Thursday, February 7, 2013

British Royal Jewels: The Queen’s Cartier Lily Brooch

This jewel is the lesser famous of the Queen’s Lily Brooches (the more well-known sister being the Flame Lily Brooch) created by Cartier in 1939.

Ever since Edward VII issued a royal warrant to Cartier in 1904, it has designed many fabulous pieces for the British Royal Family. So many in fact that by 1937 the firm held 589 (!) loose diamonds on behalf of Queen Elizabeth (The Queen Mother).

The Cartier Lily Brooch
The Cartier Lily Brooch
Not knowing what to do with that quantity of loose brilliants, jewellers at Cartier decided to create a contemporary ornament. A working sketch of the jewel made in 1938 suggests their plan had attained royal approval. Cartier used 197 diamonds from the Queen’s collection and supplied further 52 stones to create the Lily Brooch. 

The result was a beautiful but unusually large brooch. It is in a form of a stem of lilies with two open flowers, pave-set with diamonds. Six pear-shaped brilliants form buds. The lower flower and one of the buds are detachable and can be worn as separate pieces. 

Queen Elizabeth (The Queen Mother) wearing the Lily Brooch in 1950s
Originally, the stem-joints were adjustable, allowing the piece to be worn in a number of ways. One or more of the stem-joints could be removed, shortening the brooch and making it more comfortable to wear. However, the joints were later fixed so now only one of the flowers and the buds are detachable. 

Queen Elizabeth (The Queen Mother) donned this brooch on quite a few occasions in late 1940s and early 1950s but later opted for more delicate pieces. This piece, along with the bulk of the Queen’s jewellery, was inherited by Elizabeth II upon her mother’s death in 2002. 

Queen Elizabeth wearing the Cartier Lily Brooch for South Africa State Dinner in 2010
This is not one of Her Majesty’s favourites which is understandable: both the weight (don’t forget the 249 diamonds used for its creation) and the size make the brooch a rather tricky one to wear. One of the few occasions Queen Elizabeth has opted to wear the Cartier Lily Brooch was the 2010 State Dinner for the President of South Africa; it was such a rare appearance that many jewellery watchers initially assumed it was a never-before-seen piece. 

I want to like this brooch, I really do. And the general design is quite attractive. However, it's just waaaay too big. 

Photo and information sources: @ Royal Collection, @ Elizabeth II, “The Queen’s Diamonds” by Hugh Roberts

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