The large pink stone at the centre of this rather petite royal brooch was a complete mystery to royal jewellery bloggers. For decades everyone debated as to whether the vibrantly rosy stone was a diamond, a sapphire or a semi-precious gem. Royal jewellery books were irritatingly mum as to its composition or its history as a royal jewel.
Finally, in 2015, a small piece of its veil of secrecy was lifted. In the handout that accompanied Mary McCartney’s portrait of Queen Elizabeth II marking the day she became the longest reigning monarch was the information that she was wearing a pink sapphire and diamond brooch.
ROYAL BROOCH COMPOSITION
The large faceted pink diamond is ringed by a thin oval of diamonds, which is itself encircled by 10 large circular diamonds that have small round diamonds inset between those large round ones on the brooch’s outer edge. It looks to be made of platinum, but it could be white gold.
Its classic design makes it impossible to date but the faceting of the intensely pink gem likely dates it to the 20th century.
Interestingly, there’s no firm distinction between a pink sapphire and a ruby. As the International Gem Society explains, “Scientifically, rubies and sapphires are simply varieties of corundum, a crystalline form of aluminum oxide (Al2O3), with impurities or trace elements such as iron, titanium, or chromium. These impurities are what create the wide range of colors to be found in corundum crystals: grays, browns, yellows, greens, blues, purples, reds…and pinks.”
And the concept of “pink sapphire” is relatively new, as the IGS notes, “In a fascinating article, Richard Hughes observes that before the 20th century, pink was considered a “light red” and some rubies were indeed described as “pink rubies.” Over the course of the 20th century, “someone decided that pink was not red” and the first references to pink sapphires appeared.”
And even gemological societies are divided on the ruby vs. sapphire distinction. “Professional gemology associations differ over the distinction between rubies and pink sapphires,” writes the IGS. “Although the Gemological Institute of America acknowledges historical and cultural variations on the division (or lack thereof) between red and pink color, it classifies as rubies only those corundum gems with “dominant” red hue. All other corundum is sapphire. On the other hand, the International Colored Gemstone Association considers any red corundum gemstone, regardless of depth or intensity, a ruby. The International Gem Society acknowledges no general agreement on the difference between rubies and pink sapphires and has information on both “pinkish” rubies as well as pink sapphires.
Regardless their name, the best stones are from Sri Lanka and Myanmar, according to Sri Lanka’s National Gem & Jewellery Authority. A quick look at auction sites shows the demand, and resultant high prices, for pink sapphires. In the Sotheby’s “Magnificent Jewels and Nobel Jewels” sale, a large pink sapphire ring by Bulgari was estimated to fetch between US$40,000-80,000, while a smaller, less intensely pink ring sold for US$10,500 in early 2018.
No information is known.
Again, information is non-existent but royal jewellery sites believe it entered the Queen’s collection during her reign, likely as a gift. Because if there is one thing one can always get the Queen, it’s a brooch. Canada has given the Queen two in recent years: a strikingly modern asymmetrical pink tourmaline floral brooch from the province of Saskatchewan and a spectacular diamond-and-sapphire snowflake brooch from the nation.
It’s a popular brooch of late, often racking up around four or five appearances a year (well, she does have a huge collection.) And it was featured on the cover of Dressing the Queen: The Jubilee Wardrobe by Angela Kelly, the monarch’s personal assistant and designer.
Historically, the Queen’s Jewel Vault has traced its usage back to 2010 when it was seen pinned to a pale pink dress in Oman while Artemisia’s Royal Jewels writes that it was worn in the early 1990s. She includes an undated photo of the Queen wearing the pink sapphire-and-diamond royal brooch that appears to be from that era.