March 28, 2012 / 3:03 PM / 7 years ago

UK spruces up crown jewels for jubilee, Olympics

LONDON (Reuters) - Britain’s crown jewels, which include the fabled Koh-i-Nur diamond thought to bring bad luck to any male who wears it, have had a makeover in time for Queen Elizabeth’s diamond jubilee celebrations and the Olympic Games in London this summer.

The Imperial State Crown is carried in for Britain's Queen Elizabeth during the annual State Opening of Parliament in London November 18, 2009. REUTERS/Toby Melville

The display of crowns, orbs, sceptres and gowns has been upgraded at the Tower of London, with rooms darkened and jewels lit to accentuate their sparkle, and music and film footage placing them in their historical context.

“They’ve been displayed in a way that is fit for the 21st century,” said curator Sally Dixon-Smith at a press preview of the royal collection, comfortably the main attraction for the tower’s 2.5 million visitors each year.

“We are especially stressing how this is a living collection that is still in use. It’s not just gold and jewels — it means a lot more than that.”

The exhibition, which opens on March 29 and has been sponsored by De Beers, focuses on the coronation, ordering the jewels and regalia to reflect the ceremony itself and explaining their symbolic importance.

The investiture of the monarch has been held in Westminster Abbey since 1066, and was last staged in 1953 when the current queen was crowned.

Newly restored footage of that occasion will be screened to complement the artefacts on display, and Handel’s coronation anthems, including “Zadok the Priest”, can be heard in each of the rooms as a unifying theme.

The queen’s reign in fact began in 1952, and the “diamond jubilee” celebrating 60 years as monarch is expected to heighten the public’s interest in all things royal.

The 85-year-old and her family are touring the globe to mark the anniversary and over four days in June millions of people are expected on the streets of London for a series of events including a concert and 1,000-ship pageant on the River Thames.

Dixon-Smith said that the question staff at the Tower of London were most often asked was whether the crown jewels on display were actually real. “They are real,” she added.

Much of the regalia dates from around 1660, when Charles II ascended the throne after his predecessor Charles I was executed and the monarchy temporarily abolished.

The jewels used at coronations until then were mostly destroyed or disposed of by anti-monarchists under Oliver Cromwell who led the republican movement which overthrew and then executed Charles I and regarded the royal regalia as symbols of the “detestable rule of Kings.”

The only surviving piece from medieval times held at the Tower of London is the coronation spoon, a 12 century silver-gilt piece used to pour holy oil on to a monarch’s hands, breast and head.

Arguably the most spectacular items are the crowns, which visitors view from an airport-style conveyor belt that moves slowly past the display cases to avoid long queues, or “lines of expectation” as tower staff call them.

The Koh-i-Nur diamond, which some believe to be the stone once owned by Babur the first Mogul ruler of India, sits in the crown of Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother, who died in 2002.

In the early 16th century, Babur described a gem as worth “half the daily expense of the whole world”, although when it arrived in England in the mid-19th century the Koh-i-Nur was re-cut to weigh 105.6 carats from the original 186.10 carats.

It is dwarfed by the Cullinan I, known as the Great Star of Africa, which, at 530.2 carats is the largest top-quality cut diamond in the world and set in the Sovereign’s Sceptre in 1910.

The most recognizable crown is the Imperial State Crown, created in 1937 for the coronation of George VI and regularly seen in public when the queen attends the State Opening of Parliament.

Set with 2,868 diamonds, it also features a sapphire believed to have been taken from the ring found on the finger of Edward the Confessor when he was reinterred in Westminster Abbey by Henry II in 1163.

Reporting by Mike Collett-White, editing by Paul Casciato

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