15 November 2011

Royal Splendor 101: Loaned Jewels

After discussing the state involvement of crown jewels, the security of family foundations, and the precarious nature of personal property, it's time for our fourth and final sort of ownership, that which is not really ownership at all: the loan. Also known as, what to do when you don't have enough for yourself and you have neither the funds nor the desire to pay to increase your own collection. So you borrow something, from a  family member or even a jeweler. A little bit of bling that's yours for just a fleeting time...just like Cinderella.

Family Loans
As we know, some of the members of these royal families - usually the head ladies of the house - are sitting on some massive jewel stashes, so wouldn't they be the first you'd ask for a loan when in need? Well, yes and no. Whether they are willing to loan things out or not is personal - it depends on the owner's thoughts on sharing, but also on the relationship between the owner and the proposed borrower, you'd imagine. Some are more willing to share than others; Queen Silvia shares some of what is thought to be her personal property with Princess Madeleine fairly often, and Grand Duchess Maria Teresa seems happy to share her wealth with her daughter and daughter-in-law, to name two examples. Others, like Queen Margrethe, rarely share jewels with others in the family.

Mathilde's tiara loan
There are one-time loans, after which the jewel is immediately returned; weddings are excellent examples, as there's never a better time to ask for a loan than when you're a bride. We don't see sharing very often from Belgium's royal family but Queen Paola made a one-time loan to Princess Mathilde for her wedding, for example.

There are also lifetime loans, in which a piece of jewelry is given as a gift with the understanding that ownership has not been transferred and the gift giver will expect the jewel to be returned at the end of a life (or a marriage). Queen Elizabeth seems fond of this strategy and so far it's worked well for her, as some of the important family pieces given to Diana, Princess of Wales have returned to the royal vault.

Queen Elizabeth is another matriarch that's often called out for being "stingy" with her jewels. But here's what I wonder: is it possible that the ladies just aren't asking if they can borrow things? I ask because she seems not to make many loans to the Countess of Wessex, who is said to be a favorite of hers, but she did loan pieces to Diana. So I can't help but wonder if Diana had no qualms asking while Sophie maybe recognizes that her no-nonsense mother-in-law might not be impressed with a need for even more bling and thus refrains from requesting loans. Obviously, these are private family matters that will never be explained publicly, but the speculation is interesting.
I've had quite a few questions about Diana's jewels lately; since she did use a number of loans of different sorts, this is as good a time of any to throw some examples out there. The first picture above includes the Cambridge emerald choker from Queen Mary, a lifetime loan from the Queen, and the Spencer Tiara, which was a loan from Diana's family (as well as her Royal Family Order). Second, we have the Cambridge Lover's Knot Tiara - another lifetime loan - and a pearl choker which was a one-time loan from the Queen. The third and fourth pictures also feature necklaces on temporary loan from the Queen's stash. In the fifth picture, an engagement photo, Diana is wearing loans from Collingwood Jewelers. (Collingwood wanted to give the set to her as a gift, but it was deemed inappropriate - so it was sold and then pawned off as a Spencer family jewel being sold to pay for the royal wedding...should have just accepted the gift in the first place!) In the last picture, she's strung a borrowed amethyst cross from Garrard on a string of faux pearls. After Diana's death, any remaining loans she had in her possession were returned to their owners, and her personal jewels were left to William and Harry.

Jeweler Loans
Diana brings us to our second category of royal loans: the jeweler loan, in which a royal lady goes to a commercial jeweler to borrow something to wear for a royal event. It's like the Oscars, where you see all these fabulous jewels but the stars don't really own any of them - except in the ideal royal loan situation, nobody asks, "Where are your jewels from?"
Suspected and known tiara loans on (left to right) Princess Grace of Monaco, Princess Marie-Chantal of Greece, the Countess of Wessex, and Queen Rania of Jordan
Because we don't see a lot of new jewel purchases these days, it's natural to suspect that a royal might be taking advantage of a jeweler's gracious loan when they pop up in something sparkly and new. And if they pop up in a regular stream of new things, like Princess Charlene has been doing recently, or as Princess Mathilde has a tendency to do (she wears a fair amount of new diamond necklaces, I'd say), our suspicion grows.

Mary and the Midnight Tiara
As I said, ideally (for discreet royal courts) the jewelers do not confirm that the royal has loaned something, so we're left to guess. If we only see a new jewel once, that's a good indicator that it was a loan. And sometimes you'll get lucky and an identical piece will show up on a jeweler's website or something like that, helping to confirm the loan.

Usually a jeweler loan is a one-time occasion, but sometimes an arrangement can be worked out. Crown Princess Mary's third tiara, the Midnight Tiara, is an example of this: she has exclusive use of the tiara but does not own it. It remains the property of the Ole Lynggaard company. We'll talk more about this interesting piece, and this interesting arrangement, on Thursday.

Jeweler loans are always the subject of much debate. As a card-carrying magpie, I love seeing our royal ladies in a variety of different gems; but there's something about borrowing a piece that takes a bit of the fairytale out of it for me. It's a peculiar brand of snobbery, isn't it?

Next time: the tricky business of actually acquiring new jewels.