How Queen Mary Became the Royal Family Master of the Jewelry Makeover
Queen Elizabeth can thank her grandmother Queen Mary for many of the most spectacular of royal jewels. Not only did Queen Mary amass legendary diamonds and gems during her husband’s reign, but the forward-thinking consort also repurposed jewels into contemporary new pieces. Nothing was too sentimental or historic for a refresh—not even a diamond wedding gift from her husband’s grandmother, the formidable Queen Victoria.
Queen Mary was a champion of repurposing jewels, and it’s worth taking a lesson from her playbook on how to gracefully transform important stones into timeless pieces. She had an eye for gemstones—and a vision for how to wear them creatively. She commissioned transformable jewels that could be worn in multiple ways, such as tiaras that became necklaces, and versatile designs that were set with interchangeable stones that are still worn by the Windsor women today.
Mary, the daughter of the Duke of Teck, married the future King George V in 1893. She had originally been betrothed to his brother, but he died unexpectedly before they could wed. She served as King George V’s consort from 1910 until his death in 1936. A mother of six and grandmother of nine, Mary had a particularly close relationship with her granddaughters, the future Queen Elizabeth II and Princess Margaret, who were the daughters of her son King George VI. Upon Mary’s death in 1952, (just 10 weeks before the young Elizabeth’s coronation), most of her jewelry collection was left to the future Queen.
Queen Mary acquired her legendary collection over decades. Some pieces were gifts and some she inherited; she even purchased gems at estate sales. During her husband’s reign, she was given the famous 158-carat Cullinan III, along with the 94.4-carat pear-shape Cullinan III and 63.6-cushion shape Cullinan IV. The latter two stones were made into a clip which Mary bequeathed to her granddaughter, Elizabeth II, who fondly refers to them as “Granny’s Chips.”
Lucky for the present Queen, her grandmother was constantly modifying her treasure chest of jewels and is credited with many of the iconic jewels that are favored by the Royal family today, including the Queen Mary Diamond Fringe tiara. The original diamond fringe tiara/necklace was a wedding gift to Mary from Queen Victoria, but it wasn’t a favorite, so Queen Mary had it redesigned into a more contemporary piece that could be converted from a tiara into a necklace. So timeless, that tiara was worn by both Queen Elizabeth and her daughter Princess Anne for their weddings, and more recently by Princess Beatrice when she wed Edoardo Mapelli Mozzi in 2020.
One of the best examples of Queen Mary’s visionary jewelry style—and eye for versatility—is the Delhi Durbar suite of jewels and tiara that she commissioned in 1911. The elaborate set was made with the Cambridge emeralds (which have a remarkable backstory) and the tiara was made with diamonds from the dismantled Boucheron Loop tiara. The adaptable Delhi Dunbar tiara could be worn with big emeralds or swapped for the mega Cullinan III and IV diamond for an even grander entrance.
Queen Mary was constantly recycling stones from one parure of jewels to make or modify another. She dismantled the County of Surrey and Ladies of England tiaras to create the elegant Honeysuckle tiara in 1914. That tiara made by Garrard allowed her to swap the center stone—which she alternated between the Cullinan diamond and a large sapphire. After buying the Vladimir tiara from the Grand Duchess Vladimir’s estate in 1921, Queen Mary added an element of versatility by making the large pearls interchangeable so that they could be replaced with other stones or removed entirely to create a more discreet style.
Queen Mary was ahead of her time in remaking jewels into multipurpose elegant pieces that were remarkably timeless. The concept is especially popular today, as more people are delving into their jewelry boxes and repurposing inherited stones into contemporary pieces that work with today’s more casual lifestyle. Like Queen Mary, nobody wants their jewels sitting a jewelry box or vault; they want to wear and enjoy them.
Here, seven designers who can help you reimagine or recycle stones in stylish new pieces.
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