18 December 2013

The Dagmar Necklace

The Dagmar Necklace
There are many notable pieces in the jewelry collection used by the Queen, but one of the most remarkable has to be Queen Alexandra's Dagmar Necklace. A gift from King Frederik VII of Denmark to Princess Alexandra of Denmark for her 1863 wedding to the Prince of Wales (the future King Edward VII), it is a complicated structure of swags and scrolls connecting medallions of diamonds and pearls. Made by the Danish court jeweler Julius Dideriksen that same year from 118 pearls and 2,000 diamonds set in gold, the gems themselves are of great value, including the two largest pearl pendants which had been exhibited at the Great Exhibition at the Crystal Palace in 1851.
The Dagmar Cross pendant
What truly sets the necklace apart, and gives it its name, is the enamel replica of the famous Dagmar Cross. Queen Dagmar of Denmark (circa 1189-1213) was the wife of Valdemar II. When her grave was opened in 1690, she was found to be wearing this Byzantine cross, a relic that dates from around 1000 AD. The front side depicts Christ in the center of the cross and other figures on the arms. The back side depicts the Crucifixion. The Dagmar Cross became a well-known symbol and replicas became traditional gifts in Denmark. King Frederik VII made sure the replica given to Alexandra was true to its roots, and included a piece of silk from the grave of King Canute and a sliver of wood said to be from the True Cross within the necklace pendant.
Queen Alexandra at her coronation, the Dagmar Necklace pinned to her bodice
Alexandra seems to have recognized right away the difficulty involved in wearing such a piece, as one of the first things she did with it was to send it to Garrard for alteration. They made the necklace a flexible piece with detachable parts to wear separately as pendants or brooches (Hugh Roberts' book The Queen's Diamonds includes a fascinating look at the back of the necklace and all the fixings required for this task). Queen Alexandra was pictured wearing the cross as a pendant on a single strand of pearls and using the whole necklace as a stomacher, including for her 1902 coronation alongside her husband. She left it to the Crown with instructions that it is not to be altered.
It passed from Queen Alexandra to Queen Mary to Queen Elizabeth, but the next representation of it in use comes after it passed to Queen Elizabeth II in 1952. She wore it on a handful of occasions in the 1950s and early 1960s, including during her 1957 state visit to Denmark, each time using it with the two largest pearl pendants and the Dagmar Cross removed. (Garrard: The Crown Jewellers for 150 Years reports that the two removed pearl pendants were converted to earrings.) It has not been worn in public since those early years.
Looking at pictures of the necklace in use, it's easy to see why we don't see this one out and about anymore. It must be very difficult to wear; even with the removal of three moving parts, it manages to look messy and jumbled when the Queen is pictured in movement. It's also extremely large and extremely grand, nearly a museum piece from the start. That said, I've always found it very sad that we don't have any representations of the necklace in use as it was intended to be worn, and can't help but hope someone in the future will give it a try.

1958: State Visit from Germany
Photos: Queen Elizabeth II/Royal Collection/Leslie Field/PA