Magic gems in St Edward’s Crown

Crown being lifted

A year ago, during the build up to King Charles III’s coronation on 6 May 2023, there was intense coverage of the Crown Jewels and how they would be used in the liturgy of the Coronation itself. I became fascinated with St Edward’s Crown–the diamond-less crown that is only used once in a monarch’s reign–and how it has been researched and interpreted. I expected reams of research on the gems but actually there isn’t a lot (publicly accessible), and what is, contains a few inconsistencies that I explore. Purity, fidelity, balance, creativity, devotion, friendship and compassion are all indicated in St Edward’s Crown and I offer here some interpretation to the meaning and symbolism of these stones.

“These are more than just things,” Anna Somers Cocks wrote for The Art Newspaper in a piece about the mystical objects that were to be featured in the coronation of King Charles III.

It is curious that one crown, St Edward’s Crown, is such a familiar sight in ciphers, as an emblem of monarchy and the British state, yet the monarch will only wear it once, at the point of coronation. It will soon be substituted for the better known, glitzier Imperial State Crown comprising several gems with better-documented folklore and legends attached, such as the so-called Black Prince’s ruby (a spinel), Edward the Confessor’s blue sapphire, originally worn in a ring and taken from his tomb prior to the Restoration of Charles II and the monarchy in 1661.

By contrast, little is written or discussed about the gems in St Edward’s crown. They are perhaps taken for granted given their provenance is not as feted as the the Imperial State Crown’s famous coloured gems and the notorious diamonds in the Crown Jewels, such as the Koh-i-noor or Cullinan diamonds.

Close up of crown
Band of St Edward’s Crown, solid gold, set with colourless topaz and various green, purple and blue coloured gemstones (credit: Royal Collection Trust / © His Majesty King Charles III 2023).

Medieval roots of English crowns

Scene 25 of the Bayeaux Tapestry showing Edward the Confessor wearing his crown, late 11th century (credit: Ulrich Harsh/Wikimedia Commons,

The Royal Collection Trust tells us a bit about the maker, Royal Goldsmith, Robert Vyner (1631-88) and his team of gold and silversmiths who based the crown’s design loosely on that of Anglo-Saxon medieval crowns, particularly the symmetry of the fleur-de-lis and crosses-pattée (the flanged equal-arm crosses). The original crown or crowns of English medieval kings and queens were not as carefully managed as they are today and one immediate consequence of the brief Commonwealth (republic) in England and Wales was the melting down and dispersal of the medieval Crown Jewels. Consequently we have to rely on illustrations and illuminations to get a sense of what they were like, and so too did Robert Vyner and Charles II when constructing a new set of regalia.

Although it is not an exact replica of the medieval design, it follows the original in having four crosses-pattée and four fleurs-de-lis, and two arches. It is made up of a solid gold frame set with rubies, amethysts, sapphires, garnet, topazes and tourmalines. The crown has a velvet cap with an ermine band.

St Edward’s Crown (RCIN 31700), Royal Collection Trust.

Symbol of continuity

Like most sacred objects that are intended to transmit power, a sense of duty, and meaning, rather than just be a photogenic accessory of power, the remaking of St Edward’s Crown was intended to signal continuity of monarchy and the unwritten deal between the people, crown and government as well as a new start after the tumult of the 1640s and 1650s, the Civil Wars, Commonwealth and tensions across the not-yet United Kingdom.

Yet St Edward’s Crown, in spite of its name–a homage to the only canonised English monarch, Edward the Confessor (c.1003-1066), the last Anglo-Saxon king prior to Norman political dominance–is pretty much overlooked by modern historians of royalty, religion, politics and pageantry. 

King wearing crown and coronation robes and holding sceptres
King Charles III wearing St Edward’s Crown on the medieval coronation seat/thrown, shortly following the crowning on 6 May 2023 at Westminster Abbey. A scene like this has been a constant in the story of the English and British State since the 11th century (credit: Live television coverage screenshot by Tehmina Goskar/BBC/His Majesty King Charles III, 2023).

Fake gems?

Prince Michael of Greece, in Crown Jewels of Britain and Europe (1983, this ed. 1990) comments, “This one is a vague copy made after their Restoration. George V replaced the fake gems of the crown with precious and semi-precious stones. Traditionally it is with this, the least precious of all the crowns in the Tower of London, that the ruler is crowned” (p. 77). 

Fake gems? In fact, as was common with other pieces of ancestral jewellery prior to the 20th century, gemstones of good quality were hard to come by, even for the wealthy, so it was not unusual for people, including kings and queens, to hire and reuse gemstones as they required for particular occasions. This is what happened with the gemstones used in St Edward’s Crown until the coronation of George V in 1911 when the current gems were permanently set, reusing gems from other pieces in the Royal Collection. I haven’t yet been able to find out about the identity of former gems that were hired for the occasion, in fact it is not particularly easy to find much detail of the gems today, the most complete public record being that of the Royal Collection Trust object record.

The current official book about the British Crown Jewels is Anna Keay’s The Crown Jewels: The Official Illustrated History (Thames & Hudson: 2012) is a very interesting cultural and political history of the jewels and provides some beautiful photographs, but does not explore the gemmology of the crown.

Why did George V choose to have the crown permanently set with the gems? Certainly accessibility to gemstones became a lot easier in the early 20th century particularly with supply chains from the British Empire enabling the acquisition of nearly any kind of stone—but we do know these were reused gems from other unknown (by me) pieces. How were they chosen and do they carry any particular symbolism or power in the way that magic gems or crystals are believed to or were they chosen expediently to permanently set the crown and avoid any future need to reset the crown?

Close up of crown.
Gem-set arch of St Edward’s Crown, the red and white enamel settings contrast the gold, colourless topaz and larger coloured green and purples stones (credit: Royal Collection Trust / © His Majesty King Charles III 2023).

Weight of responsibility

Rather, apart from comments about its fleeting use for one moment only—the moment of crowning in Westminster Abbey—most commentators note its weight, 2.076kg – slightly less than it was prior to adjustments for George V’s coronation – and its sheer size. The crown stands at 30.2cm which is about one foot. As the Her Late Majesty Queen Elizabeth II said, if you didn’t wear it properly you could break your neck. It is, after all, made of solid gold. With a specific gravity of 19.3, gold is nearly twice as dense as lead. 

The vocabulary describing the crown:

Monde – The globe sitting on top of the crossed arches of the crown, upon which is soldered a crosse-pattée.

Band – The strip of gold that forms the basis of the crown and sits on top of the head.

Arch – The strip of gold forming the characteristic outline of the crown. There are two arches crossing each other at right angles.

Crosse-pattée – Equal arm cross with flanged edges used in between fleurs-de-lis features.

Fleur-de-lis – Heraldic symbol of the lily and closely associated with monarchies in the UK and France.

Engraving in black and white of a crown.
How St Edward’s Crown looked for Charles II’s coronation in 1685 at the Restoration. Francis Sandford, The History of the Coronation of the most high, most mighty, and most excellent monarch, James II (1687) (credit: Public Domain).

The gems of St Edward’s Crown

The exact identity of each stone remains a mystery to me at this stage although I have made some educated guesses based on the most detailed photographs I can find. What I was hoping to find in my research is a detailed diagram of each stone and its identity. However even the Royal Collection Trust’s description, and that of others, are contradictory when it comes to the identity of the gems set in St Edward’s Crown. One list of the gems indicates:

tourmalines, topazes, rubies, amethysts, sapphires, garnet, peridot, zircons, spinel, aquamarines.

Guidebook to British Crown Jewels description of gems in St Edward’s Crown.

Another description indicates:

a solid gold frame, set with tourmalines, white and yellow topazes, rubies, amethysts, sapphires, garnet, peridot, zircons, spinel, and aquamarines, step-cut and rose-cut and mounted in enamelled gold collets, and with a velvet cap with an ermine band.

Royal Collection Trust description a) of gems in St Edward’s Crown.

The detailed object record deviates slightly:

topaz, pink tourmaline, green tourmaline, amethyst, sapphire, citrine, olivine [peridot], aquamarine, almandine [garnet], zircon.

Royal Collection Trust description b) of gems in St Edward’s Crown.

Ten gems to coronate the King

The lists at least agree that 10 different gemstones adorn today’s St Edward’s Crown. The divergences are as follows: there are two types of tourmaline, green and pink – one of these may have been previously identified as a ruby (a variety of corundum) but may have since been identified as the pink tourmaline commonly called rubellite (a type of elbaite tourmaline). It also comes in other colours such as green and blue. The garnets have been identified as almandine, the iron-coloured idiochromatic gem in the aluminium silicate-based garnet series. There may or may not be a spinel – possibly one of the pinkish-purple stones as seen in the centre of one of the crosses-pattées, and perhaps one of the golden/yellowish-brown stones is either Quartz, variety citrine, or golden topaz, or zircon, all come in brownish and yellowish hues but have very different optical and physical properties. 

No diamonds

Note the absence of diamonds on St Edward’s Crown. What we have instead are many clusters of rose-cut clear topazes, historically used as a diamond substitute. Topazes can be polished to have a bright vitreous lustre and are hard at 8 on the Mohs scale of hardness but this is well below the adamantine lustre of diamond which gives those gems supreme brilliance, and of course the dispersion caused by diamond’s crystal structure results in their unmistakable fire. Topaz do not display such fire and are more subdued. However they become effective cluster stones to set off coloured gems, as in St Edward’s Crown.

Simple lapidary

A closer look at the gems via the photographs provided by Royal Collection Trust suggest these are simple gems, and depending on which reference you read, there are 440 or 444 stones in total. The stones were hand cut in a time before mechanical lapidary tools could make more precision cuts that made the most of a gem’s properties, particularly their colour. There certainly would have been more astonishing gems to use in this crown but perhaps the favouring of the lighter and brighter Imperial State Crown meant that modest options were preferred for this ancient and highly symbolic piece of headgear, which after all, is named for a king famed to have been a pious and simple man. The settings are simple collets which hold the gems, adorned with red and white enamel acanthus decorations. The gold beads provide movement and continuity across the band of the crown and its arches, right up to the monde and cross which sits atop. The beads were originally platinum-plated perhaps to simulate that they replaced simulant pearls originally, however the plating has long since fallen off.

The most used type of gem seems to be the variety of Beryl called aquamarine. In fact during King Charles III’s crowning by the Archbishop of Canterbury, the crown was orientated with a central step-cut aquamarine in the centre of a crosse-pattée, three of the arms set with three-stone settings of squarish-step cut red stones (presumed garnet) flanked with pale blue stones (presumed aquamarine) and the fourth arm, a step-cut blue stone (presumed sapphire) flanked with pale blue stones (presumed aquamarine). 

Close up of crown.
One of four crosses-pattée set with pale blue stone, probably square step-cut aquamarines, dark red square step-cut stone, possibly pyrope-almandine garnet and a mid-blue square step-cut stone, possibly sapphire (credit: Royal Collection Trust / © His Majesty King Charles III 2023).

Royal gemlore

Folklore and mysticism around gemstones, or gemlore, is well documented across different cultures past and present. The notion of magic gems, stones that can bring certain qualities to their owners, goes back as far as humans began fashioning materials for adornment and ornament. A well-known example is in the Bible’s Book of Exodus which describes the High Priest Aaron’s Breastplate, adorned with 12 gemstones whose identities have been interpreted, misinterpreted and reinterpreted by linguists as well as gemmologists. In the European Middle Ages, lapidaries were guides to the metaphysical and healing powers of gem materials. Vedic and Sanskrit texts talk about gemstones, and their relationship with astrology.

One aspect I can’t talk about here is effect of the specific combination of stones, and their juxtapositions as I don’t have definitive identities for the gems, nor a detailed enough view of how each gem sits in relation to another and how that might manifest at the point of coronation—remember famously George VI complained the Archbishop got the crown the wrong way round when he was crowned. I wonder if anyone thought this an ill omen? In a documentary featuring the Late Queen Elizabeth II speaking about the Crown Jewels, she was none the wise as to which was the front or back and felt it was quite a symmetrical crown. No references easily available suggest which is meant to be the front and both historical and current imagery is contradictory particularly comparing the way it was used in Charles III’s coronation compared with the photographs and paintings of Elizabeth II from 1953, so we will have to suspend some disbelief. 

King wearing crown.
Crown symmetry? St Edward’s Crown worn by King Charles III on his coronation, 6 May 2023, showing the variety of coloured gemstones ranging from pale blue, red, green, pink, mid blue and purple. Platinium plated gold ‘granules’ simulate former rows of pearls (credit: (credit: Live television coverage screenshot by Tehmina Goskar/BBC/His Majesty King Charles III, 2023).

Let’s take a metaphysical look at the gemstones of St Edward’s Crown. I am going to trust the second more detailed list from the Royal Collection Trust as my guide as to the identity of the stones. As far as gemlore is concerned I will be led by Melody’s Love is in the Earth as I find her interpretations best connected with the physical and optical experiences of the stones. I too am interpreting and paraphrasing at times based on my own experience and other knowledges from these stones.


Purity, the ultimate conductor of energy and communion with the source of all being, symbolises “all that is,” helps one deal with the overburden of responsibility, provides composure, stabilises and steadies. Vibrates to the no. 2.


Fidelity and true love, helps put in perspective the big picture and the detail, trusting in the Universe, coping with doubt, relaying of messages, can create energetic currents when faceted or in crystalline form, heals aberrations between heavenly and earthly planes. Vibrates to no. 5.

Pink tourmaline

Creativity, helps to conceive the “new,” promotes the journey towards spiritual enlightenment, promotes joyful feelings and releases destructive tendencies, awareness of peace. Vibrates to the no. 9 and 99.

Green tourmaline

Compassion from the heart, sensitivity towards the plant kingdom, facilitates knowledge from and communication with plants and herbs, promotes sustainable ideas. Vibrates to the no. 6.


Protection, spiritual connection and contentment, transmutes lower energies into higher ones, principles of metamorphosis and transformation, integrates the intellectual, emotional and physical bodies, helps clear dysfunctional and destructive thoughts. Vibrates to the no. 3.


Devotion, prosperity in the self, connection to the heavenly or astral, intuition, promotes appreciation, brings uniformity and authenticity to one’s actions. Vibrates to the no. 6.


Balance, dissipates negative energy and transmutes it, it is a cleansing stone, “merchant’s stone” focuses on monetary wealth, intelligent decisiveness, mental focus and endurance, equalising thought with emotions. Vibrates to the no. 6.


Friendship, understanding of life changes, openness and acceptance in relationships, regulation of cycles, heals the ego, promotes recovery, a tonic. Vibrates to the nos. 5, 6, 7.


Courage, rapid intellectual response and clarity in communication, promotes preparedness prior to perceived conflict, balances, heightens awareness of reality and associated tolerance. Vibrates to the no. 1.

Almandine garnet

Knowing, integrating truth, profound love, inculcation of perfect order, promotes charitable action, assists with frictionless flow between mind and body, companion for life’s spiritual journey. Vibrates to the no. 1.


Virtue, promotes resilience and hardiness in endeavours, connection with divinity, knowing we are connected to “all that is,” constancy, humanity. Vibrates to the no. 4.

King wearing crown.
God Save the King! His Majesty King Charles III blessed with gemstones of broad significance for a monarch (credit: Live television coverage screenshot by Tehmina Goskar/BBC/His Majesty King Charles III, 2023).

Caveat emptor

I used this as an interesting exercise in close observation. I made sketches of each aspect of the crown based on what I could see from footage during the 2023 coronation and from the photographs provided by Royal Collection Trust. One arm of one of the lateral arches and its crosse-pattée, the one that would have been worn to the left of King Charles III’s head, is the only one I couldn’t get a good look at. When you can’t examine an object physically you have to use processes of reason, comparison and deduction to make an educated guess.

Pencil sketches of parts of crowns, annotated on graph paper
Rough sketches of parts of St Edward’s Crown (credit: Tehmina Goskar).

When you read other people’s assertions about gems and jewellery use the same caution, ask them, how do they know? Are they simply repeating someone else’s assessment or have they examined pieces and specimens in person? Are they using current gemmological vocabulary or are they used outdated terms and words? If so, do be careful about repeating claims. The best research is not always the easiest available.

All caveats apply to this article and no information presented here should be considered definitive as I have not examined the crown in person and only seen it once at the Jewel House at the Tower of London!

1 comment

  1. Interesting to find out the nuances attached to the history of this crown. More so the knowledge you have shared about the identity and properties of each of the gems. I wonder about His Majesty’s thoughts around this crown too!

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