On 2 June 1953, Queen Elizabeth II became the 39th sovereign—and the sixth Queen—to be crowned at Westminster Abbey. She was driven from Buckingham Palace to the royal church in the Gold State Coach—pulled by eight grey gelding horses: Cunningham, Tovey, Noah, Tedder, Eisenhower, Snow White, Tipperary and McCreery—resplendent in her white satin coronation dress. Designed by Norman Hartnell, the gown featured the emblems of the United Kingdom and the Commonwealth in gold and silver thread. Her Majesty wore the George IV State Diadem—the crown depicted on Great Britain’s stamps, which features roses, shamrocks and thistles with 1,333 diamonds and 169 pearls—to the televised ceremony.
Once seated in St Edward’s Chair, made in 1300 for Edward I and used at every coronation since then, the Queen was adorned with the country’s most important piece of regalia: St Edward’s Crown. Across the land, 27 million people watched the Queen don the solid gold design—which dates back to 1661 and weighs a total of 4lb 12oz—as well as the ornate orb and the coronation ring (also known as the wedding ring of England).
On the Queen’s jubilant return to the palace, she wore her Purple Robe of Estate (which took 12 seamstresses from the Royal School of Needlework 3,500 hours to complete), and a third crown—perhaps the most fascinating in her collection. The term Imperial State Crown dates back to the 15th Century when English monarchs requested a crown closed by arches, to demonstrate that the country was closed to any other earthly power apart from that of their rule, according to the Royal Collection Trust.
St Edward’s Sapphire, for example, once belonged to Edward the Confessor, or St Edward, one of the last Anglo-Saxon kings of England. When asked for money by a beggar, St Edward gifted the stranger his sapphire ring. The precious blue gemstone was later returned to the King by two English pilgrims in Syria, who the beggar—known by that point as St John the Evangelist—had helped, inspired by the kindness the King had previously shown him. St Edward was buried with his treasure at Westminster Abbey in 1066, but his tomb was opened and the ring removed in the 12th century.
At the intersection of the Imperial State Crown’s two arches (or four half arches)—which are cast as oak leaves, set with diamonds—sit four large pear-shaped pearls in rose-diamond caps. These pearls are known as Queen Elizabeth’s Earrings. Elizabeth I allegedly bought the pearls from Mary, Queen of Scots when she was imprisoned, but, the Royal Collection Trust maintains, the former British monarch is unlikely to have ever worn them as earrings. Elizabeth I had a penchant for wearing her pearls scattered over her ruff, pinned in her hair, or adorning her royal dress. The Trust also recalls that at least two of the pearls—which were originally gifted to Catherine de Medici from Pope Clement VII on her marriage to Henry II of France in 1533—did not enter the royal collection until the 19th Century. Still, the moniker, Queen Elizabeth’s Earrings remains.