Work with young people around the world recognised in New Year’s list
Tunbridge Wells jeweller Harry Collins is to receive one of the highest personal honours from the Queen as part of the New Year’s Honours List.
The founder of the High Street jewellers G. Collins & Sons will become a Member of The Royal Victorian Order (MVO) by the personal appointment of Her Majesty.
Since 2000 he has been the Queen’s personal jeweller, as well as being the Crown Jeweller between 2007 and 2012.
However, Mr Collins is being recognised for his contribution to the Duke of Edinburgh’s International Award, an organisation which he headed as Chairman for three years before recently stepping down from the role.
Like its British counterpart, the programme was set up with the aim of helping young people around the world reach their full potential. Many come from poor backgrounds.
It was a role Mr Collins relished and described as ‘very rewarding’, which is one of the reasons he has continued to maintain his links with the charity.
Speaking exclusively to the Times, Mr Collins said: “The job is completely voluntary and helps change the world for the better.
“My time with the charity has left me with an unbelievable amount of touching stories.”
One of his favourites was when he sat next to a boy in India from a deprived background who, due to the rigid caste system which still dominates much of the country, had always been told he would not achieve much in life.
Thanks, though, to the efforts of the charity the boy grew up to achieve global acclaim.
“He is now a highly successful photographer based in New York”, Mr Collins said.
His role as Chairman of the Duke of Edinburgh’s International Award would not have come about if Mr Collins had not already had close links with the Royal Family.
As a frequent visitor to Buckingham Palace, where he has a workshop, Mr Collins was approached to take on the role.
“One day they just asked me,” he explained. “It is quite a big job as the charity covers 130 countries and in 2015 helped more than one million children.”
A jeweller by trade since he left school 45 years ago, it is his passion for antique jewellery which is first and foremost.
Mr Collins said: “I went straight into the trade after school as an apprentice. It is a job where you are dealing with happy moments and love tokens, like engagement and wedding rings.
“I have a great love of antique jewellery so my workshop at my shop has been set up for restoring early pieces.”
His appointment caused a stir in the wider industry, as Mr Collins was replacing Garrard’s which had been awarded the position during the reign of Queen Victoria in 1843.
One of Mr Collins’ greatest honours was being asked, in 2012, to recreate the crown of Henry VIII. The original was destroyed by Oliver Cromwell in 1649.
Paid for by the Historic Royal Palaces, which runs Hampton Court where the crown is on display to the general public, it was bedecked with 344 gems, consisting of rubies, sapphires and pearls.
Its recreation took months of labour and stayed true to Tudor metal-working methods which involved hand twisting gold wire.
Mr Collins said: “It was a great honour to be asked to recreate the crown which has ‘Made by Harry Collins’ on it, something which will still be there for my great grandchildren and future generations to see.
“In my profession, there is nowhere else to go.”
What is the award?
The Royal Victorian Order is an order of knighthood established by Queen Victoria in 1896 to recognise distinguished personal service to the Monarch.
Admission to the order remains in the personal gift of the monarch and is therefore different to other orders of chivalry which come from government recommendations.
The Queen is the highest member of the order, followed by the Grand Master, a post held by Anne, Princess Royal, since 2007.
Each rank holder is also awarded the Royal Victorian Medal in either gold, silver, or bronze. Promotion within the various ranks of the order, which range from knights to members, is possible.
A gathering of the members is held every four years at St George’s Chapel, Windsor Castle.
What is the role?
As personal Jeweller to the Queen, Harry Collins is responsible for maintaining the Monarch’s private collection of jewellery.
Unlike the Crown Jewels, which are housed in the Tower of London, this collection of over 300 pieces, said to worth around £35 million, belongs to the Queen herself and not the institution of The Crown.
They are, therefore, not worn on state occasions such as coronations or the opening of Parliament, but instead are worn during formal occasions such as banquets.
G. Collins & Sons has also been responsible for the creation of more recent pieces, such as the pear shaped tanzanite and diamond pendant and earrings worn by the Duchess of Cambridge this year and made to match her engagement ring.