Why does the Royal Family wear pearls during mourning?

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

Token pearl gestures – symbolic of grief – were omnipresent at the funeral of Queen Elizabeth II on Monday. Both Catherine, Princess of Walesand Meghan, Duchess of Sussex both chose pieces created with the natural gemstone.

Often referred to as ‘mourning jewellery’, the soft, subtle polish and colorless nature of pearls, along with associations of purity, are considered an appropriate choice to represent the grieving 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 featured the gemstone.

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

Why do female members of the Royal Family wear pearls during times of mourning?

The tradition of pearls as ‘mourning jewellery’, in fact, dates 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 she famously wore only black for the next 40 years until the end of her own life, accessorising her colorless outfits with pearls which were said to represent tears.

Victoria wore several strands of pearls for the remainder of her life, and the tradition of wearing the gems during the mourning period has continued in the Royal Family into the modern 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 nearing 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) wearing a black mourning dress and a pearl necklace painted in 1900 by Bertha Muller. (Getty Images)

Queen Victoria’s complex, and sometimes rigid rules around the rites of mourning inspired the same etiquette throughout the course of the late 19th century.

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

“Gradually she was allowed more elaborate mourning jewelry, then diamonds and pearls, and finally a return to colored stones,” she adds. “Some widows, following the example of Queen Victoria, never returned to more light-hearted pieces.”

Queen Victoria’s choice was ingrained in tradition and the demure, 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 wearing traditional mourning clothes as they greeted the coffin of King George VI from Sandringham.  (Getty Images)

Queen Elizabeth, Elizabeth the Queen Mother and Queen Mary wearing traditional mourning clothes as they greeted the coffin of King George VI from Sandringham. (Getty Images)

The Royal Family Gather At Westminster Abbey For The Funeral Of The Queen Mother Who Had Lived To 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 to the funerals of her Princess Margaret, King George VI, the Queen Mother and Diana, Princess of Wales, and most recently, to the funeral of her husband Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh in 2021.

And other members of the Royal Family have closely followed the late monarch’s example.

Diana, Princess of Wales chose a simple string of pearls 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, wearing pearls to the funerals of Gianni Versace (L) and Princess Grace of Monaco (R).  (Getty Images)

Diana, Princess of Wales, wearing pearls to 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 for the Queen’s funeral which was also worn by her late mother-in-law, Princess Diana in the past.

Kate previously borrowed the choker to wear to the Queen and Prince Philip’s 70th anniversary celebration in 2017, and later to the Prince’s funeral in 2021. Given the sentimental backstory behind the necklace, it’s no wonder she wore it again to honor 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 WWII.  He married the then Princess Elizabeth on 20 November 1947 and was created 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 short of his 100th birthday.  His funeral takes place today at Windsor Castle with only 30 guests invited due to the Corona virus pandemic restrictions.  (Photo by Chris Jackson/WPA Pool/Getty Images)

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

Featuring four strands of pearls and a diamond clasp, the choker was originally gifted to the Queen from Japan in the 1970s and she often wore it herself, including on a state visit to Bangladesh in 1983.

Meghan, Duchess of Sussex wore a pair of pearl and diamond earrings, which were gifted to her by the Queen following her marriage to Prince Harry to both the procession and the Queen’s funeral.

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