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Sapphire Anniversary: The Queen’s Sapphire Parure

On 6 February, The Queen celebrated her Sapphire Jubilee, the first British monarch to reach this milestone, having equalled Queen Victoria in attaining her Diamond Jubilee and finally on 9 September 2015, becoming the longest reigning monarch.

The Sapphire Jubilee marks 65 years since The Queen’s Accession but for The Queen, Accession Day is always a day when she is mindful of the fact that her becoming Queen was only as a result of the death of her father George VI, so this particular Jubilee was spent as usual, in “quiet reflection” at Sandringham, the beloved Norfolk residence of the British Royal family where George VI died in 1952, whilst the then Princess Elizabeth was on her tour of Australia and New Zealand via Kenya. Although The Queen did not publicly mark the Jubilee, back in London’s Green Park, The King’s Troop Royal Horse Artillery fired a 41-gun salute to mark the occasion, and a 62-gun salute was fired by the Honorable Artillery Company at the Tower of London. (The Stuart Sapphire forms part of the Crown Jewels which are held at the Tower of London, and it is to be found on the reverse of the crown used for the coronation of Elizabeth II on 2 June 1953). Prime Minister Theresa May said in a statement:

It is a testament to her selfless devotion to the nation that she is not marking becoming the first monarch to reign for 65 years with any special celebration, but instead getting on with the job to which she has dedicated her life.

On 6 February 2017, Buckingham Palace re-released an official 2014 portrait of The Queen by David Bailey, wearing the sapphire jewellery which she received from her father, the so-called ‘George VI Victorian Suite’. It was a wedding gift from her father, George VI to her on her marriage to Lt. Philip Mountbatten in 1947.

A parure is a set of jewellery which normally includes a tiara or diadem; the parure came to true popularity in the 17th century. According to Encyclopaedia Britannica, a parure in around 1700 could mean “earrings, brooch, necklace or clasp, ring and sometimes shoulder brooches or buckles, all set with diamonds” and its design is invariably adaptable, which allows its many component pieces to be reset. Without at least three matching pieces, the suite does not constitute a proper ‘parure’, and a ‘demi-parure’ is instead the correct term for a necklace worn alone, together with earrings or a bracelet or brooch. The term ‘parure’ comes from the French for ‘finery’ and means ‘a set’ in the collaborative. The suite of matching jewellery is intended to be worn as an overall ensemble.

The ‘George VI Victorian Suite’ is part of The Queen’s personal jewellery collection and originally was a sapphire and diamond necklace and pendant earrings set. The ‘George VI Victorian Suite’ is called Victorian, because the stones date from around 1850. It was purchased by George VI from Carrington & Co. The set was altered by Garrards in 1952 to shorten the 18 sapphire cluster necklace by four and again in 1959, so that a pendant could be made from the largest sapphire – however, the suite did not properly become a ‘parure’ until 1963 when a sapphire and diamond bracelet and tiara were made to match the other pieces. The tiara was made from a necklace that had originally belonged to Princess Louise of Belgium, daughter of King Leopold II of Belgium and wife of Prince Philip of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha.

The Queen also owns the more recent acquisition of the ‘Brazil Parure’ –  originally an aquamarine and diamond necklace and earrings set which was presented to her by the President and people of Brazil on the occasion of her coronation in 1953. It became a ‘parure’ when The Queen had a corresponding tiara made, and the Brazilian Government sent matching additional items of an aquamarine and diamond brooch and bracelet.

The Queen also owns the so-called ‘Prince Albert Sapphire Brooch’, perhaps better known as the ‘Queen Victoria’s Wedding Brooch’ which was gifted by Prince Albert to Queen Victoria the day before their wedding and consisting of a large oblong sapphire surrounded with open-backed diamonds. Queen Victoria wore the brooch on her wedding day, 10 February 1840 – and continued to wear it often until the Prince’s death in 1861. Queen Victoria willed the brooch as a Crown heirloom, and the brooch has been worn ever since.

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