The Tradition of a Coral Necklace

Last week I posted about the costumes from the 2020 film Emma which is based on the Jane Austen book.  I know everyone talks about the topaz necklaces of Jane Austen and her sister, Cassandra, and in fact the character of Emma in the film wears a topaz cross necklace several times. 

But, in keeping with the Regency Era in England in which Jane Austen lived, this post will be about a different necklace.   Shown in the photo below from the film, Emma is wearing a double strand coral necklace as well as coral earrings and a hair comb.   

The coral necklace became popular during the Georgian and Regency periods and was often worn not only for the beauty of the gemstone but as a talisman of protection since coral has long been associated to have mystical as well as medicinal properties.  Coral necklaces were often worn by children or young women for this reason because it was thought that they were most vulnerable to illness.   

Red coral from the Mediterranean Sea was manufactured into smooth beads and strung into a necklace; sometimes the beads are matched to be similar in color and size to create a necklace.  Red was the most often used color of coral for jewelry during the Georgian and Regency periods but later other colors were also used ranging from white to pink.

Special Note: The demand for coral throughout the centuries has depleted the world’s coral reefs and for this reason the use of natural coral harvested from the seas has been greatly diminished.  Antique red coral jewelry is still available but has become very expensive and increasingly had to find. 

Centuries ago a coral necklace was often passed on from parent to child and would sometimes be given as a gift for a special birthday.  Within the British Royal family the tradition of the coral necklace has continued for generations.  The earliest photographic evidence I found of a British Royal wearing a coral necklace was of Princess Victoria (later to become Queen Victoria), shown below as an infant in a miniature portrait by Anthony Stewart.  She is wearing a white dress trimmed in lace, a white bonnet and a coral necklace; her parents were Prince Edward the Duke of Kent and Victoria of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld.     

Princess Victoria (later Queen Victoria) from the Royal Collection Trust

The next photo shows Princess Victoria with her mother in an oil painting by William Beechery dated 1821.  The Princess is wearing the same coral necklace and is holding a miniature portrait of her father who had sadly died before she was a year old.    

Princess Victoria with her mother, Victoria of Saxe-Cobrug-Saalfield
from the Royal Collection Trust

Later, Queen Victoria continued the tradition of the coral necklace for her children.  The photo shown below shows Princess Beatrice, she was the fifth daughter and last of the nine children of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert and she later married Prince Henry of Battenberg.  The miniature portrait on enamel is by William Bell is dated 1858 and depicts a young Princess Beatrice wearing a coral necklace.      

Princess Beatrice from the Royal Collection Trust

Into the 19th century there was a tradition in Scotland that coral would bring beauty and prosperity to little girls.  This holds true for the next British Royal who was Lady Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon, she was the youngest daughter of Claude Bowes-Lyon the Earl of Strathmore and Cecilia Cavendish-Bentinck.  Lady Elizabeth later married Prince Albert who became King George VI in 1936, she became his Queen Consort and after his death in 1952 she became the beloved Queen Mother.  

Shown below is a 1902 photo of a two year old Lady Elizabeth wearing a coral necklace wearing a white dress and sitting precariously on a wooden chair.  It is not known if she received the necklace as a family heirloom or if it was a gift specifically bought for her but later the short necklace was lengthened and pearls were added which enabled her to wear the necklace as she grew older.  

Lady Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon (later Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother)

With the birth of their first daughter in 1926, Princess Elizabeth (later to become Queen Elizabeth II) was given her mother’s coral necklace.  The photo below was taken in 1917 on the occasion of her first birthday and she is wearing a simple white dress and the necklace.

Princess Elizabeth (later Queen Elizabeth II)

In 1950 the daughter of Princess Elizabeth and her husband, Prince Philip the Duke of Edinburgh was born.  Princess Anne and her mother are shown in the 1951 photo below on the occasion of her first birthday, she is wearing the same coral necklace that her grandmother and mother also wore.

Princess Elizabeth and her daughter Princess Anne

Wedding Tip: A coral necklace would make a great gift for a flower girl. For more ideas and suggestions for a Coral Wedding, please click on the link.