LONDON -- Receiving a Royal Warrant does not mean a visit to the infamous Tower of London and a stint on the rack. Rather, it's an arresting affirmation of competence and quality that's fit for a queen. It could be considered the first celebrity endorsement.
Awarded to retailers and service providers to the royal household, a Royal Warrant is the monarchy's seal of approval. The three most senior royals -- Queen Elizabeth II; Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh; and Prince Charles, Prince of Wales -- are the only members of the family who can bestow a warrant.
This British practice may seem irrelevant to consumers across the pond, but if you've ever sipped a cup of Twinings tea or enjoyed a Cadbury chocolate, pulled on a pair of Hunter boots or a Barbour jacket or wrapped a Burberry scarf around your neck as you hopped into your Land Rover, then you have regal taste. These products are just a few of the more than 800 that enjoy the honor of displaying the coat of arms or badge of their royal patron on stationery, storefronts and vehicles.
The idea of the warrant dates back to 1155, when Henry II awarded a Royal Charter to the Weavers' Company.
"You need to have supplied the Royals for five years out of the past seven, and then you can apply for a warrant," explains Russell Tanguay, marketing communications manager of the Royal Warrant Holders Association. Applications go to the royal household's warrant committee, which is chaired by the Lord Chamberlain.
Several of today's warrant holders have held warrants through generations of royalty.
"For example G.B. Kent, who make hairbrushes, have had a warrant since I think William IV," Mr. Tanguay says. Floris, established in 1730 in London, is known for scents and toiletries and has held a warrant since 1820, when it was granted one by King George IV. His coat of arms remains proudly above the shop today. Floris continues to supply the royal household and holds the Queen's warrant as well as the Prince of Wales'.
This eye-catching emblem of royal approval is as British as it gets, although being a U.K. firm is not a requirement.
"You can be foreign. We have Champagne houses such as Veuve Clicquot and Bollinger that are. About 40 percent of companies or parent companies are foreign owned. It's just a sign of the nature of business in today's world," Mr. Tanguay says.
Pittsburgh has a connection to a warrant through H.J. Heinz. Heinz is the parent company of HP Foods, which holds a Royal Warrant, although Heinz does not by extension. "The warrant only applies to the company that supplies the royal household," he notes.
The list of suppliers includes everything from mustard and gin to pianos and steak sauce, and all get to add prestige to their brand by displaying the warrant. When strolling around London you can't toss a bowler without hitting a crest or emblem of some kind, but upon closer inspection you will see the legend underneath that states the reason for the warrant and who granted it.
The bookseller G. Heywood Hill in London's Mayfair section has had a warrant from Queen Elizabeth since 2011. "As a mark of excellence and service it cannot be bettered," says Venetia Vyvyan, the bookseller's director.
The warrants are presented to owners or CEOs, and it is up to that individual to maintain the standards that won the warrant.
"Choosing books for her majesty and other members of the royal family is not only a privilege, but also hugely enjoyable. We endeavor to handpick books for all our customers which suit and entertain in equal measure, and if we do that well then no one could ask for more than to love one's profession and be recognized for it," Ms. Vyvyan says.
Banks, accountants, newspapers and other professions are not eligible for warrants because it is intended for tradesmen. But over the years hotels have found a way to be recognized.
"The Ritz got one, and this year the Goring was granted one, although the warrant is not for being a hotel but for hospitality services," says Mr. Tanguay. The Goring Hotel was where Kate Middleton spent her last night before walking down the aisle with Prince William. The family-owned hotel can now display the queen's coat of arms.
Each year new warrants are granted and some are revoked.
Other than going out of business or going bankrupt, holders can lose warrants if standards slip or when the household tastes change. When the royals stopped smoking, Benson & Hedges was out of luck and a warrant. "Nothing can be taken for granted because otherwise the whole thing loses its meaning," Mr. Tanguay notes.
In the case of the grantor's death, the warrant can be held for five years afterward, but the legend would be changed to reflect the situation: "by appointment of the late King ...."
Not everybody cherishes the royal nod. Harrods' former owner Mohamed Al-Fayed removed the royal crests from the facade of the famous department store in 2000. He believed the royal family had something to do with the 1997 car crash that killed his son Dodi Fayed and Princess Diana, and he saw them as a curse. In January 2000, the Duke of Edinburgh had withdrawn his warrant from Harrods. At one time, Harrods had four warrants, one being from the late Queen Mother. Mr. Fayed burned them all. He sold Harrods in 2010.
For anglophiles and those who love anything fit for royalty, the Royal Warrant Holders Association will be hosting a celebration in association with the 60th anniversary of the coronation of Queen Elizabeth. Two hundred warrant companies will be exhibiting their goods or services within the gardens of Buckingham Palace. The festivities, which take place July 11-14, are open to the public. For ticket information go to www.coronationfestival.com.