The Imperial State Crown and the Gemstones Set in it

The Imperial State Crown is one of the most iconic symbols of the British monarchy and is a key part of the Crown Jewels of the United Kingdom. It is worn by the monarch during the State Opening of Parliament and on other formal occasions.

The crown has a long history and has undergone various alterations and remodellings, particularly in the 19th and 20th centuries, to its current form. The version used today was made for King George VI in 1937, based on a design that dates back to the crown made for Queen Victoria in 1838.

This Crown Jewel is adorned with a dazzling array of gemstones, each with its own history and significance. Image: A picture of the Imperial State Crown.

What gemstones are set in the Imperial State Crown?

Each of the gemstones set in the Imperial State Crown as well as their respective traditions encapsulate more than just their aesthetic value; they are vibrant threads in the tapestry of British royal history, embodying tales of diplomacy, conquest, and the evolving symbolism of the monarchy.

Some of the most notable gemstones set in the Imperial State Crown include:

Cullinan II Diamond

Also known as the “Second Star of Africa,” it is the second-largest stone cut from the famous Cullinan Diamond, the largest diamond ever discovered. The Cullinan II is a cushion-cut diamond weighing 317.4 carats and is set in the front of the crown.

St Edward’s Sapphire

This sapphire is one of the oldest parts of the Crown Jewels and has a rich history. It is believed to have been worn by Edward the Confessor in a ring and is set in the cross at the top of the crown. The stone is a stunning example of a medieval sapphire.

Black Prince’s Ruby

Despite its name, this is actually a large red spinel and not a ruby. The stone has a storied history and is associated with Edward, the Black Prince, who lived in the 14th century. It is set in the front cross pattee above the Cullinan II.

Stuart Sapphire

This sapphire is set at the back of the crown and has been part of the Crown Jewels since at least 1660. It was originally in the front of the crown but was moved to accommodate the Cullinan II.

Koh-i-Noor Diamond

Once the largest known diamond in the world, the Koh-i-Noor is no longer part of the Imperial State Crown. It was previously set in the crown of Queen Alexandra and Queen Mary but is now set in the crown made for Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother in 1937.

Other Gemstones

In addition to these famous stones, the Imperial State Crown is encrusted with over 2,800 smaller diamonds, numerous pearls, 17 sapphires, 11 emeralds, and 5 rubies. The crown’s design includes four crosses pattée and four fleurs-de-lis, and it is made of gold and lined with ermine and velvet.

Did you know…?

  • It’s been held that the Stuart Sapphire was the property of King Charles. And following the Glorious Revolution of 1688, which deposed Charles’ son James II, the sapphire was smuggled out of the country. It was not until the late 1830s that the Stuart Sapphire made its way back to England.
  • The Black Prince’s Ruby is not actually a ruby, instead it is a semi-precious stone called a spinel or balas.
  • The Black Prince’s Ruby was originally the property of a Muslim King of Granada. Spanish monarch Pedro “the cruel” seized the gemstone from the Muslim king.
  • Some historians maintain that King Henry V rode into the Battle of Agincourt wearing the Black Prince’s Ruby.
  • The Cullinan II Diamond is made of 317.4 carats. It was cut from the Cullinan Diamond, which stood at a whopping 3,106 carats, making it the largest diamond ever found.
  • Before 1649, the crown of Edward the Confessor (aka St Edward, the 11th century English monarch) was used during coronations.

Symbolism and Use

The crown’s gemstones are not only valuable for their beauty and historical significance but also symbolize the monarchy’s continuity, heritage, and the unwavering nature of the institution. The Imperial State Crown is a working piece of the Crown Jewels and is used by the reigning monarch for significant national ceremonies, embodying the sovereignty and responsibilities of the monarchy.

The crown, with its rich decoration and historical gemstones, serves as a physical representation of the monarchy’s history and tradition, linking the present with the past and symbolizing the enduring nature of the British state and its institutions.

Frequently Asked Questions about the Imperial state Crown

These questions cover some of the most common inquiries about the Imperial State Crown:

What gemstones are set in the Imperial State Crown?

The Imperial State Crown is adorned with some of the world’s most famous and historically significant gemstones, including the Cullinan II diamond, St Edward’s Sapphire, the Black Prince’s Ruby, and the Stuart Sapphire. It also features over 2,800 smaller diamonds, 17 sapphires, 11 emeralds, and 5 rubies.

What is the significance of the Cullinan II diamond in the crown?

The Cullinan II diamond, also known as the “Second Star of Africa,” is the second-largest stone cut from the Cullinan Diamond, the largest diamond ever found. It weighs 317.4 carats and is set in the front of the crown, symbolizing the monarch’s authority and the historic ties between the British crown and the Commonwealth.

The Cullinan II Diamond: History and Major Facts

Is the Koh-i-Noor diamond part of the Imperial State Crown?

No, the Koh-i-Noor diamond is not part of the Imperial State Crown. It was previously set in the crowns made for Queen Alexandra and Queen Mary, but it is now set in the crown made for Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother in 1937.

The Imperial State Crown, a key piece of the Crown Jewels, is adorned by the monarch during the coronation’s conclusion and significant events such as the State Opening of Parliament. This practice underscores the active role of the Crown Jewels, symbolizing the enduring traditions and ceremonial duties of the British monarchy. Image: A portrait of Elizabeth II wearing the Imperial State Crown during her coronation. 

What is the history behind the Black Prince’s Ruby?

The Black Prince’s Ruby is actually a large red spinel, not a true ruby. It was given to Edward of Woodstock, known as the Black Prince, in 1367 and has been part of the English Crown Jewels since the 14th century. The gem is set in the front cross pattee above the Cullinan II in the Imperial State Crown.

What is the historical significance of the Black Prince’s Ruby?

The gem further distinguished itself in British history when it was purportedly worn by King Henry V at the Battle of Agincourt, symbolizing not just personal valor but the intertwining of regal authority with the fortunes of war, embedding itself into the lore of English military triumphs.

How often is the Imperial State Crown used?

The Imperial State Crown is used during significant national ceremonies, most notably during the State Opening of Parliament, where the monarch delivers the Queen’s Speech outlining the government’s agenda. It may also be used during other official state functions.

Can the public view the Imperial State Crown?

Yes, when it is not in use, the Imperial State Crown and the rest of the Crown Jewels are on public display in the Jewel House at the Tower of London. Visitors can see the crown and learn about its history and the gemstones it contains.

Has the design of the Imperial State Crown changed over time?

Yes, the Imperial State Crown has undergone several alterations and remodellings over the centuries to reflect changes in fashion, the needs of the monarch, and to incorporate different gemstones. The current version was made for King George VI in 1937.

What does St Edward’s Sapphire represent?

St Edward’s Sapphire is one of the oldest gems in the Crown Jewels and is believed to have been in the ring of Edward the Confessor, a sainted English king who died in 1066. The sapphire is set in the cross at the top of the crown and represents the continuity and religious heritage of the English monarchy.

Are there any special traditions associated with the Imperial State Crown?

One notable tradition is the presentation of the crown to the monarch during the coronation ceremony, symbolizing the transfer of authority and the monarch’s responsibility to the nation. The use of the crown during the State Opening of Parliament is also a significant tradition, emphasizing the constitutional role of the monarchy in the governance of the country.

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