Why Kate Middleton's Pearls Were More Than a Symbolic Nod to Queen Elizabeth

Why Kate Middleton's Pearls Were More Than a Symbolic Nod to Queen Elizabeth

Kate Middleton is honoring Queen Elizabeth in the most stylish of ways.

After the Queen's death was announced on Sept. 8, the royal, now officially known as the Princess of Wales, paid tribute to history and the memory of her husband's grandmother by wearing the monarch's gemstone of choice: pearls.

"Pearls are one of the very few jewelry items you can wear in mourning and are inextricably linked with Queen Elizabeth and her personal jewelry legacy," Bethan Holt, author of The Queen: 70 Years of Majestic Style, tells PEOPLE. "It's a symbol of mourning a monarch but also a grandmother or great-grandmother."

The Queen has been a huge fan of pearls since she was a little girl, when her father, King George VI, gifted her a thin platinum chain to which he added two pearls on each birthday. The tradition was started by Queen Victoria, who gave her daughters and granddaughters a pearl every year on their birthday so that when they reached the age of 18, they would have enough for a pearl necklace.

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Catherine, Princess of Wales during the State Funeral of Queen Elizabeth II at Westminster Abbey on September 19, 2022 in London, England.
Catherine, Princess of Wales during the State Funeral of Queen Elizabeth II at Westminster Abbey on September 19, 2022 in London, England.

Karwai Tang/WireImage Kate Middleton at the funeral of Queen Elizabeth - Sept, 19, 2022

Wearing pearls in mourning was also a tradition set by Queen Victoria after the death of her beloved Prince Albert in 1861, after which she wore black until the day she died. She also accessorized with colorless jewelry, most often pearls, which she loved and thought more appropriately discreet and respectful than garish sapphires, rubies or other colored gemstones — a trend that has been adopted by every generation of royals since.

Queen Elizabeth
Queen Elizabeth

Hulton-Deutsch Collection/CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Princess Elizabeth

"Their power lies in the fact that they aren't overwhelming. It's a subtle and slightly restrained look and of course the connection to the Queen is incredibly strong," adds British jeweler Claudia Bradby, whose own pearl designs have been worn by everyone from Pippa Middleton to Helen Mirren.

In Windsor two days after the Queen died, Kate greeted the crowds alongside Prince William, Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, her first official engagement during the mourning period. Dressed head-to-toe in black, she wore her favorite pearl drop earrings from Annoushka, a style that she's worn many times over the last decade.

WINDSOR, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 10: Prince William, Prince of Wales and Catherine, Princess of Wales speak with members of the public on the Long walk at Windsor Castle on September 10, 2022 in Windsor, England. Crowds have gathered and tributes left at the gates of Windsor Castle to Queen Elizabeth II, who died at Balmoral Castle on 8 September, 2022. (Photo by Chris Jackson - WPA Pool/Getty Images)
WINDSOR, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 10: Prince William, Prince of Wales and Catherine, Princess of Wales speak with members of the public on the Long walk at Windsor Castle on September 10, 2022 in Windsor, England. Crowds have gathered and tributes left at the gates of Windsor Castle to Queen Elizabeth II, who died at Balmoral Castle on 8 September, 2022. (Photo by Chris Jackson - WPA Pool/Getty Images)

Chris Jackson - WPA Pool/Getty Prince William and Kate Middleton in Windsor after the Queen's death

Four days later when Kate followed the procession of the coffin to Westminster Hall, she wore her first piece of jewelry from the Queen's personal collection: the Diamond and Pearl Leaf Brooch, which features three large pearls at the centre of a diamond pavé leaf and that the Queen wore on her 73rd birthday in Seoul.

Kate also gave a nod to Princess Diana wearing her Collingwood Pearl Drop Earrings and her late mother-in-law's three-row pearl bracelet for the sombre occasion.

Catherine, Princess of Wales and Prince William, Prince of Wales leave after a service for the reception of Queen Elizabeth II's coffin at Westminster Hall, on September 14, 2022 in London, United Kingdom.
Catherine, Princess of Wales and Prince William, Prince of Wales leave after a service for the reception of Queen Elizabeth II's coffin at Westminster Hall, on September 14, 2022 in London, United Kingdom.

Ben Stansall - WPA Pool/Getty Kate Middleton and Prince William

Over the next two days, Kate's jewelry once again paid tribute to the Queen as she wore a pair of pearl earrings that the Queen herself once wore to her Silver Jubilee in 1977. At a Buckingham Palace lunch on Sept. 17 to host governors-general of the Commonwealth nation ahead of the Queen's funeral, Kate wore the ultimate pearl tribute to the Queen: a three-strand pearl necklace that was the Queen's signature piece and potentially the very same she wore daily.

"Since I first met Kate, she has worn pearls beautifully, and seems to have an ongoing love of pearls which has developed as her own style has too," says Bradby, who once worked with Kate in her pre-royal days when she worked as a buyer at Jigsaw while dating William. "It's a very low-key luxury look and it tells a story — that's the beautiful thing about jewelry."

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LONDON, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 17: Prince William, Prince of Wales and Catherine, Princess of Wales during a lunch held for governors-general of the Commonwealth nations at Buckingham Palace on September 17, 2022 in London, England. Foreign dignitaries, heads of state and other VIPs are among the thousands who have visited Westminster Hall to view Queen Elizabeth II lying in state prior to her funeral on Monday. The 96-year-old monarch died at Balmoral Castle in Scotland on September 8, 2022, and is succeeded by her eldest son, King Charles III. (Photo by Stefan Rousseau - WPA Pool/Getty Images); MAIDENHEAD, ENGLAND - JULY 15: Queen Elizabeth II smiles during a visit to officially open the new building at Thames Hospice on July 15, 2022 in Maidenhead, England. (Photo by Kirsty O'Connor-WPA Pool/Getty Images)
LONDON, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 17: Prince William, Prince of Wales and Catherine, Princess of Wales during a lunch held for governors-general of the Commonwealth nations at Buckingham Palace on September 17, 2022 in London, England. Foreign dignitaries, heads of state and other VIPs are among the thousands who have visited Westminster Hall to view Queen Elizabeth II lying in state prior to her funeral on Monday. The 96-year-old monarch died at Balmoral Castle in Scotland on September 8, 2022, and is succeeded by her eldest son, King Charles III. (Photo by Stefan Rousseau - WPA Pool/Getty Images); MAIDENHEAD, ENGLAND - JULY 15: Queen Elizabeth II smiles during a visit to officially open the new building at Thames Hospice on July 15, 2022 in Maidenhead, England. (Photo by Kirsty O'Connor-WPA Pool/Getty Images)

Stefan Rousseau - WPA Pool/Getty; Kirsty O'Connor-WPA Pool/Getty Kate Middleton and the Queen, both in pearls

On the eve of the Queen's funeral, Kate chose another item from Diana's box of vintage pearls: the South-Sea Pearl Earrings which feature a diamond encrusted horseshoe, a go-to of Diana's from the 1990s and perhaps a nod to the Queen's love of horses.

"I think they all honored her in their own personal way. Kate already had some of the Queen's jewels on loan, so she was able to wear them in that way," says Holt.

On the funeral day itself, Kate opted for a trio of pearls, all pieces from the Queen's priceless collection. Recycling the same four-row pearl choker she wore to Prince Philip's funeral in 2021, Kate also wore the matching bracelet. Made by Garrard, the diamond and pearl set was only occasionally worn by the Queen, having been commissioned by her after a state visit to Japan in 1975 during which she was gifted a set of the finest cultured pearls by the Japanese government.

queen funeral
queen funeral

Getty Prince William and Kate Middleton take their seats with son Prince George and daughter Princess Charlotte at Queen Elizabeth II's state funeral

Kate finished off the look with the Queen's Bahrain Pearl Drop Earrings which the Queen had previously loaned to her.

"I loved seeing so many pearls at the queen's funeral; a nod of respect to a gemstone so beloved of the Queen, a connection which jewelry uniquely makes," says Bradby.