Property from The Collection of Her Royal Highness The Princess Margaret, Countess of Snowdon
Her Royal Highness The Princess Margaret, Countess of Snowdon, was born Princess Margaret Rose of York on 21st August 1930 at Glamis Castle, her mother's ancestral home in Scotland. Her father was H.R.H The Prince Albert, Duke of York, the second eldest son of Their Majesties King George V and Queen Mary, and her mother was Lady Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon, daughter of the Earl and Countess of Strathmore.
Princess Margaret Rose was fourth in line to the throne following her father and elder sister Princess Elizabeth and with her father's accession to the throne as H.M. King George VI in 1936, the young princess became H.R.H. The Princess Margaret and, in her own words, "heir apparent to the heir presumptive". After her father died in 1952, her sister became H.M. Queen Elizabeth II.
Princess Margaret began to carry out royal engagements from a young age, and was soon recognized as a winning ambassadress for her family and country, undertaking the great responsibility of fulfilling extensive rounds of official duties and engagements with warmth, grace and her natural ability to charm an audience. Her first solo engagement was the traditional ship launch of the Union Castle liner Edinburgh Castle in 1947, for which she was presented with an appropriate Scottish heather brooch of emeralds and diamonds.
Spotting the Mayor and Mayoress of Cape Town amongst the dignitaries, she spontaneously informed them that it had been a bottle of South African wine smashed against the ship's hull rather than the customary champagne. Earlier that same year, Princess Margaret commenced her first major official tour, and indeed her first journey abroad at the age of sixteen, accompanying her parents and sister on a three month tour of South Africa.
This was the trip during which Princess Elizabeth would celebrate her coming of age, and departing for which, Princess Margaret could be seen wearing the art deco sapphire and diamond brooch recently given to her for her confirmation by H.M. Queen Mary. As the daughter of H.M. Queen Elizabeth, granddaughter of H.M. Queen Mary and great granddaughter of H.M. Queen Alexandra, family gifts and inheritances were unsurprisingly notable in Princess Margaret's early jewellery collection.
Amongst some of her oldest pieces were antique snake bracelets akin to those popularised by Queen Alexandra, while art deco jewels in her collection, such as the confirmation brooch, could be attributed to the influence of Queen Mary. A small but charming antique bee brooch, initially a christening gift to Lady Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon, was later given to Princess Margaret by her mother in 1945, and an impressive diamond riviere, which was to become one of the Princess' most treasured jewels, had been a previous bequest to Queen Mary.
The life of Princess Margaret marked the end of an era: a transition that gently combined the respected formality of her ancestors with the regal elegance of a beloved young princess watched by the world. Her mother was the last Empress of India, her cousin the last Tsar of Russia, and hers was the last royal birth to be witnessed by a minister of the Crown; yet she headlined 'best dressed' fashion lists, embraced the Dior 'New Look' and epitomised the grace and glamour of the 1950s.
The culmination of her status as the leading beauty and fashion icon of her time was her wedding day on 6th May 1960, as she arrived by horse-drawn carriage at Westminster Abbey wearing a simple yet understatedly elegant Norman Hartnell gown accompanied by Queen Mary's riviere and the Poltimore tiara. The occasion was the first televised royal wedding, and over 20 million viewers tuned in to watch Princess Margaret appear as the perfect fairytale princess.
The 1960s also marked a new period for Princess Margaret, in buying jewels for herself, to explore new techniques being developed in London at the forefront of jewellery design. The Princess began collecting from innovative British craftsmen-jewellers such as John Donald and Andrew Grima, commissioning jewels whose design she would directly inspire and influence and that were far removed from the traditional world of diamond rivieres.
One brooch was cast from a piece of lichen collected by Princess Margaret who wished to have it transformed into gold and diamonds, while other pieces in her collection incorporated the newest technologies of synthetic gemstones. For many years of her life, in her involvement in designs of her own jewellery, Princess Margaret expressed her creativity within a traditional format.
Princess Margaret was an individual with a clear sense of style, a modern woman defining herself within a family steeped in history. Her collection of jewellery represents an unchallengeable era of the past which incorporated breakthroughs in contemporary design. It is a collection as personal and touching as it is historically significant; a collection notable for its breadth in date, value and style; a collection which, in its entirety, is a superb reflection on the life and tastes of a remarkable Princess.
Helen Molesworth 2006