The fine history of crown jewellers Garrard
The vision of 14 solitaire diamonds surrounding a 12-carat oval Ceylon sapphire set in 18k white gold is a simple but elegant configuration of jewels that make up the world’s most famous engagement ring. It belonged to the late Princess Diana and now sits on the finger of Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge. Curiously, the ring was neither custom-made nor unique and, was, during the then Lady Diana Spencer’s engagement to Prince Charles, featured in Garrard’s jewellery collection, readily accessible to the public. The unsurprising factor in that anecdote was that Prince Charles chose to bring her to Garrard, Crown Jewellers to the House of Windsor – a title they held in unbroken succession from 1843 to 2007.
Considered the oldest jewellery house in the world, Garrard was established in 1735, on London’s Panton Street by George Wickes, an accomplished silversmith whose lavish rococo-styled jewellery and other luxuries captured the imagination of the aristocracy, not least Frederick Louis, Prince of Wales. After the death of Wickes, the brand changed hands a few times until it finally fell under the ownership of the Garrard family, to be registered and known henceforth as Garrard & Company Ltd.
During the zenith of the British Empire, the formidable Queen Victoria, also the Empress of India, appointed Garrard to the position of Crown Jewellers, charged with the upkeep of any and all royal commissions. It was in this period that Garrard flourished, producing numerous historically significant pieces like the Imperial Crown of India in 1911 and crowns for Queens Mary and Elizabeth.
As Garrard’s fame grew, they served not just the British Monarchy but also undertook commissions of fine jewellery, royal regalia, ceremonial and silver pieces from Royal Houses around the world, which resulted in many of the world’s most famous gems passing through their hands such as the 3,106-carat Cullinan diamond and the famous Koh-i-Noor, weighing at 793 carats in its uncut state.
Closer to home, the year 1963 saw the formation of Malaysia, minted from the newly independent Federated Malay States. Garrard was commissioned to create the fledgling country’s crown jewels particularly the regalia for the Yang di-Pertuan Agong who was elected by the Conference of Rulers comprising nine sultans and four governors. Context was particularly important in this task as Garrard drew from local and Islamic motifs which would work with the Malaysian royal headgear while interpreting it in a modern idiom.
Apart from royal treasures, Garrard also has a rich sporting legacy and has been making trophies since 1775, starting with the oldest sailing trophy in the world – for the Royal Thames Yacht Club. Since then Garrard has become the gold (or more accurately silver) standard for sporting prizes, from fully-fledged trophies like the America’s Cup to several of the Ascot trophies. Most recently, Garrard made the World Match Racing Tour Championship Trophy first launched in 2011, which was presented at the Monsoon Cup in Kuala Terengganu last November.
Be they crowns, tiaras, trophies or commemorative jewelry, Garrard’s Heritage Director, Corinna Pike, is emphatic about Garrard’s exceptional detail orientated approach to their bespoke pieces. Pike herself hand paints the commissions – careful to show the jewels and material at their most glorious while fulfilling the client’s requirements – although she’s tightlipped about the client’s details. “A lot of my work is very confidential, discretion is a key part of what we do at Garrard," she stresses.
As Garrard continues to evolve as a modern jewellery brand steeped with a magnificent heritage, new collections like the Albemarle collection reflect this. Albemarle is named after the jeweller’s Central London address and features diamond-set pieces inspired by the tiara of the Girls of Great Britain and Ireland, commissioned at Garrard by the ladies in waiting of Princess Victoria Mary of Teck, later the Queen of England, in 1893. Exquisite and heirloom worthy, it is indeed a collection fit for royalty.