December 5, 2022

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The Moving Significance of Camilla’s First Jewels as Queen Consort

It is by design within a monarchy that the day the heir to the throne loses a parent also becomes the most important day of his life. When Queen Elizabeth died last week after an extraordinary life and reign, the longest for any British sovereign, her first-born son Charles finally became King Charles III. His wife Camilla was elevated to Queen Consort, a seamless transition—and a hard-won distinction—the late queen had made possible when, earlier this year in her Platinum Jubilee message, she said: “And when, in the fullness of time, my son Charles becomes king, I know you will give him and his wife Camilla the same support that you have given me; and it is my sincere wish that, when that time comes, Camilla will be known as queen consort as she continues her own loyal service.”

For the rest of the royal family, and especially for the new king and queen, these past few days have been marked by moments of private mourning and myriad official public engagements. On September 9, a day after Queen Elizabeth’s death, Charles and Camilla made their debut as king and queen, arriving at Buckingham Palace to greet the hundreds who had gathered—and to walk through the front gates for the first time in their new roles.

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Queen Camilla and King Charles in front of Buckingham Palace, the day after he ascended the throne.

DANIEL LEAL//Getty Images

Queen Camilla’s jewelry for this occasion, and for the commitments she has carried out since, as subtle as they all have been, have spoken volumes. With her choices she has been paying tribute to her late mother-in-law while also showing support for her husband at this most historic moment, alluding both to their eternal bond and to her new duty as his consort.

“It was strangely reassuring to see her arriving in pearls and a diamond brooch attached to her mourning clothes to enter Buckingham Palace as King and Queen Consort for the first time,” says Carol Woolton, the London-based author, Vogue contributing editor, and host of the podcast If Jewels Could Talk. “It’s the look that Queen Elizabeth favored for her 70-year reign—pearls and a brooch became her iconic style, the jewels marking the division between private and public regal display. We are so familiar with the look that personally, I found it comforting that the style won’t die with her.”

Queen Camilla has worn the brooch before but its appearance here felt particularly poignant. The diamond studded gem is fashioned into a knot, which, for thousands of years, has been a symbol of love, commitment, unity, and unbreakable bonds. It’s worth noting, too, that this is an overhand knot, the most basic—and one of the strongest—of ties that provides the foundation for many others, including the true lover’s knot (which is created by interlocking two overhand knots). In fact, you might recognize a version of this motif in one of the House of Windsor’s most important heirlooms: the Cambridge Lover’s Knot Tiara.

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King Charles and Queen Camilla at Westminster Hall, where members of both Houses of Parliament offered their condolences to His Majesty.

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The queen consort has continued to send messages through her jewels—or lack of them—this week. When Charles was officially proclaimed King during the accession council on September 10 and, two days later, when they were addressed in Westminster Hall by members of the Houses of Parliament, she opted for a simpler, more somber ensemble of just her mourning attire, her go-to pearl necklace and drop earrings, and her signature tangle of gold bracelets.

After the latter event the couple were flown to Edinburgh for King Charles to join the procession—with his siblings Princess Anne, Prince Andrew, and Prince Edward—of Queen Elizabeth’s coffin from the Palace of Holyroodhouse along the Royal Mile to St. Giles Cathedral, where the four royals stood guard around the casket for the Vigil of the Princes.

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Queen Camilla in Edinburgh, at the procession of Queen Elizabeth’s coffin to St. Giles Cathedral.

UK Press Pool//Getty Images

As the royals have always done, Queen Camilla honored her locale with her jewelry, wearing the Diamond Thistle Brooch (the thistle is the national flower of Scotland), which belonged to the Queen Mother. The look (the sparkling piece pinned to her black coat and paired once again with her pearl strands, and topped off with a feathered hat) felt like a modern nod to another extraordinary moment that took place more than 70 years ago—when 25-year-old Queen Elizabeth made her first appearance as the new monarch, stepping off the plane from a royal tour of Kenya cut short, with a strand of pearls and the diamond-encrusted Flame Lily Brooch (Zimbabwe’s national flower) to accessorize her mourning attire and black feathered hat. Here, too, was another touching tribute by the new queen consort to Queen Elizabeth, and to the country she so adored.

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The day after Queen Elizabeth unexpectedly became Britain’s new sovereign, she returned to London in mourning attire, a strand of pearls, and her Flame Lily Brooch.

Getty Images

She stayed true to this jewelry repertoire once more for the procession of Queen Elizabeth’s coffin from Buckingham Palace to the Palace of Westminster in London today, this time wearing a striking diamond Stick Insect Brooch with her pearls. Unlike the others she has donned this week, this one wasn’t from the collection of her late mother-in-law but rather a gift from her late father Bruce Shand—the queen consort has been wearing this deeply personal gem since long before joining the royal family. It is, of course, yet another symbolic choice—the stick insect is seen as a sign of hope, eternity, and renewal. They are even kept as pets for good luck, a practice that goes back to the Han Dynasty.

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Queen Camilla and Catherine, Princess of Wales, followed the procession of Queen Elizabeth’s coffin from Buckingham Palace to the Palace of Westminster.

CARL DE SOUZA//Getty Images

“Now that we no longer have a female monarch, I feared the disappearance of jewelry,” Woolton says, “but I’m confident we have a royal couple who like jewels and will dazzle in their own new way.”

Queen Camilla has indeed become the House of Windsor’s top jewelry influencer-in-chief. And if her well-documented love of diamonds is any indication, she will not disappoint.