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King of the Crown Jewels

November 10, 1998|WILLIAM KISSEL | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

When Queen Elizabeth II opens Parliament later this month, she will travel to Britain's most famous government building behind a carriage carrying the imperial state crown and another carrying David Thomas, England's official crown jeweler charged with the care and maintenance of the royal jewels.

"The crown always goes first, I go second and the queen goes last," says Thomas. "On the way back it's reversed." Thomas has participated in this fall ritual for the past seven years as crown jeweler, an honor bestowed only on a single individual and only by the queen.

Thomas is a certified gemologist, and in 1986 he joined Garrard (which merged with Asprey London in September), a company that has employed every crown jeweler since the position was created by Queen Victoria in 1843.

"Certainly, it's an honor. But it is also a great privilege to do this job," says Thomas, whose visit to Los Angeles happened to coincide with the launch of "The Crown Jewels," the definitive study in two volumes of arguably the world's most famous jewelry collection. Published in an extremely limited quantity of 650 copies, the books, which are numbered and fully certified, are nearly as rare as their subject matter and available through the Asprey & Garrard store at the Beverly Hills Hotel.

Priced from $1,700 to as much as $6,000 (depending on the number of the copy) for the two books and a specially created wooden lectern on which to display them, some may think them nearly as costly as well.

Housed in the Jewel House in the Tower of London and watched around the clock by 20 to 30 guards, the crown jewels actually encompass fewer than 10 crowns and also include the coronation robes, scepters and assorted ceremonial orbs. The crown jeweler, who must be present whenever the jewels are removed for cleanings and coronations, is responsible for their care, as well as the maintenance of the queen's private jewelry collection.

The rarest of the jewels is the Edwards crown, which was created in 1616 for the coronation of Charles II. "It is only worn once, at the exact moment of crowning, and only for coronations," says Thomas, noting that the last person to wear the 5 1/2-pound crown was Queen Elizabeth II for her coronation in 1953. Both Prince Charles and Prince William will do the same if either ever becomes king.

"A crown is only worn for the opening of Parliament," Thomas says. "It's not something the queen gets out and wears around the house."

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