The Queen's love of pearls stems from a family tradition going back hundreds of years

By Monique Jessen
August 04, 2020 12:48 PM
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Queen Elizabeth at Easter, April 2020
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No matter the occasion, Queen Elizabeth is rarely seen without her favorite piece of jewelry – her signature pearl necklace.

“Pearls are traditional for Queens going back one thousand years — there has never been a Queen who didn’t wear pearls,” Leslie Field, author of The Queen’s Jewels, tells PEOPLE. “They were rare, beautiful and lustrous and the more you wear them, the more lustrous they become.”

From single-strand pieces to an elaborate six-strand necklace gifted to her during a visit to Qatar, the Queen has quite the collection of pearls. But it’s a three-strand classic design made from heirloom family pearls that she wears the most often.

“It’s the necklace that she feels is appropriate — she wants to wear pearls every day as her mother and grandmother did before her,” explains Field. “She wouldn’t wear a diamond necklace to go to a charity lunch — it is simply traditional that a lady would wear pearls during the day.”

Queen Elizabeth's television broadcast on April 5, 2020 during the coronavirus pandemic
Buckingham Palace via Getty Images

Made from graduated pearls and a diamond clasp, the Queen had it made shortly after her accession to the throne. It's her necklace of choice when making rare television addresses to the nation, including one in April, in which she offered reassurance amid the coronavirus crisis. She wore it again earlier this month at a virtual meeting with members of the Armed Forces and most recently to Princess Beatrice’s last-minute wedding ceremony.

The Queen on a video call, July 2020
© Royal Family/DDP via ZUMA Press

According to Field, a former editor at Tatler magazine who claims to have the largest royal jewelry archive in the world, comprising of over 150,000 photographs, the Queen’s love of pearls began early on in her life, thanks to a family tradition which was started by her great-great-grandmother, Queen Victoria.

“She gave each of her daughters and granddaughters a pearl every year on their birthday so that by the time they came of age at 18, they would have enough pearls for a necklace,” says Field, noting that the royal tradition was continued by the Queen’s own father King George VI, who gave her a thin platinum chain to which he added two pearls on each birthday.

The Queen, 3 wearing her first pearl necklace in 1929
Hulton-Deutsch Collection/CORBIS/Corbis via Getty

In 1935 on the occasion of his Silver Jubilee, the Queen’s grandfather King George V once again gave the Queen pearls. This time it was a three-strand pearl necklace and her sister Princess Margaret was gifted a two-strand style, which they both wore for their parents' coronation in 1937, smiling from the balcony of Buckingham Palace as they waved to the crowds. “She was still a little girl but he wanted his two girls to have their first pearl necklace from grandpapa.”

Princess Elizabeth and Princess Margaret wearing their pearl necklaces at the Coronation in 1937
Getty Images

Even today, pearls are a go-to for special birthdays and often given as presents. “Pearls are associated with those very big moments,” jeweler Claudia Bradby adds. “We sell a lot to brides, mother of the brides, significant birthdays, wedding anniversary gifts — if you want to look chic and well-turned-out, pearls are just perfect.”

The Queen herself wore pearls on her wedding day in 1947, opting for a chic two-strand design, which is believed to be two separate necklaces and some of the oldest pearls in the Queen’s collection. Prior to that, she wore a similar necklace to announce her engagement to Prince Philip earlier that year.

The Queen and Prince Philip on their wedding day in 1947
Hulton-Deutsch Collection/CORBIS/Corbis via Getty

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Bradby, a U.K. jeweler who uses freshwater cultured pearls in her contemporary designs, says the influence from the younger generation of royals, such as Kate Middleton (who she once collaborated with and attended her 2011 wedding to Prince William), has only added to their appeal. “I think Kate has definitely made pearls more stylish — you mustn’t ever underestimate the appeal of modern classics,” she says.