When the exhibit Royal Style in the Making opened at Kensington Palace in June this year, Princess Diana’s wedding dress was always going to be the star attraction. However, those who make the journey to Diana’s former home to see the dress up close will also find themselves amidst a treasure trove of information about just how much thought goes into styling a royal. From the painstaking detail in pieces of embroidery to the sketches, letters, and conversations that form the design process, nothing is overlooked or left to chance.
This same approach also applies to the pieces that accompany the dresses—the glittering jewels that we have come to so associate with monarchy. And for this reason it’s no coincidence that royal warrant holders the House of Garrard, who have been creating pieces for the royal family since 1735, are the exhibition’s partners. Indeed, one of their most iconic items—the sapphire and diamond engagement ring that first belonged to Princess Diana and is now worn by the Duchess of Cambridge—is highlighted in the exhibition. While the ring itself was obviously unavailable, curators for Royal Style in the Making were able to secure an original design drawing for display, showing a water color of the blue sapphire surrounded by a halo of 14 diamonds set in 18-carat white gold.
“Diana chose this sapphire engagement ring from Garrard in 1981 out of a selection of rings,” Garrard’s Creative Director and Head of Design, Sara Prentice tells T&C. Describing how within just a few days Diana’s choice was “known and recognized worldwide,” Prentice notes how the ring “displays her timeless, personal style for which she became so known for during her life as a royal.”
The design of the iconic ring references another notable jewel of the past: a sapphire and diamond brooch given to Queen Victoria by her husband Prince Albert on the eve of their wedding day in February 1840, which was also made by Garrard. Outlining how Diana’s choice of ring “provided clear inspiration for her Emanuel designed wedding dress,” Royal Style in the Making curator Claudia Acott-Williams tells T&C, “The resulting gown is both thoroughly modern yet evocative of the majestic portraits of Queen Victoria by court painter Franz Xaver Winterhalter.”
“We felt it was important to include the [ring] design in Royal Style in the Making to make a small nod to the many other crafts and disciplines involved in the creation of royal outfits for important state occasions, but also to emphasize that the power of royal dressing is in the ensemble; that the symbolism of each element of an outfit is carefully considered, and that dress and jewelry are thoughtfully combined to communicate powerful messages about the women—and the institution—behind the wardrobe,” Acott-Williams adds.
Indeed, crafting an outfit to complement royal jewels or vice versa has long been an integral part of regal dressing. One such example is Queen Mary’s dress and jewelry for the 1911 Delhi Durbar, which marked the succession of her husband King George V. “Queen Mary’s dress and robes for the Delhi Durbar were created especially for the grand event. The superb jewels designed and created by Garrard had to complement these, capturing the Majesty’s style, and the occasion,” says Garrard’s Sara Prentice. Prentice notes that Mary had an “incredible” new suite of jewelry made using existing royal gems—the Cullinan Diamonds and the Cambridge Emeralds. “The tiara added height to complement the Imperial Crown of India,” which was worn by King George V.
And while all eyes may be on the appearance of the royal, Prentice notes that practicality and comfort are also an important consideration, even if this means adjusting the priceless ceremonial Crown Jewels. The Imperial State Crown, which the monarch wears at the end of the Coronation and for the State Opening of Parliament, was altered to fit the Queen when she succeeded her father King George VI. “The head size was made smaller to fit the new monarch and its lower band reshaped to make sure that its weight was evenly distributed and a little more comfortable to wear,” Prentice says. “The four arches of the crown were lowered a little too, to complement the stature of the young Queen.”
While the Crown Jewels are worn rarely, the glittering pieces from the Queen’s personal collection are more regularly showcased and loaned out to other members of her family for state banquets, royal weddings, and other formal events.
“Royal dressing is an exercise in the careful layering of meaning and symbolism,” Royal Style in the Making curator Claudia Acott-Williams says. A successful royal outfit will combine elements of both tradition and modernity to cleverly communicate monarchy’s dual role: to reflect the time in which it reigns and the long history on which it is built. Both dress and jewelry play a crucial role in the communication of this nuanced picture.”
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