Time for the now annual Summer Opening at Buckingham Palace with the state rooms in their unchanging glory, and a special display in a side room, which this year is appropriately Diamond themed.
As part of the Diamond Jubilee, some 10,000 diamonds have gone on display, set in jewels and swords that have been owned by various monarchs over the centuries.
The room is very dark in marked contrast to the rest of brightly decorated palace, and the objects are set within dust-free glass boxes so there is no visible hint of the tiny spot-lights that illuminate the ethereally glowing jewels. A couple of swords, several crowns, tiaras and smaller decorative jewels are dotted around the room. As is a rather ostentatious feather fan which seemed to be more feather than diamond, but the diamonds are there.
The only other Queen to mark a Diamond Jubilee is represented here by her famous “Small Diamond Crown” which was probably one of the most famous items she wore in later years. Small is certainly the correct description, as it is tiny – but still manages to contain nearly 1,200 diamonds in it.
Queen Alexandra’s Kokoshnik Tiara maybe made from diamonds and precious metals, but it is actually inspired by a cloth headdress worn by Russian peasants. Adopted in jewel form by the Russian royal family, the fashion reached Britain eventually. The design is simple, but apparently exceptionally difficult to make as the diamonds have to be carefully matched to ensure an even and consistent effect.
A smaller selection of jewels turns out to have an important heritage — in jewellery terms — as they include the smaller pieces from the famous Cullinan Diamond. The largest diamond ever discovered, when cut, the two largest pieces were set in the Crown Jewels, while seven other mid-sized stones were set within jewellery.
Although King Edward VII was presented with the diamond, he had to also pay for the cutting and polishing – so the deal with the Amsterdam firm was that they would cut it, and present the two largest stones to the King, but kept the rest as payment.
The larger seven stones they kept were mounted into jewellery, and over time have all ended up in the Royal Collection anyway. This display is the first time they have ever been seen together.
Probably the most famous item on display though is something which is instantly recognisable — once you are told why it is recognisable.
The Diamond Diadem was built for the coronation of King George IV, with borrowed diamonds. Despite the crown being reputedly barely visible underneath a massive plumed hat, the King insisted on afterwards buying the diamonds and keeping them – at a cost of £8,000.
It’s interesting to note that jewellery was apparently predominately male preoccupation at the time, and yet this particular item is most famously associated with women.
Queen Victoria wore it when her silhouette was drawn to be used on the first postage stamps, and later often wore it in State when not getting away with her small crown. All the subsequent Queen’s have often worn it and it has appeared on several bank notes, and was the crown worn by the current Queen for modern stamps.
The design is based on the symbols of the British Isles, with the rose, the thistle and two shamrocks.
None of the Crown Jewels are here, as they have to stay in the Tower, but the display is certainly a good selection of jewellery and mainly focusing on the head-gear worn by Queens.
I will admit to being surprised how versatile most jewellery is, with many of the tiaras converting into necklaces – and jewels often being moved between items depending on the tastes of the individual monarch. Well, considering how expensive this stuff is, being versatile in use helps in justifying the costs.
Some small display boards give details of each item, and there are a couple of copies of the exhibition catalogue to browse if you want more. A smaller (and much cheaper) catalogue is sold in the gift shop in the garden.
The exhibition is open until 9th July, then again between 1st Aug to 7th Oct.
Entry to the Palace and the exhibition is £18, which includes repeat visits within the next 12 months – so you could look at it as £9 each for two tickets – one this year and one for whatever the display is next year.
My visit was on a pre-opening day so I had a rare chance to photograph the back of the palace without any tourists in the way.
Amusingly for me, this is the first time I have ever left by the back door that the tourists use. The last time I was there was for an evening tour and they had closed the garden by the time we finished, so our group ended up walking out of the front of the Palace and out of the main gates.
Most of us got a silly little thrill out of that, especially as some tourists thought we might be important so took photos of us – as we wandered off to find a pub.