Queen Victoria’s Costly Mistake: 1890



Queen Victoria is said to have a great fondness for pearls. She has taken care that all her daughters shall have fine pearl necklaces. One of her first purchases after the birth of each, has been two or three pearls, and every year until their marriage she has added a pearl or two to her stock until the necklace she required was ready. In this quiet, economical way she has been enabled to make up a rope of pearls for each of the Princesses, and those who have seen the necklaces at court, say that the daughters are, so far as pearls go, well supplied with jewelry. Thereby hangs a tale. Some years ago her Majesty bought from a well-known London jeweller three very beautiful pearls, the united cost of which was not far short of five hundred pounds. A little while after the purchase had been made the merchant was surprised to receive a letter from a lady at court, which read: “The Queen wishes very much to know whether pearls will burn.” The reply to this somewhat tartly scientific inquiry was an assurance that if her Majesty wished to oxygenize pearls for her amusement she would find that they would burn in an ordinary fire. The rejoinder brought the secret to light. The Queen had placed the pearls on her writing desk, wrapped in a piece of tissue paper. As she was writing one morning she used the tissue paper to wipe her pen, and then threw it into the fire. The pearls, all unobserved, went with it. The ashes of the grate were searched for them in vain. They had been destroyed so utterly as to leave no trace. The Queen with her own hand had cast three splendid jewels, worth more than the average income of her middle-class subjects, into the blaze.

Ladies’ Home Journal Vol. 7-8, 1890

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:

It was about this time that pearls were coming into their own as the favoured gemstone. The Princess of Wales, later Queen Alexandria, was noted for her chokers and ropes of pearls. Her Majesty seems to have anticipated the later vogue for “add-a-pearl” necklaces. For tempting images of royal jewelry, see here and here.

My apologies for the lack of an illustration for this post. Something seems to have gone wrong with the clockwork mechanism on WordPress which allows photos to be displayed.

Mrs Daffodil invites you to join her on the curiously named “Face-book,” where you will find a feast of fashion hints, fads and fancies, and historical anecdotes

You may read about a sentimental succubus, a vengeful seamstress’s ghost, Victorian mourning gone horribly wrong, and, of course, Mrs Daffodil’s efficient tidying up after a distasteful decapitation in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales.



4 thoughts on “Queen Victoria’s Costly Mistake: 1890

  1. NotSoDistantPast

    I love the idea of building a pearl necklace over time, but less so the thought of being responsible for loose pearls – for just such a reason. Perhaps I wouldn’t accidentally burn them, but I’m sure I’d find another way to lose them!


    1. chriswoodyard Post author

      I agree–jewellers often packaged gems in little paper packets (they still do) and it seems very easy to accidentally do something disastrous in an absent moment! We should all take this lesson to heart and insist that any gentlemen bestowing pearls upon us do so only with a complete necklace, or better, yet a complete parure.


  2. Pingback: Tears for Wedding Pearls: 1912 | Mrs Daffodil Digresses

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