The Stories Behind the Crowns of The Crown

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The star! Photo: Netflix

Netflix’s The Crown is a royal soap about the spare (King George VI) assuming the throne of the heir (Edward VII) and the ultimate ascension by his daughter Elizabeth. But let’s talk about the real stars of the show: the crowns! How were the monarchs’ spectacular crowns recreated, and how much of the show’s rumored $100 million budget went into making them? Assistant costume designer Emma O’Loughlin says researching the extravagant headpieces owned by one of the world’s richest families was easy thanks to a trove of books, documentaries, file footage, and old news photos referencing the historic pieces. As for their cost, they were all rented! Turns out, for a fee, anyone can lease handmade replicas of the crown jewels and royal jewelry from London-based Royal Exhibitions. Here’s what else we learned from the series’ official crown wrangler.

The heirloom tiara Elizabeth wore on her wedding day was flawed.
The series opens with Princess Elizabeth’s marriage to Prince Philip, to which she wore a 1919 diamond-fringe tiara made for her grandmother Queen Mary. On loan from her mother, Elizabeth didn’t return the tiara in the same condition she got it. O’Loughlin says as the princess got ready on her wedding day, somehow the frame snapped. Crown Jewelers, Garrard & Co., were quickly dispatched to repair it. But O’Loughlin says you can see a gap in the tiara in the princess’s wedding photos. 

Two coronation crowns are better than one.
At King George’s coronation, the monarch wears two headpieces: the St. Edward's Crown the moment he gets the gig, and the Imperial State Crown as the ceremony ends. The former dates back to 1661, and once featured tourmalines, white and yellow topazes, rubies, amethysts, sapphires, garnets, peridots, zircons, spinels, and aquamarines mounted in enameled gold collets. Though also a foot tall, the lighter, nearly five-pound version George wore had the semi-precious stones it was reset with in 1911. Based on one of Queen Victoria’s 1838 crown, the Imperial State Crown was made expressly for George in 1937 by Garrard & Co. In addition to its three huge stones — the Cullian II diamond, the Stuart Sapphire, and the Black Prince’s Ruby, a large irregular cabochon red spinel — there are 2,868 diamonds, 269 pearls, 17 sapphires, and 11 emeralds.

Sadly, the versions Jared Harris (George) and Claire Foy (Elizabeth) wore were made of metal and gold plate set with high-quality crystal stones. To ensure Foy’s crowns fit, O’Loughlin says they padded the interiors — possibly the same way the real versions were adapted for the current Queen back in 1953.

The tiara Elizabeth wore to Winston Churchill’s farewell dinner was in regular rotation.
The Cambridge Lovers Knot, commissioned by Queen Mary in 1913 or 1914 from Garrard & Co., was a favorite Elizabeth wore often in the early 1950s before retiring it in favor of other options, including one called Girls of Great Britain and Ireland. The Lovers Knot resurfaced after the Queen loaned it to Princess Diana for her wedding. Though the princess chose to wear a Spencer family heirloom, she held onto the piece and wore it often. Most recently, it’s been seen on Kate Middleton

Princess Margaret did turn to Elizabeth for tiaras.
Margaret was known for borrowing Elizabeth’s 1936 Cartier diamond-and-platinum “Halo” tiara, an anniversary gift from Elizabeth’s dad to her mom that the Queen gave her when she turned 18. O’Loughlin says copyright issues kept them from showing it. (Could this be why?) Instead, we see Margaret wearing Elizabeth’s Cambridge Lover's Knot at the ambassador's ball and the theater. 

The Queen Mum’s tiara is a hand-me-down.
The Greville Tiara the Queen Mother wore regularly originally belonged to society hostess Margaret Greville, a chum of the Queen’s. When she died in 1942, she left all of her jewels, including the 1921 Boucheron diamond tiara, to the Queen. More recently, you may have seen it on Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall

Queen Elizabeth wears another one of her favorites for her official photo.
For her shoot with famed British fashion photographer Cecil Beaton in the final episode of the Netflix show, Elizabeth wears the Imperial State Diadem. The openwork silver frame lined with gold is set with pearl bands and 1,633 diamonds, including those in four cross pattées, and four sprays, representing the U.K.’s national emblems. Modified over the years, the headpiece’s distinctly feminine look belies the fact it was made for King George IV's 1821 coronation. The Queen still wears it today.