Why the Royal Family Wear Pearls at Funerals

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Although the late Queen Elizabeth was fond of pearls, the tradition of wearing pearl jewelry during mourning goes back much further. (Getty Images)

At Queen Elizabeth II’s funeral Monday, ubiquitous gestures of symbolic pearls — symbolic of grief — were ubiquitous. Catherine, Princess of Wales, and Meghan, Duchess of Sussex, both chose pieces made with the natural gemstone.

Often referred to as ‘mourning jewelry’, the soft, subtle luster and colorless nature of pearls, along with associations of purity, are considered an appropriate choice to represent the mourning period.

The Queen, too, was rarely seen without her signature three-strand pearl necklace, and some of her favorite pieces from her private jewelry collection include the gem.

But while the Queen herself often wore pearls, the poignant reason why royals wear pearl jewelry at funerals and during mourning actually goes back much further than the reign of the late monarch.

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Why do female members of the royal family wear pearls in times of mourning?

The tradition of pearls as ‘mourning jewelry’ actually goes all the way back to Queen Victoria.

After the death of her husband, Prince Albert, in 1861, Queen Victoria was so overcome with grief that for the next 40 years until the end of her own life she wore only black, adorning her drab outfits with pearls that were said to shed tears. represented.

Victoria wore several pearl necklaces for the rest of her life and the tradition of wearing the gems during the mourning period has continued in the royal family to this day.

A portrait of England's Queen Victoria (1819-1901), painted in 1900 by Bertha Muller, is on display at the National Portrait Gallery in London, England.  The painting shows the Queen approaching the end of her long reign and she wears the blue sash of the Order of the Garter.  (Photo by Robert Alexander/Getty Images)

A portrait of Queen Victoria (1819-1901) dressed in a black mourning dress and a pearl necklace painted in 1900 by Bertha Muller. (Getty Images)

Queen Victoria’s complex and sometimes rigid rules surrounding mourning rituals inspired the same etiquette in the late 19th century.

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“By the 1860s, a widow was expected to dress in black for a year and a day after her husband’s death, with minimal black matte ornaments, usually of unpolished jet,” writes Clare Phillips, curator of jewelry at the Victoria and Albert Museum, in her book Jewelery and jewelry.

“Gradually, she got more elaborate mourning jewelry, than diamonds and pearls, and eventually a return to colored stones,” she adds. “Some widows, following Queen Victoria’s lead, have never returned to more light-hearted pieces.”

Queen Victoria’s choice was ingrained in tradition, and the understated, respectful outward gesture of grief became a historic choice for members of the royal family during periods of mourning and at funerals.

Queen Elizabeth, Elizabeth the Queen Mother and Queen Mary, dressed in traditional mourning attire, greeted the coffin of King George VI of Sandringham.  (Getty Images)

Queen Elizabeth, Elizabeth the Queen Mother and Queen Mary, dressed in traditional mourning attire, greeted the coffin of King George VI of Sandringham. (Getty Images)

The Royal Family gather at Westminster Abbey for the funeral of the Queen Mother who has reached the age of 101.  A portrait of Queen Elizabeth Ll looking very sad as the coffin leaves the abbey.  (Photo by Tim Graham Picture Library/Getty Images)

The Queen wore her signature three-strand pearl necklace to her mother’s funeral in 2002. (Getty Images)

The late Queen Elizabeth II herself wore pearls at the funeral of her Princess Margaret, King George VI, the Queen Mother and Diana, Princess of Wales, and most recently at the funeral of her husband Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh in 2021.

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And other members of the royal family have followed closely the example of the late monarch.

Diana, Princess of Wales chose a simple pearl necklace for the funeral of Princess Grace of Monaco in 1982, and again for the funeral of Gianni Versace 10 years later.

Diana, Princess of Wales, wears pearls at the funerals of Gianni Versace (L) and Princess Grace of Monaco (R).  (Getty Images)

Diana, Princess of Wales, wears pearls at the funerals of Gianni Versace (L) and Princess Grace of Monaco (R). (Getty Images)

Catherine, Princess of Wales, wore the Queen’s four-string pearl and diamond choker to the Queen’s funeral, which was also historically worn by her late mother-in-law, Princess Diana.

Kate previously borrowed the choker to wear to the Queen and Prince Philip’s 70th anniversary in 2017, and later to the Prince’s funeral in 2021. Given the sentimental backstory behind the necklace, it’s no wonder she’s wearing it again. wore in honor of the late monarch.

Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge arrives for the funeral of Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh at Windsor Castle on April 17, 2021 in Windsor, England.  Prince Philip of Greece and Denmark was born on June 10, 1921 in Greece.  He served in the British Royal Navy and fought in World War II.  He married the then Princess Elizabeth on 20 November 1947 and was appointed Duke of Edinburgh, Earl of Merioneth and Baron Greenwich by King VI.  He served as Prince Consort to Queen Elizabeth II until his death on April 9, 2021, months before his 100th birthday.  His funeral will take place today at Windsor Castle with just 30 guests invited due to the Coronavirus pandemic restrictions.  (Photo by Chris Jackson/WPA Pool/Getty Images)

Catherine, Princess of Wales wore the Queen’s four-strand necklace at Prince Philip’s funeral in 2021 and then at the Queen’s funeral in 2022. (Getty Images)

The choker, with four strings of pearls and a diamond clasp, was originally given to the Queen of Japan in the 1970s and often wore it herself, including during a state visit to Bangladesh in 1983.

Meghan, the Duchess of Sussex, wore a pair of pearl and diamond earrings presented to her by the Queen after her wedding to Prince Harry for both the Queen’s procession and funeral.

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