Although their Principality may be famous for its Grand Prix, generous income tax laws and being the second smallest state in the world, the Princes of Monaco do not have a conventional collection of royal jewels unlike their dynastic counterparts throughout Europe.
Therefore, when she married Prince Rainier in 1956, the American actress Grace Kelly had to start her own jewellery collection from scratch. Prince Rainier’s mother, Princess Charlotte, did own several impressive pieces (such as her Cartier Pearl and Diamond Fringe Tiaras) but these were personal property and she was apparently unwilling to share with her new daughter in law.
Fortunately for Grace, she had received several impressive jewelled wedding presents to kick start the collection, including a Diamond and Ruby Tiara,
two engagement rings and a 58 Carat Diamond Cartier Necklace. Amongst these gifts was a beautiful Pearl and Diamond Parure from the French Jeweller, Van Cleef & Arpels.
When the engagement of the Hollywood star and the European Prince was announced, Louis Arpels spotted a unique opportunity for his business. He wrote to congratulate Prince Rainier:
“Highness, As we have for many years had a branch in Monte-Carlo, we feel permitted to present your highness with this small memento for his fiancee, in the hope that your highness will excuse this liberty on our part and deign to accept it with all our wishes for future happiness”
He was also shrewd enough to send an exquisite example of his company’s craftsmanship in the shape of an enamel and gold ladies vanity case.
The plan worked and the next month Prince Rainier wrote back, thanking Mr Arpels and asking him to send specifications and prices for a suite of Pearl jewellery.
In March 1956, while in New York, Prince Rainier visited the Van Cleef & Arpels boutique and bought a three strand necklace of cultured pearls with two motifs of baguette and brilliant cut diamonds, a small ring in the form of a lily in brilliant cut diamonds & set with a pear shaped oriental pearl, cultured pearl button earrings in the classic style and finally a small bracelet consisting of three strands of cultured pearls with three platinum fleurettes set with brilliant cut diamonds.
In April 1956, when the Prince’s yacht brought Grace into the harbour of Monaco, the entire population of the tiny principality came out to greet their new Princess.
Now to be known as Her Serene Highness, Princess Grace of Monaco, she would wear her Van Cleef & Arpels Pearls throughout her life.
In August 1956, Van Cleef & Arpels received a royal warrant as an official supplier to the Royal House of Grimaldi.
After her tragic death in 1982, the Pearls became part of the ‘Palais Princier de Monaco Collection’.
This Collection encompasses not only jewels but fine art, furniture and Prince Rainier’s famous vintage cars. The jewels are available for use by any member of the Grimaldi family.
Along with her grandmother’s Diamond Fringe Tiara & her Sapphire Suite, Princess Caroline has been the main wearer of Grace’s pieces over the years. The Grimaldi royal family has also generously loaned the Pearls to various exhibitions over the years.
From the time of her mother’s death in 1982 to her brother Albert’s marriage in 2011, Caroline was effectively Monaco’s first lady.
As such, she would wear her mother’s Pearls when representing and promoting the Principality.
But more recently, for the 2019 Rose Ball in Monaco for the Princess Grace Foundation, Princess Caroline wore the set in full for the first time in many years.