Jewellery

How old are the Crown Jewels that were placed on Queen Elizabeth’s coffin?

As the world mourns the loss of Queen Elizabeth II, we take a closer look at the some of the Crown Jewels which will accompanied her during her state funeral. From the glittering Imperial State Crown to her diamond sceptre and golden orb, here is what they represent

By Kim Parker

The Imperial crown, the orb and sceptre, the Crown Jewels which accompanied Queen Elizabeth’s Coronation in June 1953 have been placed on her coffin as she lies in state in Westminster Hall. But what are the Crown Jewels and why are they necessary instruments of royalty. There are four different crowns which will all play a prominent role at the final events which will honour the Queen’s life and passing.

The solid gold Scottish crown, as seen in July 1999 when Queen Elizabeth II arrived to open the new Scottish Parliament in Edinburgh (Photo: IAN STEWART/AFP via Getty Images)

The history of the Crown Jewels

The first to be seen was the crown of Scotland, which was placed on top of the Queen’s coffin as it lay in rest in St. Giles’ Cathedral in Edinburgh, shortly after her death. The solid gold headpiece was made for James V, who first wore it to the coronation of Queen Mary of Guise in 1540. Along with the sceptre and Sword of State, the crown makes up the of Honours of Scotland, which are the oldest surviving set of Crown Jewels in Britain and are usually kept at Edinburgh Castle.

The Scottish Crown and the sceptre were first used together for the coronation of Mary, Queen of Scots in 1543, and then subsequently for her son James VI (James I of England) at Stirling in 1567, then for Charles I in 1633 at the Palace of Holyroodhouse in Edinburgh.

Queen Elizabeth II wearing the Imperial State crown and carrying the Orb and Sceptre, returns to Buckingham Palace from Westminster Abbey, London, following her Coronation in June 1953 (Photo: Topical Press Agency/Getty Images).

As the Queen lies in state in Westminster, the Orb and Sceptre that she carried at her Coronation will be placed on top of her casket.

What is the Sovereign’s Orb?

Also known as the Sovereign’s Orb, the golden, gemstone-studded globe was created for Charles II’s coronation in 1661, and is presented to a new monarch during their investiture as a physical reminder that their power over the nation is a God-given one.

The sphere is hollow, and mounted with 18 rubies, nine sapphires, nine emeralds, 365 diamonds, the same number of white pearls (which divide the orb into three, to represent the three continents that were thought to exist during the medieval era), one amethyst and one glass gemstone.

Vintage illustration of the Queen’s Orb, part of the Crown Jewels of England (chromolithograph), 1919. (Photo by GraphicaArtis/Getty Images)

The Sovereign’s Sceptre with Cross, was also made in 1661 and has accompanied every royal coronation since Charles II. It’s one of two sceptres used during the coronation ceremony, and represents the temporal power of the King or Queen (as opposed to the medieval concept of spiritual power). It is also meant to symbolise good governance.

The Cullinan Diamond

At the behest of the-then future King George V, the sceptre’s original design was altered by Garrard in 1910 to add the extraordinary Cullinan I diamond (sometimes known as the Great Star of Africa), which at over 530 carats is the largest cut and colourless diamond in the world. The enormous pear-shaped stone can also be removed and worn as a brooch, should any monarch ever feel so inclined. Additionally, the sceptre is set with step-cut emeralds, faceted amethysts, rose and table-cut diamonds, spinels and rubies.

‘The head of the Sceptre with the Cross’, 1953. The piece was commissioned in 1661 for the coronation of Charles II and is now part of the Royal Collection at the Tower of London. (Photo by The Print Collector/Getty Images)

The Imperial State Crown

The Imperial State Crown, the most recognisable of all the British crowns, will also be placed on top of the Queen’s coffin at Westminster and is one of the crowns Queen Elizabeth wore to her coronation in 1953.

St. Edward’s Crown

The other, St. Edward’s Crown, is the heaviest of all the royal crowns and is used just once during each monarch’s lifetime. It will be placed on King Charles III’s head at his coronation.

The Jewels in the Imperial State Crown

The term ‘Imperial State Crown’ dates back to the 15th century and symbolises the sovereignty of the monarch – its ‘closed arches’ are meant to show that Britain was under no other earthly power aside from the monarch’s rule.

Close up of the Imperial State Crown, one of the Crown Jewels of the United Kingdom. It symbolises the sovereignty of the monarch.

Its current form, created by Garrard, was inspired by a crown owned by Queen Victoria and made for the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II’s father, King George VI in 1937. The original Crown Jewels were actually destroyed by Oliver Cromwell after the execution of Charles I in 1649, and have been remade in various forms since the restoration in 1661.

At the centre of the crown’s top cross is St. Edward’s Sapphire, said to have been worn by Edward the Confessor in a ring and supposedly spirited out of his tomb in 1163. It is also encrusted with 2,868 diamonds (including the detachable 317 carat Cullinan II diamond), 11 emeralds, four rubies and 269 pearls – making its total weight 2.3lbs.

In 2019, the Queen chose not to wear the Imperial State Crown for her her official speech during the state opening of Parliament (marking only the second time she had opted not to do so during her reign). Instead, it rested beside her on a low table, and she chose to wear the smaller (and lighter) George IV State Diadem.

“You can’t look down to read the speech,” the Queen once joked in a BBC documentary about the Imperial Crown. “Because if you did, your neck would break – it would fall off.”

What are the Crown Jewels worth?

In terms of value the royal jewels are priceless but in monetary value somewhere between £1.5 and £6 billion.

Crown of Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother

The last of the four crowns to be seen during the upcoming ceremonies will be the Crown of Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother. It is expected to be worn by Camilla, the Queen Consort, during her husband’s coronation. The glittering platinum headpiece was created for Queen Elizabeth’s mother to wear for the coronation of her husband, King George VI, in 1937.

Despite all this finery, and the fact that during her lifetime, she had access to a vast archive of priceless royal baubles, it is thought Queen Elizabeth will only be buried with two of her jewels – her pearl earrings, and her Welsh gold wedding ring.

Like this? Read all about Queen Elizabeth II’s favourite tiaras.

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