7 Decades in 7 Brooches: 
Queen Elizabeth II's Reign Through Her Jewellery


A unique review of unfolding world events through the eyes of a monarch renowned for her elegant, tasteful jewellery

Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II is the longest reigning British monarch. 6 February 2016 marks 64 years since she ascended the throne. We look back at the most momentous and significant changes in the world around her in that time, and mark each decade with one of her signature brooches.

A Brooch for Each Decade

Queen Elizabeth wearing one of her signature brooch

HM QUEEN ELIZABETH II

Her Majesty is known for her spectacular collection of jewellery. Despite the wide choice, there is one particular form of jewellery that Her Majesty has become known for - the brooch.

There are about 100 ornamental brooches she has been seen wearing. Like all her other publicly seen pieces, each has a story behind it

We are choosing to use Her Majesty's love for brooches to visually illustrate the story of her reign.

We have selected a brooch for every decade of her reign. For each, we show you a picture of her wearing the brooch in that decade, tell you something about the brooch and pick some of the global events she witnessed in that decade.

It’s an unusual approach but we found the whole experience of writing this article delightful, including poring over several thousand images of her.


Frugal 1950's:
The Sapphire Chrysanthemum Brooch

The Brooch

Queen Elizabeth has received many gifts of jewellery during her reign. The Sapphire Chrysanthemum Brooch was one of her first significant own jewels, received as a gift in 1946 when she was still a Princess.

She was given this for launching the "British Princess" oil tanker by Sir James Laing & Sons Limited and the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company Limited.

The brooch is set in platinum and is made of diamond petals with several raised sapphires in the centre with a stem of diamonds and tiny sapphire leaf.

She wore this brooch quite often in the early years including for her official honeymoon photos and the christening of Princess Anne. She still wears it to this day, and we felt it an appropriate piece to mark her earliest period on the throne.

The Decade

Britain was attempting to rebuild itself in the 1950’s with post-war rationing ending in 1954. This period must have had a profound effect on the Queen, still a young woman coming to terms with so many fundamental changes in her own life. 

In the world around her, Her Majesty learned of the death of Stalin and that Fidel Castro had taken over Cuba, as well witnessing the beginning of the Vietnam War.  

Queen Elizabeth celebrated the conquering of Mount Everest by Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay, the discovery of the molecular module of the DNA by James Watson and Francis Crick and the first polio vaccinations being given to children by Jonas Salk.

She also oversaw the birth of the Space Age, as Sputnik I became the first Earth-orbiting satellite in space.

Swinging 1960's:
The Dorset Bow Brooch

The Brooch 

The second brooch we've  chosen is a Royal Family heirloom.

The Dorset Bow Brooch was made of diamonds set in gold and silver by Carrington & Co. It was a wedding present to Her Majesty from her paternal grandmother, Queen Mary in 1947.

Queen Mary received it as a wedding present herself in 1893 from the County of Dorset.

This was the brooch Her Majesty wore for the christening of Prince Charles.

Over the decades Queen Elizabeth has been seen wearing this brooch for state events as well as every day engagements.

The Decade

In the 1960’s, Her Majesty welcomed her children Prince Andrew and Prince Edward into the world.

A lively world of optimism and hope was forming around her, with many of its roots found in the music of her homeland.  But this was in stark contrast to some darker sides of life, particularly from across the Atlantic.  

Queen Elizabeth observed the beginning of tension between Cuba and the US, and the struggles in America for racial equality led by Martin Luther King. She would also have received the news of the assassination of John F Kennedy with sadness.

But she must have been as enchanted as the rest of the world at the sight of Neil Armstrong’s moon walk, and would have marvelled at the news of the very first heart transplant operation.

We aren't aware of anything on record sharing her views on the music of the Beatles or Bob Dylan!​

Strained 1970's:
The Williamson Brooch

The Brooch

The Williamson Jonquil brooch features what is seen as the world's finest pink diamond as its centre piece.

The uncut diamond was a wedding present to Queen Elizabeth from Canadian geologist Dr Willamson, who discovered this rare pink diamond in his eponymous mine in the country then known as Tanganyika.

The uncut stone weighed an enormous 54.5 carats. It was cut in Clerkenwell, and Queen Mary and Princess Elizabeth inspected the cutting and polishing in 1948 that turned it into a luxurious rose coloured 23.6 carat diamond.

There was speculation that this stone would be used for Her Majesty’s coronation, but it was finally set it into a jonquil flower brooch in 1953. This was done by Frederick Mew of Cartier with the additional 203 diamonds that were provided by Dr Williamson to create the stem, leaves and petals.

Her Majesty celebrated 25 years of ascension to the throne in 1977, and wore this brooch for one of the walkabouts with her adoring public during the Silver Jubilee year.

The Decade

The Queen celebrated the wedding of her daughter, Princess Anne and birth of her first grandchild, Peter.

Several important events at home would have had her attention including Britain entering the European Economic Community. It was also the time Margaret Thatcher became Britain's first female Prime Minister.

In other parts of the world, Her Majesty observed anti-establishment sentiments towards the US government with the unfolding of the Watergate scandal.

Closer to home, the 1970’s must have caused her concern with the first major terrorist attack in Europe, the killing of Israeli athletes in Olympic Games at Munich

It was also a decade of many wars around the world including the Christmas bombing in Vietnam, and conflict between her former territories Pakistan & India.

In her role at the head of the Church of England, Queen Elizabeth would have received news of the death of two Popes in short succession, followed by the appearance on the world stage of another historic figure, Pope John Paul II.

Epic 1980's:
The Round Cambridge Brooch

The Brooch

The Round Cambridge brooch was inherited from Queen Mary, on her death in 1953.

It consists of a round emerald cabochon surrounded by petals and two tiny leaves of diamonds. Another tear-shaped emerald is suspended as a pendant.

Queen Mary wore The Cambridge Emeralds as part of a parure (matching set of at least 3 pieces) of diamonds and emeralds for the “Delhi Durbar” - the Indian celebration of the coronation of King George V and Queen Mary.

Her Majesty tends to wear this brooch with the pendant from that set, as in this photograph.

The Decade

The Queen celebrated wedding of Prince Charles & Lady Diana Spencer, which captured the world's imagination as the perfect fairy tale wedding. This was followed later by Prince Edward’s wedding. She also welcomed into the world her granddaughters Zara & Princess Beatrice, and her two grandsons, Prince William & Prince Harry.

In the wider world, she would have seen the rise of tensions in the Middle East with a number of wars, as well as the start of discontent with communism, marked by various successful and unsuccessful attempts to overthrow communist governments.  At home,  a new political era emerged with the appearance of Tony Blair as Prime Minister, bringing with him a markedly different political style to his predecessors.

This was also the period when the rise of globalisation would have became apparent to the general public, particularly with the emergence of manufacturing relocating to China, Thailand, Mexico and other countries, and its mixed consequences for the people of Britain.

Her Majesty would have observed with concern the rise of AIDS as a global epidemic. But it was also a time of exciting developments driven by technology.  With hindsight, the most significant of these could arguably have been the birth of the Internet. The use of computers also started to become pervasive.

Never-Ending 1990's:
The Coral Rose Brooch

The Brooch

This Coral Rose brooch is one of Her Majesty's less frequently worn brooches.

It features two beautiful coral roses, each with a diamond in the centre, and diamond petals.

Made by Cartier, it was a gift to Her Majesty from the French Order of the Liberation.

It was given to her in 1990, and was presented to mark the 50th anniversary of Charles de Gaulle’s speech from London.

Like many of her brooches, Her Majesty has worn this a number of times, in this case generally for events with a French connection.

The Decade

This decade was to be a personally difficult time for Queen Elizabeth, with the divorce of three her children followed by the death of Princess Diana.  She famously labelled one of the more tumultuous years of that decade as her 'Annus Horribilis', referring to it in her typical understated manner as 'not a year on which I shall look back with undiluted pleasure'.

Despite this, Her Majesty would have observed with relief the end of the Cold War, triggered by the collapse of world communism and the dissolution of USSR.

The rising ethnic conflicts and tensions across the world would have given her cause for concern, not least the involvement of British armed forces in the Iraq War. But Her Majesty would also have seen the resolution of some long-standing disputes, including the end of Apartheid in South Africa and Nelson Mandela becoming President.

Away from geo-political events, Her Majesty would have watched the world around her start to transform through technology such as the mobile phone and the world wide web.  The dot-com boom offered many promises about the future of day to day life.  But as someone who had grown up through so many other technological revolutions, it would be fascinating to know her thoughts on this particular wave of change.

Techy 2000's
The Jardine Brooch

The Brooch

This is likely to be one of Her Majesty’s favourite brooches, given how often she is seen wearing it in public. However, despite this, its history is not well documented, unlike many of her other pieces.

What is known is that it was inherited from Lady Jardine in the 1990s, although reports vary as to who Lady Jardine actually was, and in what capacity she was linked to the Royal Family.  Sources appear to agree that she was a member of the Scottish nobility, but beyond that there is little common information.

The brooch is made of 8 rays of diamonds, each separated by a further 8 individual diamonds. This setting is completed with a centre cluster of diamonds.  Queen Elizabeth began to wear the Jardine Brooch frequently after the turn of the century.

The Decade

Like many, Her Majesty may have seen the beginning of the 21st century as a difficult time for the world, with an enormous global financial collapse (the dot-com bust) followed by the 9/11 bombings that defined so many characteristics of the world that followed.

On the personal side, she saw her son and heir to the throne remarry half way into the decade.  This came at the end of a period of varying public attitudes towards the  monarch.  Many considered this the arrival of a more even period in the British public's relationship with its Royal Family.

This decade showed evidence of rapid growth in global consumerism, and many of Her Majesty's generation would have wondered if this was a healthy development. Strongly linked to this, Queen Elizabeth would have witnessed the emergence of China as a modern superpower.

Queen Elizabeth would likely have shared the mixed emotions of her public at the increasing victories of modern medicine over so many diseases.  Undoubtedly positive, this also went hand in hand with other developments in the Life Sciences that would generate strong debate and less enthusiastic reactions.

With a large percentage of the world population going online in the first decade of the new century, the world may well have appeared a smaller place to Her Majesty.  As someone who had lived through the democratisation of air travel, this may perhaps have struck her as a familiar feeling.

Queen Elizabeth would have noted that the decade ended with difficulty for many, because of the global financial crisis that gripped the world from 2008, ending the decade with overtones of its start.

Celebratory 2010's:
The Frosted Sunflower Brooch

The Brooch

The Frosted Sunflower Brooch is also known as the Gold Dahlia brooch.

It was specially designed for Queen Elizabeth by Garrard & Co in 1975, and appears to be a current favourite.  

It is said to be the most often worn brooch by Her Majesty in 2012.

It features petals in gold, studded with diamonds and a diamond centre. 

The Decade

With this decade still in progress, we focus solely on events relating directly to Her Majesty.

​The landmark Royal event this decade for many was the wedding of Her Majesty's grandson Prince William to Kate Middleton in 2011.  The reaction of the public around the world reinforced the sense of a changed relationship with the Royal Family, something first widely commented on the previous decade.

Queen Elizabeth celebrated the start of the decade with the birth of her first great grandchild, Savannah.  In subsequent years she welcomed four further great grandchildren into the world: Mia, Isla, Prince George and Princess Charlotte.

Her Majesty celebrated her Diamond Jubilee in 2012 and created more history by becoming the longest reigning British monarch in 2015.

Despite it being her 90th year she carried out 341 engagements in the UK and abroad in 2015 alone, adding to the nearly 16,000 since she ascended the throne. 


The 90th Birthday for a Historic Monarch

Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II has the unique position of being Head of State of a country that has played a historic role in the world.  In her lifetime, she has overseen its transformation and evolution, and has established a reputation for serving her nation with a profound and unmatched dignity.

As a result, she has witnessed and observed seven decades of history being created around from an unmatched perspective. It is doubtful any of us can imagine what this must be like, and it is said world leaders value her wisdom and outlook, regardless of their political positions.

This year she completes another milestone with her 90th birthday.  And one of the questions we'll be keen to learn the answer to is what brooch she will choose to wear!