Heavy Sits the Crown

One of the fun things about working in jewellery are the weird bits of knowledge you accumulate thanks to customers' enquiries. One of the best was “How much does The Queen’s crown weigh?” and that led to a delightful couple of hours of personal research before I could reply with my findings. “Fascinating, so how much of that is gemstones?” shot back the enquirer by return – what a great thing to ask! I just had to go and work it out.

The crown in question is the one The Queen wears every May to open the Houses of Parliament – the Imperial State Crown. It rests in the Jewel House in the Tower of London when not being worn, but as an essential working piece of kit in the state regalia, its weight has been a continual issue.

The crown we see on The Queen once a year is a symbol of monarchy established over a thousand years. It is the latest iteration of one made for the coronation of Queen Victoria in 1838, made by long-gone London jewellers Rundell Bridge & Co, prior to Garrard's appointment as Crown Jeweller in 1843, using diamonds and stones from Charles II’s crown plus jewels supplied for the purpose.  Victoria could only wear it a few times as it was unbearably heavy – at 39oz 5dwt troy or 1221g – and also incredibly uncomfortable as it had to be skewered on through her hair and the velvet cap with two long pins. After a couple of years' discomfort it was thereafter carried on a cushion in front of the queen each year at Parliament until the Duke of Argyll dropped it in 1845. Victoria’s diary entry describes its comical appearance afterwards as like a ‘pudding that had sat down’. Despite subsequently being repaired, it was never again worn by Queen Victoria, who suffered from migraines and preferred lighter tiaras and diadems. The only crown she wore when she renewed her annual state duties in her long widowhood was the tiny dainty diamond crown ordered from Garrard in 1870, an iconic echo of the past British Empire seen sometimes dotted about the world.

The Crown was altered in 1902 for the coronation of Edward VII, who was too unwell for duties most of his short reign and thus unable to wear it again; in 1909 it was altered to take the mighty 317.40ct Cullinan II, cut from the giant diamond given by the Transvaal Government, replacing the historic Stuart sapphire, which moved to the back of the brow band. 

George V had the crown adjusted to fit his narrow head and then wore it annually for the first time in over 60 years as a mark of his commitment to sovereignty, beginning with the State Opening of Parliament in 1913. The heavy crown always gave him an excruciating headache. Frequent attempts to reduce the weight and reworking during his reign until 1936 left it so fragile that the top cross fell off as it was displayed on his coffin during his funeral state procession and bounced down the street until a sharp eyed sergeant-major snatched it up.

At the instruction of King George VI in 1937 for his coronation, Garrard replicated the crown, without altering the design or remaking the diamond studded monde and cross patee (ball and cross) at the top. Garrard's 1937 painted fair sketch is displayed proudly at the store in Albemarle Street, in the company’s VIP Queen Mary Room. The brand new crown was much lighter and easier to wear with the introduction of an internal hammock similar to a Guardsman’s bear skin headdress to spread the weight evenly around the head. 

The new crown’s arches were lowered and the band made smaller to fit Queen Elizabeth in 1953, removing 66 diamonds and some fragments, now stored in the Tower. The crown is now as light as can possibly be and still allow secure settings and strong construction for a working ornament. The Queen herself is said to be quite comfy wearing it.

So, how much does the crown weigh? The answer is 32 oz 7dwt troy which is 1006g excluding the wire frame, the velvet and satin cap, and the ermine fur trimmed band. I found the closest thing I had to compare it with at home was a 3 litre saucepan, which in the interests of research I dutifully tried wearing for a while – you could try this yourself.

And the weight of the diamonds and gems? Apart from 2,868 diamonds and 269 pearls there are some whoppers set in the crown: featured is the magnificent Cullinan II, the ancient Black Prince’s Ruby (a red spinel), holy St Edward’s sapphire, and the intriguing Stuart Sapphire, four historic drop natural pearls from the Tudor age, in addition to 17 top quality Indian or Burmese sapphires, 11 Columbian emeralds, and 5 Burmese rubies. I calculate the total carat weight of all these precious jewels, from the dimensions I have found published in the literature, is around 2500ct which is 500g - half the weight of the crown. 

No wonder it feels good on.