07 July 2012

On The Queen's Diamonds

As many of you know, Buckingham Palace's summer exhibition this year focuses on diamonds for the Diamond Jubilee year. Accordingly, a book on Her Majesty's diamonds was released in May. The Queen’s Diamonds by Hugh Roberts is the first truly authorized account of the personal jewels at the Queen’s dispense. It’s published by Royal Collection Publications and Hugh Roberts is a former director of the Royal Collection, so you know you’re in officially good hands.

Having had my copy for several weeks now and having read it cover to cover, I thought I’d share my thoughts for those still on the fence about whether to invest in the book or not.

The Basics: This is a big book, large reference size and more than 300 pages. The photography is excellent and most pictures depict the jewels life-size or larger. There’s also a fair number of interesting shots of the backs of the jewels, which is always enlightening. And of course, photographs of the jewels in use are also included. It’s organized into sections by queen: Adelaide, Victoria, Alexandra, Mary, Elizabeth, and Elizabeth II. After a short intro to each, the jewels are given individual sections.

The Good: The first thing that impressed me was that it starts with Queen Adelaide; so many books pick up with Queen Victoria and the jewels that preceded her, rare though they might be, don’t get this kind of attention. The references are also superb, and the copious footnotes (including source attribution) hold many gem insights of their own.

Beyond that, there are two areas where I feel the book truly shines: first, in Queen Mary’s jewel meddling, and second, in the Queen Mother’s collection. When it comes to Queen Mary, we have always known that she loved her jewels and she didn’t hesitate to switch things around, but prior to this book her exact switches and some of the sources of the jewels for the new pieces she created were a mystery. This book solves many a question in that department for long-time admirers of the royal jewels. It also gives us the first real quality source of information about the Queen Mother’s jewels, and fills in many blanks with regards to provenance of some of her favorite pieces.

The Not-So-Good: There were two areas of slight disappointment for me with this book (and truly, just slight). First, the section on Elizabeth II’s jewelry is essentially limited to pieces already covered in previously published books on the Queen's jewels. I, like many, had been hoping for a more comprehensive look at items added during Elizabeth II's reign, but it was not to be. This is understandable, though: it’s easier and less of an expression of wealth in some ways to talk about items with a long history. Discussing the items acquired in the more recent past is a far touchier subject, and we must remember that many of these pieces are still her private property.

Secondly, there are several photographs in the book which show more “mystery” pieces, but these pieces are not mentioned. I found it a bit odd that no attempt of an explanation in the captions was made. Again, that’s me hoping for a level of detail which is likely unattainable. Overall, there is more than enough detail here to outweigh these concerns.

I’ll add a third point which was not for me a disappointment, but might be of use to those deciding whether to purchase this book: you should be aware that it is precisely what it claims to be – it is about the Queen’s diamonds. Not other stones. There are pearls and a splash of emeralds on show here, but only as they relate to important diamond pieces. In that respect, it’s not a comprehensive glance at the Queen’s collection; if you’re looking for information on her sapphires or something else, you’re out of luck.

Overall: I’m hugely impressed with this book, and feel it is very much worth the price. If you make jewel watching a hobby, this should own an essential spot on your bookshelf.

Click here for the book at Amazon. It's available elsewhere too, of course.

If you've read the book, what did you think?