The upcoming coronation of King Charles III, scheduled to take place on Saturday, May 6, 2023, in London’s Westminster Abbey, has attracted worldwide interest, and for good reason. It will be the first British royal coronation of the 21st century. In fact, it will be the first since 1953—that’s when 27-year-old Queen Elizabeth II was crowned in an internationally televised ceremony that lasted more than three hours.
Contrary to what many people believe, the coronation does not mark the day when Charles III becomes king, nor is it really necessary at all to ensure monarchical succession. Charles became king immediately upon the death of Elizabeth II, his mother, on September 8, 2022. The formal proclamation of accession was carried out two days later. However, the coronation is a ceremony with a long and honored history that stretches back nearly a thousand years.
The upcoming coronation of Charles III and his wife, Camilla, will be the product of several months of careful planning. Every aspect of the ceremony has been choreographed well in advance, including the procedure by which the king and queen will each receive their respective crowns. This is actually the meaning of the word “coronation,” defined by the Merriam-Webster Dictionary as “the act or occasion of crowning.”
Although the festivities will include the presentation of a number of symbolically important artifacts, such as the Sword of State, the Sovereign’s Orb, and a pair of ceremonial maces, there is no doubt that far and away the most important ornaments involved are the crowns that will be bestowed upon the new king and queen.
At the ceremony, King Charles III will be crowned with St Edward’s Crown, and he will also wear the Imperial State Crown during the festivities. Camilla, the Queen Consort, will wear Queen Mary’s Crown, which will be bestowed upon her in a separate ceremony. Let’s take a closer look at the royal crowns and the valuable metals they contain.
What Is St Edward’s Crown?
St Edward’s Crown is the crown that is traditionally bestowed upon the monarch of the United Kingdom at their coronation ceremony. According to custom, the Archbishop of Canterbury has the honor of placing it on the monarch’s head. Part of the legendary Crown Jewels of the United Kingdom, it will serve as King Charles’ coronation crown—that is, it will be used only for this ceremony, and not worn on by the monarch on any other occasion. Charles will wear the crown only briefly, as it is said to be uncomfortably heavy. After the coronation, the crown will be returned for safekeeping in the Jewel House at the Tower of London, along with the other Crown Jewels.
St Edward’s Crown is designed in the style of a medieval open crown, with arches that meet at a central cross. The arches are studded with various precious stones and are topped with four fleurs-de-lis, a flower-themed decoration that appears on many of the Crown Jewels. The central cross of the crown is also decorated with precious stones and is topped by an orb known as a monde, intended to represent the world.
But what we are particularly interested in here are the precious metals used in the creation of the crown. St Edward’s Crown is made entirely of solid gold, a precious metal valued around the world for its rarity and durability. The crown contains 22-karat gold, which is to say that it is composed of 91.67% pure gold and 8.33% other metals, such as copper and silver, that are added to lend the gold greater strength and durability. Pure gold (24 karat) is considered too soft as a metal for a crown (as well as most other types of real-world applications).
Incidentally, gold has historically been rare in Britain, which contributes to the symbolic importance of this precious metal as a component of the crown. And because gold is extremely sturdy and cannot tarnish, this metal has traditionally been regarded as especially suitable for use by the monarch, the most powerful figure in the kingdom.
St Edward’s Crown stands 12 inches (30 cm) tall and weighs 4.9 pounds (2.23 kilograms). The crown is estimated to have a worth of $57 million. This figure is based not only on the gold content of the crown but also the 444 precious and semi-precious stones featured on it, including aquamarines, topazes, tourmalines, rubies, amethysts, and sapphires. But it can fairly be said that the value of St Edward’s Crown cannot be measured by conventional methods, as it has immense historical importance and symbolic value to the nation.
History of St Edward’s Crown
St Edward’s Crown was created in 1661, following the Restoration of the English monarchy after the period of Commonwealth rule. The crown was made by the Royal Goldsmith, Sir Robert Vyner (1631–1688). It was commissioned by King Charles II to replace the original version of the crown, which had been used in coronations at least as far back as 1220, but was destroyed during the English Civil War. The new St Edward’s Crown is said to closely resemble the original; the main difference is that it has Baroque-inspired arches rather than the earlier version’s Medieval-type ones.
Use of St Edward’s Crown was abandoned in 1689, and would not be brought back until 1911, with the crowning of King George V. The crown has made an appearance in every British coronation since then. King Charles III will bring this tradition into the 21th century.
In December 2022, St Edward’s Crown was temporarily removed from the Tower of London for modifications to be completed prior to the coronation. It has long been the custom to adjust the band for the new monarch to ensure a comfortable fit.
What Is the Imperial State Crown?
Another piece of the Crown Jewels of the United Kingdom, the Imperial State Crown is one of the most famous and recognizable symbols of the British monarchy. This was Queen Elizabeth II’s crown, and it will now be passed down to her eldest son, Charles III. It has the practical benefit of being more lightweight and therefore easier to wear than St Edward’s Crown.
According to ceremonial protocol, Charles will first wear St Edward’s Crown, then this will be replaced with the Imperial State Crown. He will wear the Imperial State Crown for the remainder of the ceremony, and will leave the premises with it. During his reign, he will wear it while performing certain kingly duties, such as presiding over the State Opening of Parliament (which officially marks the beginning of a legislative session) and participating in other ceremonial occasions.
The Imperial State Crown is made up of several different components, including the frame and the jewels. The frame is made of 22-karat solid gold (91.67% pure gold and 8.33% other metals), as well as silver and platinum. In addition, these areas are studded with various precious stones.
Among the most distinctive features of the Imperial State Crown are the arches, which rise up from the base of the crown and meet at a central point. These arches are made of solid gold, and they are impressively studded with diamonds, emeralds, and other precious stones.
Silver makes another appearance in the Imperial State Crown. The globe that is positioned at the intersection of the arches is made of silver, and decorated with a variety of cut diamonds.
No discussion of the Imperial State Crown can be complete without covering in some detail the vast collection of extraordinary jewels and precious stones that it contains. It is said to be so dazzling in appearance that, in person, it is difficult even to look at it.
King Charles III’s crown holds a mind-boggling amount of wealth: 2,868 diamonds, 273 pearls, 17 sapphires, 11 emeralds, and 5 rubies. Its riches include:
- The Black Prince’s Ruby (actually a red spinel)
- Queen Elizabeth’s Earrings
- The Stuart Sapphire
- St Edward’s Sapphire
- Cullinan II (the second-largest stone ever cut from the largest diamond yet discovered, the Cullinan Diamond)
The jewels and precious metals that make up the Imperial State Crown add up to a massively valuable artifact. How much is the British crown worth? A staggering sum—current estimates place its value at anywhere from $3.4 to $5.7 billion.
History of the Imperial State Crown
The Imperial State Crown can trace its lineage at least back to the “Tudor Crown” that was commissioned by either Henry VII or Henry VIII and eventually destroyed in 1649. Over the centuries, the crown has been modified and updated on numerous occasions, with new gemstones and other embellishments being added with each new coronation.
The current version of the Imperial State Crown was created in 1937 for the coronation of King George VI. It was modeled after the crown, made by famed goldsmiths Rundell and Bridge, that Queen Victoria wore beginning in 1838, but which had over the years lapsed into a state of disrepair.
When King George VI died in 1952, the Imperial State Crown passed down to his eldest daughter, Elizabeth. For the coronation of the new monarch, the Queen of England’s crown was slightly remodeled to lend it an appearance considered more appropriately feminine. Today, the Imperial State Crown belongs to King Charles III.
What Is Queen Mary’s Crown?
Camilla will be crowned with another piece from the Crown Jewels: Queen Mary’s Crown. This is a stunning crown that was specially created for the coronation of Queen Mary, wife of King George V, in 1911.
Queen Mary’s Crown belongs to a type known as a consort crown. These crowns are intended for the spouse of the monarch—that is, the queen consort, as opposed to a queen regnant who has all the powers traditionally granted to the king. Queen Elizabeth II was a queen regnant, and for that reason was allowed to wear the Imperial State Crown. Camilla, by contrast, does not enjoy such power, and her crown reflects that fact.
Traditionally, the crown of the queen consort is unique to the wearer. Each new queen consort has generally had her own crown made for the occasion. Queen Camilla is breaking with tradition by wearing another queen consort’s crown, which hasn’t happened since the 18th century.
The silver-framed crown is lined with solid gold and is set with diamonds, rubies, sapphires, emeralds, and pearls. It features a total of 2,200 diamonds and includes eight detachable semi-arches.
The Crown of Queen Mary is 9.8 inches (25 cm) tall and weighs 1.3 pounds (590 g). The base of the crown is made of a purple velvet cap, which is lined with ermine. The cap is decorated with a band of gold and precious stones, including diamonds, sapphires, and emeralds.
The main part of the crown consists of a circular band of gold, which is decorated with diamonds and other precious stones. The band is supported by four arches, which, like the crown itself, are made of gold and set with diamonds and other precious stones. At the top of the crown, there is a cross that is made of gold and shows off a number of diamonds and a large sapphire.
Four of the eight half-arches of the crown will be removed for Queen Camilla’s coronation. She will be crowned in a ceremony separate from King Charles III’s.
History of Queen Mary’s Crown
Prior to the 1911 coronation, Mary of Teck, the new queen, spent her own money to have luxury jewelers Garrard & Co make a crown for her. Its design, especially its elegantly shaped arches, was inspired by Queen Alexandra’s crown worn in the 1902 coronation.
At the ceremony, the Queen Mary coronation crown included the Cullinan III and IV diamonds as well as the famed Koh-i-Noor—the latter would soon be removed and placed in the crown of Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother. In 1937, the Cullinan V was added to Queen Mary’s Crown. All the diamonds of the crown were later replaced with crystal replicas.
For the 2023 coronation, the Cullinan III, IV, and V diamonds will return to the Crown of Queen Mary. The Koh-i-Noor—the subject of an ongoing controversy regarding its ownership—will not be involved in the ceremony.
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