The jewels that will play a starring role as King Charles—and his Queen—are crowned.
The dress code for King Charles’s coronation on May 6 has been declared, and it’s set to be a slimmed down affair—in more ways than one.
The sovereign has reportedly discouraged “formal dress,” encouraging the House of Lords to wear business attire or their traditional black robes (scratch the crimson, ermine-trimmed robes worn for Queen Elizabeth II’s coronation in 1953). The news of a more casual, less stuffy event has petered out slowly from Buckingham Palace, eliciting cheers from some and dismay from others. Recent details about the pared-back ceremony include a mere 2,000 invited guests to Westminster Abbey (compared to 8,000 for Queen Elizabeth), a 60-minute coronation ceremony rather than a three-hour affair, and Meghan Markle and her children remaining home in California. Four-year-old Prince Louis’s attendance is also in question after his antics sticking out his tongue during the Platinum Jubilee.
For royal watchers, deflated by the subdued approach and yearning for a visual feast rife with pomp, pageantry, burning questions remain, such as: Will we see any tiaras?
Lauren Kiehna, who pens The Court Jeweller blog, suggests that King Charles might be looking to the example of less-formal European inaugurations, like the one held for King Willem-Alexander of the Netherlands in 2013, which had a formal daytime dress code: “If so, we could still be seeing major jewels—just not tiaras.”
Author, broadcaster and British Vogue Contributing Editor Carol Woolten, who hosts the podcast If Jewels Could Talk, says it will be a restrained coronation without lavishly attired guests.
“We might see a lot of dress coats. People will wear their best, but it’s a different type of best. It won’t be the evening dress and precious jewels,” she says. “Philip Treacy and Stephen Jones will be incredibly busy making fabulous hats and fascinators.” Woolten, who recorded three specials for her podcast on the coronation, says that Queen Camilla will wear a couture gown by Bruce Oldfield. “He will make a fantastic gown, and I suspect there will be all sorts of references to the British Isles in it and to the Queen’s new role.” Woolten says the burning question regarding Queen Camilla is “whether or not she will wear Queen Victoria’s coronation necklace which was worn by Queen Victoria and left for every subsequent queen to wear at the coronation. I imagine she will.”
Queen Camilla will be crowned with Queen Mary’s crown, which for the first time in recent history will be re-used for a coronation “in the interests of sustainability and efficiency” according to the Palace. Updates to the crown—which resides in the Crown Jewels—include resetting it with the Cullinan III, IV and V diamonds that were part of Queen Elizabeth II’s personal collection and often worn by her as brooches. Camilla will also wear a ruby and diamond ring, made for the 1831 coronation of King William IV and Queen Adelaide and worn by three other Queens Consort.
As for the Princess of Wales, Woolten suspects that she will choose a dress by Sarah Burton and Alexander McQueen as she did for her wedding day. “Those styles seem to suit her so well. I imagine she will wear jewelry as a tribute to Queen Elizabeth,” says Woolten. She predicts that Kate might select the Girls of Great Britain and Ireland tiara—which was worn by The Queen in some of her iconic portraits used on coinage and stamps—or the George III tiara. “I think it will be something closely associated with the line of succession . . . something very associated with Queen Elizabeth and pay tribute to her.”
The Crown Jewels will, of course, play the starring role in the coronation. “The jewelry is everything. It embodies the transformation of the person into the monarch,” says Woolten, noting the incredible history of the coronation regalia which will be used to anoint King Charles, including St. Edward’s Crown, the Sovereign’s Sceptre, the Imperial State Crown and the Sovereign’s Orb.
“These pieces aren’t worn for frivolity. They aren’t worn to purely make a dazzling display of jewels and wealth and visual impact,” says Woolten. “What is more important is the symbolic role they play, which is huge.” Woolten describes the coronation as a sacrament similar to a baptism or marriage. “The crown is necessary for the moment of crowning,” she says. “King Charles doesn’t become king until the crown is placed upon his head.”
Hero Image of Saint Edward's Crown, Sir Robert Viner, 1st Baronet, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons