22 July 2017

The Duchess of Cornwall's Saudi Ruby Demi-Parure

The Duchess of Cornwall is celebrating her 70th birthday this month, and that's all the reason we need to celebrate by featuring a few of her most opulent official gifts. To start:

The Duchess of Cornwall wears her Saudi Ruby Demi-Parure, 2007

Attending a white tie concert at Philadelphia's Academy of Music during a United States tour with The Prince of Wales in 2007, The Duchess of Cornwall stopped traffic by debuting a necklace that is nothing short of outrageous. Glittering away above her sleek burgundy velvet Robinson Valentine gown was a bib necklace featuring 36 perfectly matched oval rubies nestled in a trellis of diamonds. Much smaller - and harder to see beneath her hair - were a pair of matching earrings, each with a pendant ruby surrounded in diamonds. She may also have worn a matching bracelet tucked under her sleeve.

The appearance won praise for Camilla's glamorous look while also sparking plenty of debate about the necklace and its origins. The royal couple's office at Clarence House - which, like most royal households, is generally reluctant to divulge jewelry details - initially stated that the jewel was a gift from an official tour and declined to name the generous party. When questions continued to be raised about disclosure of official gifts and even whether that explanation was being used as an excuse to dodge taxes and import duties, Clarence House released a list of official gifts received on royal tours for the first time. They've done so every year ever since.

The section of the gift list referencing the jewels in question

The list revealed the ruby necklace to be a gift given to The Duchess of Cornwall from a member of the Saudi Arabian royal family during the couple's March 2006 tour of the country. The list also revealed that the ruby demi-parure was far from the only gift she picked up; she also received necklace sets in sapphires and emeralds. Richard Kay later reported in the Daily Mail that the ruby parure was given to Camilla by billionaire Prince Al-Waleed bin Talal. In press reports, the value of the necklace was estimated at wildly differing amounts from £100,000 to £5 million (all figures which should be taken with a healthy grain of salt).

Sapphire and emerald necklaces debuted by The Duchess around this time have been pinpointed as the other gifts from this tour. (More to come on those shortly!) The Middle Eastern monarchies are known for their extravagant gifts of jewelry to visiting royal women, but I can't think of another royal who has picked up so much extravagance on one trip. It's staggering.

Here, a small look at the earrings. They appear to be pear-shaped rubies surrounded by diamonds.

Of course, these pieces are not Camilla's private property. As stated in the Royal Gift Guidelines of 2003:
Official gifts are not the private property of the Member of The Royal Family who receives them but are instead received in an official capacity in the course of official duties in support of, and on behalf of The Queen. As such, Members of The Royal Family are responsible for such gifts on behalf of The Queen (in right of the Crown).
The Duchess of Cornwall can store and use these gifts during her lifetime; on her death, any official gifts will be passed to the sovereign, who will decide if the gifts become part of the Royal Collection of if they should continue to be held in right of the Crown by her successors. Gifts from heads of state or hosts on official tours will generally be considered part of the Royal Collection.

This particular breastplate/necklace hasn't been worn again since its initial appearance. This is not surprising; controversy aside, it's not really the type of thing that can be thrown on with any old dress. This one practically requires a dress made specially for its use. She did, however, debut another similarly extravagant - and possibly also Saudi - ruby set in 2015 (another one with a feature to come shortly!).