Crowns, sceptres, orbs, rings — in Great Britain, these comprise the crown jewels. Crown jewels are those items used in a coronation that symbolize the monarch's right and authority to sit on the throne of his or her country. Most people have seen at least a sampling of the British crown jewels if they have ever seen Queen Elizabeth II open Parliament. She always wears the Imperial Crown of State when performing this royal duty.
The British crown jewels are renowned for their magnificence and historical significance. More historical crown jewels would still exist had it not been for Oliver Cromwell. As Lord Protector of England, he felt the monarchy would never be restored, and so ordered the existing crown jewels to be sold or melted down and struck into coins. He also sold the medieval coronation garments in the collection, destroying priceless artifacts.
When King Charles II regained the throne of England, he ordered new crown jewels to be fashioned, and these have been in use ever since. There were a few remaining jewels of historic significance to be found, and these were used in the new set of crown jewels. Some of those who had bought the jewels from Cromwell returned them when Charles II ascended the throne, and others were found in shrines and tombs.
The most recognized crown in the set is the aforementioned Imperial Crown of State. It was made in 1937 for King George VI. It contains a red spinel known as The Black Prince's Ruby, the Cullinan II diamond and Edward the Confessor's Sapphire. The British monarch has always been crowned with St. Edward's Crown and the one used now is the one Charles II commissioned. This crown is extremely heavy and the sovereign usually changes it for the Imperial Crown of State when processing out of Westminster Abbey.
The monarch is preceded by the Great Sword of State, the Sword of Justice and the blunted Sword of Mercy. While receiving the regalia, the sovereign also receives the Great Orb, symbolizing Christian rule. The Orb is a hollow globe of gold and encrusted with gems. The Sceptres with Cross and Dove are also held, and gold armills are placed on the arms. The Sceptre with Cross features the spectacular 530-carat Cullinan I diamond, also called The Star of Africa.
The monarch is anointed with holy oil from the eagle-shaped ampulla, made in 1661. The heavy spoon into which the oil is poured is the oldest piece in the collection, and probably dates from the 1100s. The sovereign also receives the spurs, symbols of chivalry, and the ring of state. It dates from 1831. Other crowns and objects and gold plate are also part of the collection.
The reigning monarch holds the crown jewels in trust for the subjects of Great Britain. They are not part of his or her personal wealth or jewelry collection. The crown jewels are now displayed in the Norman stronghold, the Tower of London. Visitors can see them and marvel over their exquisite beauty and history.