Today marks the Anniversary of the Birth of King George VI, who was born on this day in 1895! The second son who unexpectedly acceded to the throne after his brother’s Abdication, and became the popular Wartime King and the last Emperor of India, King George VI was behind the commission of several royal jewels, including the spectacular King George VI Sapphire Suite!
When Princess Elizabeth (later Queen Elizabeth II) married Prince Philip of Greece and Denmark in 1947, her father, King George VI, bought this mid-19th century suite of a long Sapphire and Diamond Necklace and a Pair of Earrings at Carrington & Co. However, it seems that the Suite was not among the jewels on display at St James’s Palace.
Prince Elizabeth first debuted her Sapphire Necklace at the Diamond Jubilee celebrations of the London County Council in 1949, after which it was worn for a Banquet in Charlottetown during the Tour of Canada in 1951 and also for the Midnight Matinee at London Coliseum in 1951, as well as portraits taken at Clarence House.
After her Accession to the Throne in 1952, the new Queen had the necklace shortened and a bracelet created from the links removed, with the suite worn with the Girls of Great Britain & Ireland Tiara for a Ball at Londonderry House in 1952, the Royal Film Performance of ‘Rob Roy’ in 1953, on the six-month Commonwealth Tour in 1954, for the British State Visit to Denmark in 1957, and the State Visit to the United States in 1957.
In 1959, the Queen had a large sapphire Pendant made by Garrard, supposedly from one of the sapphires taken off the necklace, which was worn for the French State Visit to Britain in 1960, a Gala at the Palace of Holyroodhouse in 1961, President and Mrs. Kennedy’s Dinner at Buckingham Palace in 1961, and the British State Visit to Ethiopia in 1965.
In 1963, the Queen had acquired the Belgian Sapphire Tiara to pair with the King George VI Sapphire Suite, which made its debut on the Queen’s first State Visit to Germany in 1965, following which the Modern Sapphire Suite made a handful of appearances in the 1960s and 1970s, including on a Tour of the Caribbean in 1966 and the Japanese State Visit to Britain in 1971.
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While it was worn though the 1980s, the Belgian Sapphire Tiara and King George VI Sapphire Suite really gained favour in the 1990s, when it was worn for a series of State Visits and Royal Tours, including multiple Return Banquets at Claridges Hotel and on a visit to Pakistan in 1997, as well as important State Visits to the United States and Russia and the Queen’s 40th Anniversary Gala in 1992.
During the 2000s and 2010s, the Belgian Sapphire Tiara and King George VI Sapphire Suite continued to be worn by the Queen as a lighter option as she grew older, being worn for her 80th Birthday Dinner in 2006, the Colombian State Visit to Britain, and the Diplomatic Reception at Buckingham Palace 2016.
In 2017, the Queen wore the King George VI Sapphire Suite in portraits released for her Sapphire Jubilee, which had been taken by David Bailey in 2014 for the GREAT campaign to promote Britain. An additional shot was released after the Queen’s passing earlier this year.
The Queen’s final appearance of the Belgian Sapphire Tiara and King George VI Sapphire Suite came when the Queen posed for a new Official Portrait which was taken by Chris Jackson at Windsor Castle in March 2019, but was released by the Canadian Government in October 2020.
After the Death of Queen Elizabeth II, the Belgian Sapphire Tiara and the Necklace of the King George VI Sapphire Suite were the first heirloom jewels worn by Queen Camilla for the first time at South African State Banquet at Buckingham Palace in 2022. The Necklace was worn in a shortened form, without the pendant. However, as her ears are not pierced, she did not wear the late Queen’s Sapphire Earrings, but instead wore a pair of clip on earrings.
Two weeks later, Queen Camilla also wore the Belgian Sapphire Tiara and the Necklace of the King George VI Sapphire Suite, this time with more elements and the Pendant, for the Diplomatic Reception at Buckingham Palace in 2022. The Sapphire Suite is definitely becoming a signature jewel of the new Queens and there is no doubt we will continue to see it for years to come!
In 2023, Queen Camilla wore the King George VI Sapphire Suite for a Banquet in the Hall of Mirrors of the Palace of Versailles, during a State Visit to France!
Which Tiara will Queen Camilla wear?