The Cambridge Emeralds

In a previous blog I said that I would come back to the Cambridge Emeralds, and so here we are. There is a complicated but interesting story about how they came to be in Queen Elizabeth II’s collection.

When Princess Charlotte of Wales died unexpectedly, the sons of her Grandfather, King George III had to make a mad dash to get married and produce a legitimate heir to keep the throne within their family.

Princess Augusta of Hesse-Kassel
Princess Augusta of Hesse-Kassel, who became the Duchess of Cambridge.


The King’s seventh son, Prince Adolphus, Duke of Cambridge, married Princess Augusta of Hesse-Kassel in 1818.  While Prince Adolphus fulfilled his role as the Viceroy of Hanover, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge remained there. When his niece was crowned Queen Victoria, on June 20, 1837, the 123-year union of the crowns of the United Kingdom and Hanover ended, due to Hanover being under Salic Law. The Patrilineal rule meant that they could not abide by a ruling Queen…

During their term in Hanover, The Duchess visited her native Hesse (a region and former grand duchy of west-central Germany).  Duchess Augusta decided to buy raffle tickets for a state-sponsored charity lottery in Frankfurt. She won a small box that contained cabochon emeralds of various sizes. These are the stones that would become known as the Cambridge Emeralds. Won in a state-sponsored lottery, can you believe that? Unreal. According to some the gems may have once belonged to Indian Royalty. There are conflicting theories about the number of emeralds held within the prize box, but it was most likely between thirty and forty.

The Duchess had several of the emeralds set into pieces, such as a five-pendant necklace and a pair of drop earrings. She surely shared the gems with their daughter, Princess Mary Adelaide.

Mary Adelaide, Duchess of Teck
Mary Adelaide, Duchess of Teck


Princess Mary Adelaide struggled to find a husband, for several reasons. She had a notably small income for her position, she was “of advanced age” being unmarried at 30, and she was known as “Fat Mary.” Treating her as unmarriageable was pretty gross if you ask me, but that was the time and being a Royal meant living by different standards…not always better, but different. Queen Victoria felt for her cousin and worked to arrange potential suitors for her. Princess Mary Adelaide agreed to a marriage with the Prince Francis of Teck, who had no claim to a throne on his own (in fact his rank was beneath hers) but he retained the royal title that was required for Princess Mary Adelaide to marry. The newly fashioned Duke and Duchess of Teck went on to have four children, the first of which was Princess Victoria Mary of Teck.

Prince Francis of Teck
Prince Francis of Teck


When the Duchess of Cambridge passed, The Duchess of Teck kept the finished emerald pieces intact while adding to the collection. She had emeralds added to one of her stomachers that was created by the House of Garrard. When the Duchess of Teck passed unexpectedly, the emeralds went not to her daughter that would become Queen, but to her third child His Serene Highness, Prince Francis of Teck. Prince Francis, or “Frank,” was not married and never would be. He had an affair with the known married beauty Lady Ellen Constance, wife of the Earl of Kilmorey. When Prince Francis died suddenly at the age of 40, he had shockingly bequeathed the jewels to his mistress! Queen Mary was having none of it and had his final will sealed by the court. It is said that she negotiated with Lady Kilmorey for the return of the gems at the cost of about £10,000! Can you imagine the scandal of losing these family heirlooms in an illicit affair?

Queen Mary and Queen Elizabeth both wearing Cambridge Emeralds
Queen Mary and Queen Elizabeth, both wearing Cambridge Emeralds.


Queen Elizabeth II wearing some of her favorite emeralds.
Queen Elizabeth II wearing some of her favorite emeralds.

Queen Mary bequeathed the emeralds and the jewelry that they are set in to, Queen Elizabeth II, and she still wears them. I am pretty sure we have already seen the current Duchess of Cambridge, Kate Middleton wearing pieces from the collection so it stands to reason that the lottery winnings will keep their place as a fabulous part of Royal history.

The featured image is part of the Vladimir Tiara, a current favorite of Queen Elizabeth II. The drops are interchangeable between pearls and emeralds, the emeralds in question being part of the Cambridge Emerald collection.


Have emeralds on your mind? We got you covered!

Emerald and Diamond Drop Pendant in 18k White Gold
Emerald and Diamond Drop Pendant in 18k White Gold from Blue Nile

Find more gorgeous emerald jewelry in the jewelry search!

I just think this is such a cool part of jewelry history, what are your favorite Royal jewelry stories? Let us know in the comments!

Written by Kayti Kawachi

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