It’s been a year of nearly nonstop royal moments—and headlines—from Queen Elizabeth’s Platinum Jubilee in early 2022 to her death at age 96 last fall. And of course we have King Charles III’s coronation this May. As with her majesty the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee (which prompted a landmark exhibition of tiaras at Sothebys London), the U.K. is keen mark the occasion with a number of events, including one that puts fine jewelry at the center of the fanfare.
On April 5, a new exhibition, Crown to Couture, will open at Kensington Palace, the official residence of the Prince and Princess of Wales and their children and the original home of the Georgian court (today, you can tour a tableau of richly decorated state rooms and exquisite gardens there). Presented by the Historic Royal Palaces non-profit, Crown to Couture displays contemporary fashion and jewels worn by high profile celebrities including Lizzo and Lady Gaga alongside historic costumes and artwork. It’s a compelling juxtaposition that invites jewelry and fashion enthusiasts to draw parallels between the Georgian glitterati and the most prominent personalities on current red carpets.
Encompassing more than 200 objects in all, Crown to Couture is said to be the largest exhibition Kensington Palace has ever staged. The jewelry on display occupies a small part of this oeuvre, but it’s also likely to be the thing that lingers in your thoughts when you leave—the best red-carpet bling tends to have this effect, wouldn’t you agree?
“Dressing for the Georgian court may feel like a distant custom, but Crown to Couture will shine a new light on these historic traditions by directly placing them in conversation with similar high-profile fashion events of today,” said Claudia Acott Williams, curator at Historic Royal Palaces, in a statement. “We’re thrilled to be collaborating with a wide variety of well-known fashion houses and jewelry designers in order to explore the fascinating world of the Georgian court through a new, contemporary lens.”
The exhibition tells a story of opulence and pageantry, and plenty will come for the couture gowns and regalia—Historic Royal Palaces worked with Emmy award-winning production designer Joseph Bennett, best known for his creation of Alexander McQueen’s famous catwalk shows, to design the exhibition spaces (which is all a die-hard fashionista needs to know).
Jewels are an important part of the narrative. To help connect the past to the present, noted journalist, author, curator, and executive director of the Responsible Jewelry Council, Melanie Grant, has created an intimate showcase of pieces by contemporary jewelers. Think Chopard on Sharon Stone; Thelma West on Rihanna; and Cindy Sherman on Cate Blanchett.
Grant tells The Zing Report, “They are a new type of royalty with cultural capital, and I love how first-generation talent, as well as inherited power, now sit side-by-side as equals. They are strong women building each other up using art and culture.”
She adds, “For me, this exhibition is about tradition and the modern-day co-existing harmoniously through jewelry. It’s about powerful women—including Queen Elizabeth II—expressing that power and beauty simultaneously. Because in the past, women sometimes had to choose between the two. Not anymore.”
Chopard orchid earrings from the maison’s 2018 Red Carpet collection
Chopard opal and diamond necklace
Fernando Jorge Disco earrings
Lizworks x Cindy Sherman earrings
Many of the pieces on display were worn at the Met Gala, one of the most high-profile events on the global fashion calendar. In fact, the exhibition draws parallels between the Met Gala to the Georgian Court—and explores the roles played by designers, stylists, and celebrities in showcasing the very best of contemporary creativity at this major event.
One Met Gala highlight will be the Rebel Black ring worn by Rihanna to the 2021 event and designed by Thelma West for Sotheby’s Brilliant & Black exhibition in New York of the same year, which was also curated by Grant (see it below). West set a 5 ct. pear-shaped diamond from Botswana into a black ceramic-and-gold setting to create the dramatic piece.
Thelma West Rebel Black ring
There’s also the vintage Verdura gold and diamond Feather Headdress tiara (below), part of the Verdura Museum collection, which was commissioned by Ambassador John Hay Whitney for his wife Betsey Cushing Whitney on their presentation to the Court of Saint James in 1957. Hamish Bowles wore the headpiece to the Met Gala in 2022.
Vintage Verdura feather headdress tiara
The exhibition is sponsored in part by the venerated British jeweler Garrard, which has created some of the most famous jewelry in existence for royal clients including Queen Victoria and Diana, Princess of Wales.
Highlights include a replica of the pearl, diamond, and sapphire Marguerite necklace and earrings worn by Beyoncé to promote her Mrs. Carter world tour in 2013; a replica of the Cullinan V brooch worn by Her Late Majesty Queen Elizabeth II to London Fashion Week in 2018; and two recent creations from the Couture Amazonia collection resplendent in tsavorites, emeralds, and diamonds.
Garrard Marguerite necklace
Garrard Couture Amazonia necklace
Top: Worn by Beyoncé for the Mrs. Carter World Tour Promo 2013, Garrard’s Marguerite necklace combines akoya pearls with sapphires including a Sri Lankan cushion-cut stone weighting 11.37 cts. A replica of the piece is among the jewels on view at Crown Couture which opens Apr. 5 and runs through Oct. 29 at Kensington Palace. (Beyonce photo courtesy Parkwood Entertainment)