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Queens Jewels: Mirror, Mirror On The Wall—Which Queen Has The Best Jewels of ALL?

Queens Jewels: Mirror, Mirror On The Wall—Which Queen Has The Best Jewels of ALL?

Royal Queens have collected some of the most rare and precious diamonds, gemstones and pearls throughout history. The book “Queens Jewels” by Vincent Meylan, traces some of the royal jewels owned by several queens. Each story is as unique as the queens themselves—you be the judge as to who acquired the ‘best’ and ‘most’. 

The Russian Crown Jewels

Linked between the east and west, Russia was a crossroads for the trading routes. The south and east was a major source for turquoise, pearls and diamonds that were purchased from the Dutch and French traders.

Tsarinas Elizabeth Petrovna and Catherine the Great accumulated and amassed an impressive collection—especially diamonds. The  discovery (in the nineteenth century)  of diamonds, alexandrites, sapphires, amethysts, aquamarines, garnets and tsavorites were in abundance  in the Siberian mines created a frenzy of collecting.

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With increasingly extravagant lifestyles, the wealthy Russians started manufacturing their own high jewels comminissioning artisans like Faberge, Boucheron and jewelers of the imperial court.  During that period, a diamond necklace was created with twenty-one round diamonds (the largest weighing thirty-two carats)  and fifteen pear-shaped diamonds  (the largest one weighed twenty-five carats)  it  was valued in 1909  at 498,000 rubles; $17,911.00.   Currently  in the Russian state treasury.

The last Tsarina of Russia, Empress Alexandra Feodorovna, had a collection of the most extraordinary jewels and were considered to be the most incredible in all of Europe. What happened to the jewels? They simply disappeared.

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The story is told that in April 1918, the Empress trusted the nuns to hide her jewelry.  The jewelry included diamond tiaras, a brooch set with more than a hundred diamonds, diamond clasps with pearls and many more.  There were one hundred and fifty-four jewels total.

Four months later the nuns learned that Emperor Nicholas II, Alexandra Feodorovna and their five children had been executed. Concerned that the Bolsheviks would search the convent, the nuns delivered the royal jewelry to an old fisherman who had remained loyal to the Romonavs. Buried beneath his wooden floor for fifteen years, the treasures were not found until a relative contacted the political police in 1933.

Armed with pickaxes and shovels the police unearthed sealed jars packed with jewelry.  According to the KGB report in 1933, the jewels were valued at eight million dollars.The crown jewels worn by the Romanovs were property of the state and were transferred to the Kremlin in Moscow for safekeeping.

In 1926 a published detailed inventory stated that the collection contained twenty-five thousand and three-hundred carats of diamonds, (eleven pounds).

Also included were four thousand and three-hundred carats of rubies, many carats of emeralds and several thousand pearls. Some of the jewels are currently in the Kremlin’s Armory Museum in Moscow, however, the majority of the collection was dismantled and sold to foreign private collectors.

French Crown Jewels 

Marie-Antoinette was one of the most famous French queens.  She inherited and collected an enormous amount of impressive jewels and amazingly France does not own one item today.

Arriving in Paris in 1775 Marie-Antoinette was presented with gifts of jewelry from her late mother-in-law, Marie-Joseph of Saxe. The entire jewelry collection was valued at over three million francs at that time.

The collection included a parure  in perfect white diamonds with several pieces, including a ceremonial corsage, (so large it was sewn on the fabric when worn), pins for holding the sleeves and back panels of gowns, shoe buckles, buttons, earrings, necklace, bracelets and many other smaller brooches, all fabricated in classic diamond motifs of bows, foliage and scrolls.

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Two more additional parures were also gifted to her.   A set in emeralds and diamonds and the other set in diamonds and rubies.

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She also inherited pearl strands of exceptional quality and large sized pearls.  One set was  a six strand necklace with a matching six strand bracelet, and an additional six strand pearl bracelet with diamonds.Also a single strand pearl and emerald bracelet.

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The famous pearl strand given to her consisted of twenty-three large natural rare pearls.  She also received  collar necklace and a pair of earrings set with the finest gemstone topaz.  

In addition to her inheritance, Marie-Antoinette commissioned several impressive jewels to be made for her from the French Jewelers; Mellerio, Boehmer and Bassange.

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She became famous for her love of diamonds and pearls and developed a passion which was part of the French Royal lifestyle.

Her lady in waiting wrote in her memoirs about the fleeing Queen “I accompanied Her Majesty to a private room overlooking the Tuileries Garden where we wrapped all her diamonds, pearls and rubies and we packed them in a casket. Her Majesty kept only a few  pearls and a pair of earrings with pear shaped diamonds.”

The ‘jewels in the casket’ were then transported by the Queen’s hairdresser to Brussels and then on to Vienna to her nephew, the Emperor of Austria, for safekeeping.  

Marie-Antoinette’s only surviving child, Madame Royale, fled to Austria to her mother’s family.  She was  given her mother’s jewelry. Her cousin, the Emperor, demanded the jewels as payment for her living expenses. Therefore, Marie-Antoinette’s jewels became part of the Hapsburg Jewels and they disappeared a century later when a businessman who befriended the family stole the Hapsburg’s entire jewelry collection.

Madame Royale willed the few remaining jewels she had from her mother, to her cousin, the Count of Chambord, who was the last surviving member of the senior branch of the French royal family.

The Count’s widow wore the famous large pearl necklace in 1883 at a dinner given by the Duchess of Uzes.   The Duchess wrote, “ The Countess of Chambord wore the magnificent pearl necklace, it had five strands and each pearl was the size of a hazelnut. It had belonged to Empress Marie Theresa of Austria with ten strands originally and five strands were given to Marie-Antoinette, with the remaining five part of the Austrian crown jewels.”  

  Getty Image of (reportedly) Marie-Antoinette's pearl strand owned by Barbara Hutton with new opal and diamond clasp added by Hutton.

That was the last account of Marie-Antoinette's jewelry.

The British Royal Crown Jewels

The crown jewels of Britain are known as one of the most extraordinary and valuable diamond and gem collections in the world today. Yet almost the entire collection was amassed in less than a century after Victoria became Queen in 1837.

The Royal Jewel collection grew as the British Prime Ministers from the new colonies each gifted Queen Victoria with precious gems and jewels. The colonies were primarily from India to South Africa.

After the last of his provinces were taken by the British in 1849, Duleep Singh, the Maharajah of India, was asked to travel to England to present the Queen with a chest of his finest jewels.  The chest included the famed Koh-I-Noor or ‘Mountain of Light’ diamond weighing 280 carats.  Later recut by the Queen’s jewelers to 109 carats; the Koh-I-Noor was centered in her diadem.Queen Mary wore the diadem in 1911 and Queen Elizabeth in 1936.

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In 1905 the largest diamond in the world weighing 3,106 carats (over 21 ounces), was discovered in South Africa from a mine owned by Thomas Cullinan. With a price tag of five-hundred thousand pounds, the British came up with a solution for purchasing the diamond for their crown.

The Prime Minister of Transvaal, General Botha, suggested that the Transvaal Government would purchase the diamond and offer it to King Edward VII as a symbol of its gratitude for granting independence to Transvaal by Great Britain. In 1980 the estimated value for the Cullinan diamonds (cut into five individual stones) were worth approximately twenty-seven and a half million dollars.  The Sovereign’s Scepter contains the largest of the five diamonds, named  Cullinan I.  

The jewelry collection amassed by Queen Elizabeth II includes

  • A large sapphire and diamond necklace and earrings.
  • A ruby and diamond necklace with earrings and a ruby bracelet.
  • Two strands of large fine rare natural pearls.
  •  Large diamond pendant earrings.
  • A diamond diadem, corsage brooch, two diamond bracelets.
  • A pair of pearl and diamond earrings.

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In 1949, Princess Elizabeth was given a deep pink brilliant diamond weighing 23.60 carats with a clarity that had not been seen before, making it a very rare pink diamond.  The pink diamond was set by Cartier as the center of a diamond flower brooch.

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Her collection increased when she took the throne in 1952. To commemorate her coronation, the government of Burma presented her with large ruby necklaces. King Faisal and King Khaled each gave her large diamond necklaces, the Emir of Qatar gave her a large sapphire and diamond parure and the Emir of Bahrain gave her a pearl and diamond necklace.

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While visiting Brazil, Elizabeth II collected large aquamarine jewelry. In 1980 her personal jewelry collection was estimated to be over forty-five million dollars. The emerald parures were valued at four-million dollars and the additional diamond, ruby and pearl jewelry was valued at five and a half million dollars.

 There are nine crowns locked inside the Tower of London and the most incredible is the Imperial State Crown. Made for the coronation of Queen Victoria in 1838, the Cullinan II diamond was set in the central band with the ‘Black Prince’s Ruby’ (which is a large spinel) from the Plantagenet Kings and the ‘Stuart Sapphire’ from the Stuart dynasty.

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The monarch wears the Imperial State Crown once a year for the opening of Parliament. 

Credits for photos and information: “Queens Jewels”, Vincent Meylan, Assouline, 2008

Edited re-written by Janet Deleuse, All Rights Reserved





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