What do you get a Queen who has everything, literally everything? A brooch, of course. She’s got more than 100 in her collection, but always has room for more. Indeed, new ones keep appearing on her coats and dresses every year. So when Canada wanted to give a gift to its Queen, there was only one choice.
Queen Elizabeth II just received a royal brooch that is quintessentially Canadian. For there are two images that every Canadian instantly recognizes: the maple leaf and the snowflake. Now the Queen has diamond representations of both iconic shapes in her jewellery collection. In 2002, she inherited the Canadian maple leaf brooch from her mother, Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother. The diamond Cartier brooch was bought by her father King George VI for their famous royal visit to Canada in 1939.
Today, Governor General David Johnston presented a diamond-and-sapphire brooch in the shape of a snowflake to the Queen of Canada. It is a gift from the people of Canada to mark her 65th year on the throne, her Sapphire Jubilee. Its official name is the Sapphire Jubilee Brooch, though it’s likely to be known by its wintery shape.
As the Governor General’s office stated: “Presented in a momentous year that marks both the Queen’s Sapphire Jubilee and Canada’s 150th anniversary of Confederation, this brooch celebrates the historic and profound relationship between Her Majesty and Canada. It serves as a companion to the maple leaf brooch given to Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother by her husband King George VI, to mark their visit to Canada in 1939.”
The Queen received the gift at Canada House in London, where she visited as part of the Canada 150 celebrations. Given her age—91—it was too much for her to travel to Canada for the festivities, so Canada brought the fun to her. Saluted by red-clad Mounties at the High Commission in Trafalgar Square, the Queen and Prince Philip saw an exhibition at the Canada Gallery, the free art gallery located in the historic building, directly across from the National Gallery. It’s a special exhibition curated by the Royal Collection, full of items and displays celebrating Canada’s big anniversary. Included is some hockey memorabilia, including an “ERII” jersey , presented to the monarch during her 23 visits to Canada.
As for the brooch, there’s little doubt that she’ll wear it. It’s beautiful and very much the Queen’s style. Plus, she likes Canadian brooches. When Saskatchewan’s Lieutenant-Governor gave her an pink asymmetrical tourmaline flower brooch in 2013, the Queen pinned it onto her coat three months later. It’s since reappeared again and again.
ROYAL BROOCH COMPOSITION
The brooch is 61-mm tall and 66-mm wide
It is 100 per cent Canadian, made of:
- 48 Canadian sapphires of varying colours and shapes, totalling 10.19 carats
- More than 400 diamonds of varying size, including Maple Leaf [ethically] certified diamonds, totalling 4.39 carats
- Certified 18K Canadian white gold
The official description states:
“The Sapphire Jubilee Snowflake Brooch is adorned with forty-eight Canadian sapphires of various colours and sizes. The sapphires were discovered by brothers Seemeega and Nowdluk Aqpik in 2002 on Baffin Island. It is the only known sapphire deposit to be found in Canada to date. The design takes inspiration from the Canadian Arctic and more specifically from the hamlet of Kimmirut on Baffin Island where the sapphires were discovered. The brooch’s centre is elevated and set with diamonds to represent the rocky hill located across the water from Kimmirut. The shape of the brooch is also emblematic, celebrating the snowy landscape of the Canadian Arctic and the unique nature of the snowflake. ”
Rachel Mielke, CEO and founder of Regina-based jewellery firm Hillberg & Berk knew this was a special commission from the very beginning. After all, her firm designed another one of the Queen’s brooches, the asymmetrical pink tourmaline flower that the Queen has pinned to her outfits several times since being given it by Saskatchewan’s Lieutenant-Governor in 2013. While Hillberg & Berk had complete design autonomy on that commission, this one came with restrictions, including that the original federal government bid request sent to jewellery firms demanded a brooch made out of all Canadian materials including sapphires, for the Queen’s Sapphire Jubilee (65 years on the throne.) and that the finished product reflect all of Canada.
That was a problem. The only sapphires in the nation were found in Nunavut in 2002. Though the site had been explored, it never took off commercially. So Mielke’s firm “quickly learned of one small privately-owned collection” of sapphires. “We begged to purchase it,” she recalls. In total, she got 61 sapphires, 48 of which were used in the brooch. (After it was discovered there were so few sapphires in Canada, Mielke explains, the bid process was amended to make it fair to Hillberg & Berk’s competitors.)
The minute she handled the stones, Mielke knew they had to design the piece around those sapphires, which varied in hue from deep blue to a milky colour and then to white. In addition, Mielke was “thinking what the Queen would want to wear, what would she like.” She knew what size of brooch the Queen favours, and that she prefers pieces with sparkle and impact.
Even with all those design restrictions, it took just two hours for Mielke and her lead designer to come up with the design of a snowflake, something that touches all of Canada yet are magically unique. “The stones were already cut,” she recalls, “The told us what to do.” They played with the sapphires in clay, laying them out so their colours are graduated from deepest to lightest down each spike of the snowflake. After four iterations the final snowflake design was ready.
Looking at the calendar, Mielke realized her firm would have to start creating the brooch even before the winning bid was revealed in April. “It can be a finicky process. I wanted to be 100 per cent prepared with the best piece we could produce.” As such complicated designs aren’t the normal bailiwick of the firm, which specializes in affordable luxury—pieces usually under $500—it brought in skilled help. Using ethically-mined Maple Leaf diamonds and white gold, the firm took its time making the brooch. Only a dozen people in the firm of 165 staff knew about the confidential project until after the Governor General gave it to the Queen.
While Mielke won’t disclose the price of the brooch’s labour and materials, she does acknowledge that the “government budget didn’t cover our costs.” For her, this project is more than a bottom line decision. “I wanted to create something phenomenal for the Queen.”
“Our number one purpose is empowering women,” she explains, “not selling jewellery.” She wants to see more women in business, in power, in positions of authority, making the world a better place for all of us,” and supports causes to that end.
“The Queen is the original empowered woman,” Mielke says. “For 65 years ago, she has been one of the most powerful women in the world. We can all look up to her as someone who has taken on that role with dignity and grace.”
It is a gift of the people of Canada, given by Governor General David Johnston to Queen Elizabeth II on July 19, 2017 at Canada House in London. (The Queen was wearing the Canadian Maple Leaf Royal Brooch when given her new Snowflake Royal Brooch.)