Crown jewels are returned to the public spotlight

THE NEW DISPLAY of the Crown jewels opens to the public this afternoon at the Tower of London, writes Oliver Gillie.

Instead of queuing in corridors visitors will be entertained by a series of film clips of the 1953 Coronation and close-up shots of crown, sceptre and orb while they wait to enter the new jewel house.

It will allow up to 20,000 visitors a day to see the Crown jewels. The previous display in a bunker at the Tower was designed to withstand nuclear attack while the present display is intended to make a terrorist assault difficult. The glass containers holding the jewels will withstand a moderate amount of Semtex.

The central part of the exhibition has been designed with a moving pavement, which at busy times takes visitors past a splendid display of the most important crowns, the sceptres and orb.

It moves at a speed of one-third of a mile an hour, time enough to be dazzled by the world's largest diamond - the First Star of Africa set in the Sceptre with Cross.

It is a journey of superlatives secretly observed by more than a 100 hidden cameras. A showcase of various ritual vessels contains a Grand Punch Bowl made from solid silver weighing a quarter of a ton - which requires 144 bottles of claret to work at full capacity.

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