Cut and polished from the great 3,106 carat Cullinan Diamond, which was gifted to Edward by the South African Prime Minister in 1907, to this day the Cullinan I, also known as the Great Star of Africa, remains the largest cut and colourless diamond in the world.
“The greatest interest at the present moment centres in the upper proportion,” notes the memorandum. “This of bold scrolls, relieved by white enamel, and studded with rubies and diamonds, which form the frame in which is the great drop diamond, the largest of the Stars of Africa, weighing 516½ carats. This marvellous stone, absolutely without mark and of the purest whiteness, now, by desire of the late King Edward, finds itself in the Royal Sceptre.” In a separate memorandum, the ingenious design of the setting is mentioned, which enabled the Cullinan I to be removed from the Sceptre.
The craftsmen at Garrard worked day and night to ensure the Coronation Regalia was ready for its moment in the spotlight. Alongside the major redesign of the Sovereign’s Sceptre, they were also tasked with setting the second largest of the Cullinan diamonds in the Imperial State Crown, which is worn by the monarch to leave Westminster Abbey after the coronation ceremony.
Up to this point, the 104 carat Stuart Sapphire had been set in the front of the Imperial State Crown. To accommodate the much larger 317 carat Cullinan II diamond, the crown had to be dismantled, revealing its clever construction, with the different stones set in removable mounts, making it easy to take them out when the crown was not in use. When Garrard’s artisans had finished adjusting the band of the crown to replace the Stuart Sapphire – which was moved to the back of the crown – slowly and carefully it was pieced back together again, now adorned with the Cullinan II.
In a separate memorandum, also dating from 1910, Crown Jeweller Garrard outlines what it has achieved with the setting of the Cullinan I and II diamonds, collectively known as The Stars of Africa. “Not only may the stones be worn with the Crown and Sceptre, but they may also form part of the Queen’s Jewels at State ceremonies,” it states. “When this lesser Star of Africa is in its place, King George’s Crown [the Imperial State Crown] will contain examples of all the methods of diamond cutting from the days of Charles II.”
Alongside this major overhaul of one of the key pieces of regalia in the coronation ritual, Garrard was also commissioned to create a brand-new consort crown for Queen Mary. While Queen Camilla will be wearing an existing crown for the 2023 coronation – the very crown made by Garrard for Queen Mary – her choice breaks with royal protocol because tradition dictates that each new Queen Consort has a consort crown made for them.
Garrard crafted its first Consort Crown in 1901 for the coronation of King Edward VII and Queen Alexandra. Taken apart in 1910 to make the new crown for Queen Mary, the design was inspired by Queen Alexandra’s Crown, with similarly elegant arches that could be removed to form a regal circlet. When it was finished, The Daily Telegraph described it saying, “It has no jewels but diamonds, and the diamonds cluster together as if they had no support but their own light.”
Personally commissioned by Mary, the Queen requested that two other impressive stones cut from the Cullinan Diamond, numbered III and IV, be set into her consort crown in removable mounts so that they could be worn after the coronation as a brooch. The late Queen Elizabeth II, who inherited the diamonds from Mary, was very fond of this particular brooch, affectionately referring to them as “Granny’s Chips”.
Following the completion of the alterations to the Imperial State Crown and the making of Queen Mary’s Crown, Garrard did something that would be inconceivable today: organised an exhibition of the jewels for VIP clients at its headquarters on Albemarle Street. Garrard noted in its coronation memorandum: “With the special consent of the King and by permission of the Lord Chamberlain, Messrs. Garrard displayed on the first floor of their Premises at 24 Albemarle Street, the Imperial State Crown and the Queen’s Crown.” The exhibition would be repeated in 1937 for the coronation of George VI and Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother, when Garrard made a new Imperial State Crown to replace the one worn by George V, which had been in frequent use by consecutive kings and queens for close to a century.
The role of Crown Jeweller may involve a huge amount of responsibility, yet it also comes with a great deal of joy, particularly on the eve of a coronation. A rare opportunity to appreciate these historic creations of incalculable value serving the purpose for which they were designed, we couldn’t be prouder of Garrard’s contribution.