Tuesday, April 12, 2011

The Royal Crown Jewels - by Aimee Darby

Bells ring, crowds gather and another royal wedding is on hand.  It is a chance for the world to view royalty and their exquisite jewels in spades.  The wedding of Prince William of England and Kate Middleton brings visions of queens and kings, dukes and duchesses, gowns and jewels.  What do we know of the royal jewels?

The Crown Jewels have been around for centuries, albeit in various forms and incarnations. They have been made and remade, sold and lost to the sands and waters of history.  The tradition of the crown jewels dates back to around 900 A.D, although those jewels were much simpler than the ones the Royals wear now. After 900 A.D, the jewels were stolen and replaced once or twice, but fortunately recovered.

Trouble arrived in 1649, during the early reign of Oliver Cromwell, the “Lord Protector” of the Commonwealth. He decided that the Crown Jewels were too much of a symbol of the monarchy. He took the collection and melted the metals down, auctioning off gems to the general public.

In 1661, Charles II claimed the throne again, and had many pieces remade, including St. Edward's Crown, the monarch's coronation crown.

The most frequently used crown, with the most brilliant and famous jewels, is the Imperial State Crown, made in 1937. Valued at $32.30 million dollars, it has thousands of diamonds, hundreds of pearls, a dozen and a half sapphires, a dozen emeralds, and a half dozen rubies. On the crown are four distinctively historical jewels.

The first is St. Edward's Sapphire. In legend, it is said it is the sapphire that was set into Edward The Confessor’s coronation ring, in 1042. The sapphire made it through Oliver Cromwell's reign of terror, and Queen Victoria had the stone set into the cross atop the Crown.

The second is the Black Prince's Ruby, But the name is inaccurate, as it's actually a spinel. It is roughly 170 carats and the size of a chicken egg. The Prince's Ruby was given to its namesake,  Edward of Woodstock in 1367. Except for a brief time during the Commonwealth era, it has always been in royal hands. On the crown, it is set in the front,  right above one of the biggest diamonds in the world, The Lesser Star of Africa.

The Lesser Star of Africa, or, Cullinan II, at 317.4 carats, is the second largest of a group diamonds that come from the same bigger stone. That would be the Cullinan Diamond, 3,106.75 carats at the time of discovery in 1905, making it the biggest rough diamond of gem quality ever found. It was then cut and polished into nine pieces, Cullinan I – IX,  all which belong to the monarchy of the U.K. The biggest, The Greater Star of Africa, is the second biggest in the world, coming in at 530.4 carats. The whole Cullinan set is valued at $40,000,000.

Of course, when one hears 'Crown Jewels', we often think of crowns. But those aren't the only items in the collection!  There are many more items, such as scepters, rings, brooches, earrings, bracelets, orbs, necklaces, and of course, fabulous tiaras. Tiaras, being lighter in weight, are worn a lot more than any crown. They are a vital part of any royal's wardrobe, especially queens and princesses, and any other female royal with a title.

In the upcoming royal wedding, Catherine “Kate” Middleton will likely be wearing one of the Queen's personal tiaras. The tradition of lending the new brides tiaras for their wedding days goes back over a hundred years. The brides are often given the tiara as a wedding present, though sometimes it is not always the one they borrowed for their wedding day. Sometimes it's even a brand new tiara bought for her by the royal family. As Catherine is a future Queen Consort, she is much more likely to be given one from the royal vaults. However, Catherine may or may not even wear a tiara. Being a commoner, she may choose a wreath of flowers as her headpiece in her wedding, as did Sarah Ferguson, former wife of Prince Andrew, another commoner.

On April 29th 2011, the wedding of Prince William and Catherine Middleton will take place at the historical Westminster Abby. It is sure to be a glorious celebration for the whole world to see and enjoy!

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