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Press release

Glittering gowns and dazzling diamonds at Buckingham Palace this summer

Release date: Thursday, 9 February 2006

To celebrate The Queen's 80th birthday, the largest ever exhibition of Her Majesty's evening dresses and personal jewellery will go on display at the Summer Opening of Buckingham Palace this year (26 July – 24 September 2006).  The 80 spectacular gowns, from the 1940s to the present day, have been worn by The Queen for both official engagements and private family events.  The exhibition shows the work of the leading British couturiers Norman Hartnell and Hardy Amies, and of those designers who have worked for Her Majesty in more recent years.  Each has brought their distinctive style to The Queen's dress over seven decades.  The selection of jewellery includes private gifts to The Queen from members of the Royal Family to mark  special  occasions,  and  some  of  the  most  famous  and  historic  pieces  in Her Majesty's collection, such as the Vladimir Tiara, the Cambridge Emerald Necklace and two brooches set with stones from the famous Cullinan Diamond.

Since her accession to the throne in 1952, The Queen has visited over 325 countries on official duties.  For an overseas tour Her Majesty's wardrobe has to take into account changes in climate and local customs – the Commonwealth Tour of November 1953 – May 1954 covered 44,000 miles. One of the most beautiful evening dresses designed for this tour by Norman Hartnell is of gold tissue overlaid with fine lace.  Hartnell frequently incorporated national colours, emblems or flowers into his designs as a compliment to the host country.  For the banquet given in her honour by Haile Selassie on the 1965 State Visit to Ethiopia, The Queen wore an elegant gown in bright green, one of the colours of the Ethiopian national flag.  Hardy Amies followed this tradition, embroidering Californian poppies on a dress created for The Queen's visit to America in 1983. 

Norman Hartnell, who first worked for the then Princess Elizabeth in the 1940s, produced many of the finest evening dresses in Her Majesty's wardrobe. Among the earliest in the exhibition is a black velvet and satin gown, which clearly shows the influence of Christian Dior's New Look. There are several magnificent examples of Hartnell's signature style of the 1940s and 1950s – full-skirted dresses in sumptuous silks and duchesse satins, embellished with virtuoso embroidery.  Also included in the exhibition is Hartnell's kingfisher-blue silk and lace dress with matching jacket, worn by The Queen for Princess Margaret's wedding in 1960.  Several of Hartnell's creations were chosen by The Queen when she sat for official photographic  portraits,  including  those  by  Karsh  of  Ottawa  in  1951  and  Baron in 1957. 

An ivory silk dress striped with silver sequins, worn for a performance by Kiri Te Kanawa on a visit to New Zealand in 1963, is typical of the simple lines produced by Norman Hartnell during the 1960s.   Perhaps the most theatrical of all his creations is a full-length coat of silver tissue, richly embroidered with pearls, iridescent sequins, beads, paillettes and crystals. It was made for the State Visit to France in May 1972 and has been worn on several other occasions, notably the State Opening of Parliament in 1976.

Hardy Amies began designing clothes for The Queen in the early 1950s and established his name with the deceptive simplicity of his accomplished tailoring.   His grey satin full-skirted gown, exquisitely decorated with a fern motif in bugle beads, crystal and pearl, was worn by The Queen in 1957 at a dinner given for her at the White House by President Eisenhower. Among other designs by Hardy Amies is a turquoise-blue shift made for the State Visit to Germany in 1965.  The silver embroidery on the bodice was inspired by the rococo splendour of Schloss Brühl in the Rhineland, where the State banquet in The Queen’s honour was held. The Queen was photographed by Cecil Beaton in this dress at Buckingham Palace, and the portraits were released to mark her birthday in 1969.

In the 1970s The Queen awarded her patronage to Ian Thomas, who was an assistant designer to Norman Hartnell before setting up his own salon.  Thomas's flowing chiffon dresses from the 1970s reflect the relaxed style of the decade. Among other examples of his work is a simple yellow crêpe dress with flared skirt and panels of embroidery, worn by The Queen at a State banquet for the Amir of Qatar in 1985.  The exhibition concludes with dresses by John Anderson, who worked for The Queen between 1988 and 1996, and Stewart  Parvin, who first designed for Her Majesty in 2000.
Among the breathtaking jewellery in the exhibition is a pair of Boucheron aquamarine and diamond clip brooches given to Princess Elizabeth by her father, King George VI, for her 18th birthday.  Other personal gifts include a gold, sapphire, diamond and ruby bracelet made by Boucheron to Prince Philip's design.  It was given to The Queen on their fifth wedding anniversary and incorporates the interlaced initials 'E' and 'P'. A dazzling flower brooch by Cartier is set with the 23.6-carat pink diamond and baguette diamonds given to The Queen by Dr Williamson.

Several pieces of jewellery on display were inherited by Her Majesty from her grandmother, Queen Mary, in 1953.  These include a bow-shaped diamond brooch with pendant tassels known as Queen Mary's True Lover's Knot Brooch and the magnificent Cullinan V Heart Brooch, which has the fifth largest stone from the Cullinan cleavings (18.8 carats) at its centre.  The magnificent Grand Duchess Vladimir Tiara, which incorporates some of the Cambridge emeralds, was purchased by Queen Mary from the renowned collection of the Grand Duchess Vladimir, aunt of Tsar Nicholas II.  The tiara is often worn with the Cambridge Emerald Necklace, which was made for Queen Mary's Coronation in June 1911 and the Delhi Durbar of the same year.  The necklace has two pendant jewels, one a pear-shaped emerald and the other the marquise-cut diamond Cullinan VI.


As part of a visit to the Palace's State Rooms this year, there will also be a special display  of  Her  Majesty's  insignia.  The  over  80  foreign  orders  presented  to The Queen, many of which have been worn with the evening dresses on show, form the largest collection ever received by a British sovereign.  The historic British honours include the so-called 'Marlborough George' –  the diamond-set badge from the Order of the Garter insignia worn by The Queen at the State Opening of Parliament and the annual Garter ceremony at Windsor Castle –  and a diamond-set Garter badge, originally given as a wedding present from Queen Victoria to Prince Albert.  Also on show will be The Queen's mantles of the British Orders of Chivalry – the  Orders  of  the  Garter,  the  Thistle,  the  Bath,  St  Michael  and  St George, the British Empire and the Order of St John. 

The  Summer  Opening  of  the  State  Rooms  at  Buckingham  Palace  is  from 26 July to 24 September 2006.   Open daily 09:45 – 18:00 (last admission 15:45).  Timed tickets, with admission every 15 minutes. 

Admission prices: Entrance to the State Rooms, the special exhibitions and audio tour: Adult  £14.00, Over 60/Student £12.50,  Under 17 £8.00,  Under 5  Free, Family  (2 adults, 3 under 17s)  £36.00.  Advance  tickets  are  available  from  or +44 (0)20 7766 7300.

Further information and photographs are available from Public Relations and Marketing, the Royal Collection, telephone: +44 (0)20 7839 1377,  e-mail: [email protected].  Images are also available from the Royal Collection’s folder in the Arts section on PA's Picselect at or through the PA bulletin board.