Few things captured the dualities of Queen Elizabeth II’s personality—her love for heritage and thrift alongside her appreciation for finery, grand gestures, and innovation—quite like her extensive jewelry collection. The Windsor collection, passed down through the generations, is the very definition of the word priceless, yet the queen knew how to seamlessly meld spectacular diamonds into her everyday outfits.
According to historian and jewelry expert Suzy Menkes, the queen had a simple formula when it came to accessorizing—just a simple pearl necklace, a brooch on the lapel, and her diamond engagement ring. But interpreting the variations on that theme became an obsession for royal watchers around the globe. As a woman who was seldom able to speak her mind freely, she learned how to tell a vivid story through the brooch or earrings she selected for a certain event, injecting memories of the beloved queens that came before her into everything she did.
For generations, it has been difficult to tell which jewels belong to the Windsor monarch in their personal capacity and which are held in the name of the crown. Adding more complexity to the situation, most pieces in the crown collection began as personal pieces. While the queen typically wore her personal jewelry on average days, she used special occasions as an opportunity to show off some of the most dazzling pieces in her Buckingham Palace vaults.
Though the name Windsor dates back to 1917, the collection really began during the six-decade reign of Queen Victoria, who collected gems as the British empire expanded. She was also considered a passionate matchmaker and loved to give extravagant wedding gifts to her children and their spouses. But the most spectacular pieces in Queen Elizabeth’s collection were posthumous gifts from her grandmother, Queen Mary, a gemstone and diamond obsessive who built her collection through world travel, diplomatic gifts, and close connections with the jewelers of London and Paris.
With the end of the second Elizabethan era, it may be years before the public is able to see her most emotionally significant pieces, but as the world’s most photographed woman, she has left behind plenty of memories, perfectly accessorized.