Ultimate Status Symbols Around The World And Their Stories

Because royal regalia is so much more than expensive jewellery.
Friday 21 February 2020
The Queen's coronation in 1953. Photo: GETTY

Monarchies are identified not only by their titles and bloodlines but also by the luxuriant priceless jewels and metals that make up the regalia which adorn their personage. Though seemingly less common now, crowns, tiaras, circlets, necklaces, turban headpieces, and all manner of high jewellery personify the power and glory of royalty and the throne.

As monarchies become less relevant in the modern age, crown jewels have important historical significance, becoming symbols of history, telling distinct stories of not only those who wear them, but of the countries too, be it bathed in blood or majesty.

The Originators

Arguably the most well-known royals in the world, the British royal family owns some of the world’s most famous crown jewels. The official crown jewels of the United Kingdom consist of 140 royal ceremonial items. Each piece has its own history and legacy, with the oldest being the Ceremonial Spoon (more akin to a spatula) which dates back to the 12th century. Two of the most famous crowns are the St Edward’s Crown, believed to be a holy relic, and the Imperial State Crown, which are worn during coronations. Queen Elizabeth II once noted in an interview that the lighter of the two might be heavy enough to break her neck if she tilted her head forward to read speeches.

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Koh-i-Noor. Photo: GETTY

The most controversial stone in the collection of over 23,000 gems is the Koh-i-Noor (Mountain of Light). This stone’s history is one bathed in blood and rivalry from the times of Afghan princes and Indian Mughals. After passing various hands in many different Indian royal disputes, it finally landed in the hands of the young king Duleep Singh. Pressured by Britain with the imprisonment of his mother, he signed away the diamond and his claim to sovereignty. It has even been rumoured that the men who possess it will have no future succession lines. The diamond now sits in the Tower of London’s Jewel House and was last seen in public on Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother’s Crown atop her coffin at her funeral.

There is no official appraisal of the jewels but they have been estimated to be in the billions of British pounds, especially when taking into account the size and number of gems involved. The Cullinan I diamond that sits in the Sovereign’s Sceptre with Cross is estimated at US$51 million and the Imperial State Crown alone has 2,868 diamonds embedded in it. One can only imagine the value of it all.

Fit For A Maharaja

As a way to associate the power of the throne with that of the traditionally bejewelled Hindu deities worshipped by their subjects, the royals elevated their status by adorning themselves with priceless jewels and valuable metals. India’s rulers, Maharajas, Nizams, Nawabs and Shahs reigned over the states dripping in gold and jade pieces in every shade. Fashioned into some of the most luxurious and lavish jewellery pieces, it was common to see them decked out in grandiose regalia. For royalty in this region, opulence through the adornments was of prime importance to present their power, status and prestige to their people.

There have been many Maharajas whose famed and glorious jewellery have outlasted their lifespans, such as the renowned Patiala Necklace belonging to Maharaja Bhupinder Singh, a stunning piece ladened with diamonds galore. He once presented one of his wives with the resplendent Patiala Ruby Choker, part of an auction of almost 400 jewels from the Al Thani Collection by Christie’s entitled Maharajas & Mughal Magnificence.

The 2019 auction by Christie’s netted US$109 million, the highest for any auction of Indian art and Mughal objects, and the second highest for a private jewellery collection. The collection was of various pieces from the great rulers that once presided over the Indian states such as the grand Nizams of Hyderabad Sarpech, which fetched a whopping US$1.1 million and has the inscribed names of the great Mughal Emperors, Jahangir and Shah Jahan. Another item related to Shah Jahan and the Taj Mahal is the Shah Jahan Dagger, a jade and gold piece inscribed with his name and valued at US$3.3 million.

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The Nizams of Hyderabad Sarpech Diamond and Spinel Turb. Photo: Getty

European Luxe

Austria, like the rest of Europe, has a long and convoluted history of monarchs. Most of what is now considered the Crown Jewels of Austria, kept in the Imperial Treasury in Vienna, was at one point the crown jewels and regalia used by the Holy Roman Empire before its dissolution. It is one of the largest collections of medieval royal regalia, with everything from the Coronation Robes of the Kingdom of Lombardy-Venetia to St Stephen’s Purse.

In 1806 as a strategic response to the wars with Napoleon Bonaparte, Francis II the last Holy Roman Emperor, elevated Austria to empire status and subsequently reigned as Francis I, Emperor of Austria after having renounced the previous title. Francis I used the Crown of Emperor Rudolf II as the official Imperial Crown of Austria, one of the few personal crowns that survived past its emperor’s death.

The crown was carefully made entirely from gold, embedded with numerous gems, pearls and eight square diamonds, a number considered holy. Alongside the crown, the Imperial Treasury also houses other celebrated jewels and ornaments including the Imperial Orb and Sceptre as well as the oddly shaped octagonal Imperial Crown of the Holy Roman Emperor that dates back to the 11th Century.

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Holy Roman Empire Crown. Photo: GETTY

The royal family of Sweden and the current ruling King Carl XVI Gustaf, the longest reigning in their history, are one of the last few remaining European monarchs today. Much like Queen Elizabeth II, they have diminished influence in political matters compared to their predecessors, but remain notable figures.

Out of all the countries, Sweden indulges in the male crowns the least, preferring to place importance on the silver throne, which was created for Queen Christina’s coronation in 1650. It was last seen in 1973 at King Carl XVI’s coronation when he ascended the throne. Another prominent piece is the bright gold Crown of Carl XIV created in 1561 that was used alongside a sceptre, an orb and the giant key that is special to the Swedish regalia.

Aside from the grand jewels sitting in the treasury, Sweden’s funeral regalia of previous kings seems to have been the unfortunate victim of theft. In 2018, the burial crowns and an orb of King Carl XI and Queen Christina from Strängnäs Cathedral were carried off in a speedboat while in 2013, King Eric XIV’s valuables were stolen and later found in garbage bags.