What it means to be an official crown jeweller – and the real stories behind the royal family's favourite pieces
There aren’t many occasions that have most of the UK glued to their TV screens, but a coronation is undoubtedly one of them. Two people who were watching with interest as King Charles III and Queen Camilla were crowned this weekend were Sara Prentice and Claire Scott, who were on the lookout for some rather specific details. “There’s the sceptre, which is an incredible piece,” says Prentice, while Scott was most excited to see Camilla, Queen Consort’s crown: “It was designed for Queen Mary and, as Camilla has favoured her tiaras in the past, I thought it suited her very well.”
As creative director and head of design respectively of historic jeweller Garrard, once the official crown jeweller, both Prentice and Scott have a unique insight into the royal family – specifically, the incredible gems they wear on state occasions such as this. Much of the regalia involved in the coronation was created or significantly remodelled by Garrard, including the King’s Imperial State Crown, Queen Mary’s Crown (which was worn by Camilla) and the Sovereign’s Sceptre.
The royal family’s connection to the brand goes back centuries, to when Garrard was founded in 1735. “In that same year, we had our first commission from Frederick, Prince of Wales, which started our relationship with the family,” says Scott. In 1843, Queen Victoria decided to appoint Garrard as the first official crown jeweller, a position the brand held until 2007. These days, Mark Appleby, the head of Mappin & Webb's jewellery workshop, has been the crown jeweller since 2017, but Garrard still has a very close friendship with the royal family: Princesses Eugenie and Beatrice wore the brand to the recent coronation, for example.
“I guess it’s difficult to say what Garrard would have been without that relationship – it’s definitely been defining for us,” says Scott. “Although we have other celebrities who wear our pieces, for years the royals have been the most influential trendsetters; people would look to them for their tastes and follow them.”
In the 164 years that Garrard acted as the crown jeweller, the company were responsible for “making crowns, altering sceptres, engagement rings, tiaras, all sorts of things,” reveals Prentice. There’s the Lover’s Knot Tiara, made by Garrard, which used to be favoured by Princess Diana and is now often worn by the current Princess of Wales, and the Girls Of Great Britain And Ireland Tiara, a piece much-loved by the late Queen Elizabeth II. She also had a particular soft spot for the Fringe Tiara, once Queen Mary’s, which she wore for her wedding day.
“Oh, we love that story,” laughs Scott. “The Fringe Tiara is actually transformable, like a lot of Garrard tiaras: the piece comes entirely off the frame, so it can also be worn as a necklace. The frame itself was probably quite old, and when it was placed in the princess’ hair by her hairdresser, it snapped. Garrard was sent to the palace by police escort, the tiara was brought to the workshop and someone did a super quick fix on it. Apparently, the Queen Mother said to her: ‘We’ve got lots of tiaras, dear, why don’t you just pick another one?’ But she was adamant she wanted to wear the Fringe Tiara on her wedding day. We like to look at the pictures, and see if we can spot that it’s been quickly mended!” Happily, the tiara was fully restored and is now worn by other royals, including Camilla, our new Queen Consort, and Princess Beatrice, on her own wedding day.
Perhaps the most important moment the pair can recall in Garrard’s royal history, however, is a certain sapphire and diamond ring that went on to become one of the most famous pieces of jewellery of all time, when Princess Diana chose it as her engagement ring in 1981. “A lot of commissions that happened over the years included stones that belonged to the crown, that were then put into Garrard designs,” says Scott. “Queen Mary was probably one of the most prolific collectors of our life, and a lot of the stones were hers. But Diana’s ring wasn’t bespoke, and that made it really significant.”
“I was speaking recently to someone I knew, who worked in the Regent Street flagship branch at the time,” says Prentice. “Part of this gentleman’s role was, every morning, to prepare the high-jewellery room with all the jewellery from the safe. That particular morning, he noticed there were quite a few items missing. There was a bit of a buzz, because everyone knew that this proposal might go ahead, and that the crown jeweller had taken some pieces. He came back minus the sapphire and diamond ring, so they guessed that was the one she had chosen.”
“I think you could say that was a pivotal moment for us,” Prentice continues. “It’s tradition that the ring is chosen for the fiancée; the fact that Diana chose her own meant the ring became synonymous with Garrard.” Now, the ring is worn by the current Princess of Wales, and jewellers have seen an increase in sales for engagement rings featuring coloured stones due to its popularity. Garrard’s ‘1735’ ring, which is based on the design, is available with a variety of different stones, from emeralds to rubies and aquamarines. It’s a best-seller for the brand, and “we have a big peak in interest [for that style], especially in the US, whenever anything royal is happening,” says Scott. “Even when The Crown launches a new series, sales spike on our website.”
The relationship between Garrard and the royals informs the brand’s design processes, even today. “For Sarah and me, it’s an incredible heritage to draw from,” says Scott. “Rather than making direct copies of styles and tastes from the past, the inspiration behind old pieces can give us the feeling for new collections.” The Blaze collection, for example, takes Diana as its muse, along with “the way she approached life: she was very strong-willed, with an amazing character and personality,” explains Prentice. “We took the design of her engagement ring and inverted it, which created a harmonious cluster of stones.”
The Aloria collection, meanwhile, is inspired by the setting of the Cullinan One diamond in the Sovereign Sceptre, “which is quite distinctive – almost an open heart shape,” says Scott. “it’s become something of a design language for Garrard.” They’ve even designed a limited-edition Aloria pendant and earrings, available to buy now, in celebration of this year's coronation.
Our discussion has come back to the main event, at which both Prentice and Scott were excited to see plenty of Garrard jewellery in action – particularly the more impressive pieces from the brand’s history. “I was just glad to see some tiaras,” says Scott. “If there’s ever an occasion for a tiara, it’s got to be a coronation, hasn’t it?”
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