We headed to the Tower for a preview of their new display earlier this week. The exhibition has been enhanced with new lighting, video footage and stirring music. It tells the story of the jewels through their use in coronation ceremonies, so they're now laid out in the order they get put onto a new monarch: anointing spoon first, crown last. There's a fun King Rollo-esque animation of a coronation procession, and a slim, 3-minute highlights video of Queen Elizabeth's 3-hour-long crowning ceremony. Then you get to the objects themselves. The new display has been pared back; taking tips from today's jewellers, the Historic Royal Palaces' curators have tried to make the jewels "float and glow" with dark backgrounds and tiny supports.
They look incredible. Indeed, one of the most-asked questions of the staff is "Are they real?" Even the most cynical hacks in our party were impressed. And it's hard not to be when you're confronted with so many amazing diamonds in one place.
Here's a few facts you might not know about our Crown Jewels:
- The heaviest coronation crown was William IV's at 3kgs (7lbs).
- The oldest item in the collection is the silver gilt spoon. Hidden during Cromwell's smashing and melting spree, it's the only work to survive from the 12th century.
- The largest cut diamond in the collection, and second largest in the world(over 530 carats), the Cullinan I is in the top of the Sceptre.
- The lightest crown weighs just 145g (5.11oz) and belonged to Queen Victoria.
- George V's Imperial Crown of India cost £60,000 to make: that's £4,530,137 in today's money. It was worn once.
If you're planning a visit, aside from the new display, there's another reason this year might be a good one. None of the items are to be used during the Diamond Jubilee celebrations: "it's not that kind of event," said our guide, rather disdainfully. So, if you steer clear of feast days (Christmas, Easter) and the State Opening of Parliament (May), you should avoid seeing those annoying "In Use" markers instead of the actual object.
Because these are the real, working Crown Jewels on display. Not replicas.
The Crown Jewels are on display at the Tower of London, Tower Hill, London, EC3. Entrance costs £20.90 for adults; £17.60 for concessions; £10.45 for children under 16. Visit www.hrp.org.uk to find out more.