Whether it was careful scheduling or just plain serendipity, there can scarcely have been a better moment to sell an Elizabeth II presentation diamond brooch.
On June 14, just a week after all of the ‘platty jubes’ celebrations, it raced away to bring £180,000 at Mayfair auction house Noonans (plus 25% buyer’s premium).
The brooch, worked in diamonds set in platinum with the initials ER in the queen’s own handwriting, is one of just seven made by Garrards in 1953 and the first to come to auction.
They had been given by Queen Elizabeth II to the seven aristocratic ladies who helped at her coronation – six to maids of honour and this one to Lavina, Duchess of Norfolk who had stood in during rehearsals at Westminster Abbey. Her husband, Bernard Fitzalan-Howard, 16th Duke of Norfolk, had overall responsibility for the organisation of the coronation, a task he had also performed for George VI in 1937.
Consigned to Noonans from Australia, the brooch was accompanied by two letters that document its 70-year history.
One is handwritten by the newly crowned Elizabeth II herself, expressing her thanks to the duchess. Dated June 4, 1953, two days after the coronation, she jests: “The Archbishop was very grateful for all your patient help and Mummy hopes that my understudy will be available when I am next ill in bed!!”
The second letter dated February 8, 1960, is from Anthony Elder, then chairman of The British and Foreign Bible Society. It explains the brooch had been a donation “in lieu of a monetary contribution by Her Grace the Duchess of Norfolk in 1956” at a time when the society was fundraising for new headquarters in Canberra.
The letter adds that the task of couriering the brooch Down Under had been given to a “Mr Lindwall at Arundel on behalf of the Commonwealth Council” – seemingly a reference to the Australian fast bowler Ray Lindwall. In England for the 1956 Ashes tour, he had been given his precious cargo when the Australian national team played an exhibition match against a Duke of Norfolk’s XI.
The buyer, at a price many times the £4000- 6000 estimate, was a European collector of royal jewels.
Emotion and connection
Noonans specialist Frances Noble said: “We were delighted with the price. The timing of the auction so close to the queen’s jubilee, its impeccable provenance and the very personal nature of the brooch led to a huge amount of interest. It’s a perfect example of the additional value that an emotive back story and a royal connection can bring.”
The sale also included an Art Deco diamond brooch formerly owned by Princess Margaret, Countess of Snowdon. Dating from c.1930, the geometrically designed brooch mounted in platinum had been bought by the vendor at auction: not at the famous Christie’s Princess Margaret sale in 2006 but at Sotheby’s in 1979. The sale catalogue, included with the lot, had featured seven jewels from HRH.
The brooch sold for £60,000 against an estimate of £6000-8000 after competition between three phone bidders. It too was purchased by a European collector.