Fit for a Princess

Jewellery expert Liz Winnicott looks into the birthstone of the Royal Family’s new arrival

The news of the birth of Princess Charlotte of Cambridge captivated the world. Her official birthstone is the radiant green emerald, a jewel believed to promise good luck and represent love and beauty. Emeralds are delicate stones and despite their lustrous colour, almost always possess inclusions. They can be incredibly difficult to cut which is the reason why many are either shaped and polished, known as cabochon, or rectangular and facet cut, known as step or emerald cut. Within great granny’s jewellery box Princess Charlotte will find a rather significant set of jewels, steeped in Royal history. This collection is not only made up of Charlotte’s birthstone but rather appropriately named the Cambridge Emeralds. It consists of around 40 cabochon emeralds acquired in 1818 by Augusta of Hesse-Kassel, the Duchess of Cambridge and grandmother to Queen Mary, who won them in a charity lottery in Frankfurt. The Duchess set some of the stones into a pair of earrings and a necklace which she then bequeathed through the family. Two generations later they fell into the hands of Prince Francis of Teck, known as Frank, who was something of a scoundrel. A bachelor who liked to gamble, he took a shine to Nellie, Countess of Kilmorey – the former mistress of King Edward VII –– and upon his sudden death in 1910, bequeathed her the family emeralds.


His sister Queen Mary was horrified and immediately set about ‘obtaining’ the jewels. There is much rumour and gossip attached to her methods. One story claims she paid £10,000 for their return, the equivalent of £800,000 today. Once safely back in the Royal collection, Queen Mary wasted no time in putting the emeralds to good use, commissioning Garrards to design and create a parure of jewellery known as the Delhi Durbar in 1911, comprising of a tiara, necklace, stomacher, brooch and earrings. Yet the story does not end there. In 1921, unable to resist adding to her already vast jewellery collection, Queen Mary bought the stunning Grand Duchess Vladimir tiara. It was made for the aunt of Tsar Nicholas II who fled St Petersburg shortly before the revolution in 1918. It has 15 intertwined diamond circles from which hang 15 pendant teardrop pearls. Unfortunately, on its way back from Russia it suffered some damage and needed a little repair. While in the workshop, Queen Mary instructed the jewellers to make a few alterations. As an alternative to the original pearls, she added 15 interchangeable cabochon emeralds, 10 taken from the Delhi Durbar and five more from the Cambridge collection. Today it is a favourite of the Queen – but the question is, who will inherit it next?

Liz Winnicott is consultant valuer and auctioneer at West Midlands auctioneers Fieldings. She specialises in silver and jewellery.