Mrs. Greville's ambition to be the top hostess in society meant she needed not only the finest food for her guests and the finest surroundings in which to host them, but also the finest jewels to wear while dazzling in her hostess duties. In her later years, Margaret Greville wasn’t known for her beauty and she was no fashion model, but she was hard to beat when she decked herself out in her best gems. The considerable fortune left to her by her father gave her the resources to assemble a noteworthy collection, and her competitive side assured that she had only the best. (Her snobbery certainly extended to the jewels of others. During one gathering, one of her guests discovered that she'd lost the biggest diamond in her necklace. While the rest of her guests got down on their hands and knees to help search for the stone, Mrs. Greville simply reached for a magnifying glass, offering it with a shady note: "Perhaps this will be of assistance?" The largest gems of others were surely tiny compared to Mrs. Ronnie’s own jewels.)
She was drawn to jewels with powerful provenances just as she was drawn to powerful people themselves. Among pieces said to have been in her collection were a diamond necklace rumored to have belonged to Marie Antoinette, emeralds reported to have come from Empress Joséphine, and a diamond ring with alleged ties to Catherine the Great.
Other accounts of her collection list pieces of great variety. Mrs Ronnie by Siân Evans mentions several items, drawing from society reports of the day: a sapphire necklace, a wide diamond bandeau to wear on the head, diamond stars from her husband as a wedding gift, other wedding gifts including a diamond tiara from her father and an emerald bracelet, a collection of black diamonds, an enamel and diamond bracelet from India, ropes of pearls, tremendous amounts of diamonds and emeralds, and more. Boucheron by Vincent Meylan describes additional jewels commissioned by Margaret Greville, including spectacular diamond necklaces, a valuable pair of large pearl earrings, and an emerald bandeau tiara with a central 93.7 carat emerald, and others. Then there were, of course, the large diamond tiara and the magnificent five strand diamond necklace we know today.
|Queen Elizabeth in 1950, wearing the Greville Tiara as it was when she received it, the Greville Festoon Necklace, and perhaps the Greville Peardrop Earrings|
British Pathe video
She was a loyal and important customer of both Boucheron and Cartier, where she maintained a steady stream of commissions including maintenance for her existing collection. A long necklace of 210 pearls and multiple other pearl necklaces were sent to Boucheron yearly for restringing, for example. She also had her older pieces redesigned regularly, keeping her current in jewelry trends. What we know today as the Greville Tiara was redesigned more than once, as were other pieces. Her penchant for updates means that any of the pieces listed above may or may not have still been in existence when she left them to Queen Elizabeth.
As a regular guest of Mrs. Ronnie's, Queen Elizabeth would have had a sense of what was coming her way. In fact, she seems to have already been a recipient of the Greville jewel generosity: Evans reports a three strand pearl necklace was given to Queen Elizabeth in 1936, one said to have been worn frequently in the war years. (These may have been the pearls she referred to in 1944. Writing to Princess Elizabeth in the event that "I get 'done in' by the Germans!", she requested that "Mrs. Greville's pearls" be given to Princess Margaret. It seems there would have been more strands of pearls in the final bequest as well.)
|Queen Elizabeth wearing the Greville Tiara and the Greville Peardrop Earrings |
Portrait by Richard Stone, via Wikimedia Commmons
The Queen received word of Mrs. Greville's final gift quickly. Margaret Greville died on September 15, 1942; on September 30th, Queen Elizabeth wrote to her husband to tell him the news of the will, mentioning that the gifts of jewels to her and money to Princess Margaret would be free of death duties. Queen Mary was soon informed:
"I must tell you that Mrs Greville has left me her jewels, tho' I am keeping that quiet as well for the moment! She left them to me 'with her loving thoughts', dear old thing, and I feel very touched. I don't suppose I shall see what they consist of for a long time, owing to the slowness of lawyers & death duties etc, but I know she had a few good things. Apart from everything else, it is rather exciting to be left something, and I do admire beautiful stones with all my heart. I can't help thinking that most women do!"
- Queen Elizabeth, writing to Queen Mary
"How kind of Mrs. Greville to leave you her jewels, and she had some lovely pearls and nice emeralds too I think. [...] I can understand your pleasure about the jewels, you are right not to say anything about them. [...] I never had any such luck - but I am not really jealous, I just mention this as it came into my mind!"
- Queen Mary's response to Queen Elizabeth
The two queens discussed keeping the gift quiet, but it wasn't a secret for long. Speculation over the fate of Mrs. Greville's wealth - including those jewels, for which she was well known - ran high. The will was made public, and the gift of jewels to Queen Elizabeth was discussed in news reports of the day.
By 1947, the Greville jewelry was in use by the royal family. Queen Elizabeth wore the Greville Tiara during the royal family's visit to South Africa that year; during the same visit, the Greville Ivy Clips were gifted to Princess Elizabeth for her 21st birthday. Later that year, the Greville Chandelier Earrings and the Ruby and Diamond Floral Bandeau Necklace were given to Princess Elizabeth as wedding gifts. A reluctance on the part of George VI for his family to use jewels obtained in this fashion is sometimes claimed (perhaps without much source), but the more logical reason for the relatively short delay was probably sensitivity to the war and post-war austerity.
|The Queen, as Princess Elizabeth, wearing the Ruby and Diamond Floral Bandeau Necklace |
Even as the jewels were put to use, the true origins of these "new" pieces often remained private. The Greville Tiara - the most recognized piece in the bequest, and an instant favorite of The Queen Mother's - was commonly referred to as a new commission by The Queen Mother for several decades. The Queen's Diamonds by Hugh Roberts, published in 2012, newly revealed the Greville background of other familiar pieces.
The complete contents of that black tin box marked with the initials M.F.G. are still emerging more than seven decades later. An inventory of the complete contents of the Greville bequest has never been made public. The best approximation of its total size comes from the Roberts book, which places the collection at over sixty pieces.
|The Queen in the Greville Chandelier Earrings|
Yet, the jewels we can identify as having come from the Greville bequest number nowhere near sixty items, not even if you include items with the most speculative of ties. Perhaps other pieces familiar to us came from the bequest and we do not yet know; perhaps there are still unused items waiting for a royal debut. Both may be true, and it would not surprise me in the least. (If there's one thing the royal family is good at, it's keeping us guessing.)
Pieces that have been identified as Greville jewels formed a key part of the collection worn by Queen Elizabeth in her years as The Queen Mother. All remaining items from the bequest in her collection on her death in 2002 went to The Queen with the rest of her possessions. These items are today worn by The Queen and by The Duchess of Cornwall on loan from Her Majesty - a fitting association, given that Camila's grandmother, Sonia Keppel, was Mrs. Greville's much-beloved goddaughter.
The Duchess of Cornwall in the Greville Tiara and the Greville Festoon Necklace
Listed below are jewels associated with the Greville bequest. Some are confirmed, and some are only the source of speculation (click the pictures or links to read more on each piece.) It includes only jewels that have been covered on this blog to date.
Items of additional Greville speculation:
- The Duchess of Cornwall's Engagement Ring: The origins of this ring are debated. Some suspect the Greville bequest, many disagree.
- The Queen Mother's Ruby and Diamond Floral Clips: Usually said to have been part of the bequest, but new information disagrees. (See the entry for more.)