|HM The Queen of New Zealand wearing the|
grand cross riband, badge and star of the NZ Order
of Merit, the Sovereign's badge of the Order of New
Zealand and the badge of the Queen's Service Order
Today, 30 May 2011, marks the 15th anniversary of the institution, by Royal Warrant, of The New Zealand Order of Merit in 1996. The Order ranks second to the Order of New Zealand and is awarded to those “who in any field of endeavour, have rendered meritorious service to the Crown and nation or who have become distinguished by their eminence, talents, contributions or other merits”. The motto of the Order is FOR MERIT and, in Maori, TOHU HIRANGA (“To Achieve Excellence”). Citizens of those countries of which The Queen is sovereign are eligible for ordinary membership. The constitution of the Order allows for the appointment of “additional” members on significant royal, national or state occasions. Foreign citizens and citizens of Commonwealth countries of which The Queen is not sovereign may be appointed as “honorary” members. Honorary and additional appointments are extra-numerary. The New Zealand Order of Merit has its own herald, in the person of Mr. Philip O’Shea, New Zealand Herald Extraordinary.
Of the Order’s original five classes the two highest (knight/dame grand companion and knight/dame companion) conferred a knighthood or damehood. On 10 April 2000 it was announced that following the earlier recommendations of the Prime Minister’s Honours Advisory Committee (1995) The Queen had approved the discontinuance of the two titular classes and their replacement with two new designations: principal companion and distinguished companion. These changes were instituted by a Royal Warrant dated 18 May 2000. The first appointments to the re-designated levels were made in The Queen’s Birthday Honours issued on 5 June 2000. The five classes became: principal companion, distinguished companion, companion, officer and member.
Those who were previously invested as knights or dames of the New Zealand Order of Merit were permitted to continue to bear the honorific; the wife of a knight, provided she used her husband’s surname, could continue to bear the courtesy title of ‘lady’ before the surname.
In March 2009 it was announced that, upon the approval of HM The Queen, the titles of knight and dame grand companion and knight and dame companion were to be reinstated. There had been considerable belief that the removal of knighthoods had diminished the value of the two highest classes of the New Zealand Order of Merit. A visible titular honour was regarded as the most appropriate means of celebrating success at the highest levels of national life. The first appointments to the reinstated levels were made in The Queen’s 2009 Birthday Honours List. The 85 New Zealanders who were appointed principal companions and distinguished companions between 2000 and 2008 were afforded an opportunity to be re-designated to the appropriate level of knight/dame grand companion or knight/dame companion. 72 of those eligible opted to convert to the appropriate titular honour, a clear indication of the popularity of knighthoods.
No more than thirty persons may belong to the class of knight/dame grand companion at any one time. According to the statutes of the Order, no more than fifteen knight/dame companions, forty companions, eighty officers and one hundred and forty members may be appointed per annum.
Additional members may be admitted to the Order in commemoration of any important royal, state, or national occasion, or to recognise military services rendered in war-like and peacekeeping operations. Additional members are extra-numerary.
Famous past recipients include the golfer Sir Bob Charles, the rugby player Sir Wilson Whineray and the author Mrs Linley Dodd.
The collar of the Order is composed of links of the badge’s obverse roundel and gold koru (in the form of the letter “S”). The badge of the Order hangs from a representation of the New Zealand coat of arms positioned in the centre of the collar.
The badge of the Order is in the form of a cross in white enamel set in silver-gilt with a central roundel comprising the coat of arms of New Zealand in coloured enamel, encircled by a green band bearing the motto of the Order and surmounted by a royal crown.
The breast star of the Order is an eight-pointed gold or silver star with each arm bearing in relief a representation of a fern frond; superimposed in the centre is a smaller representation of the badge of the Order.
The badge of the Secretary and Registrar is the same as that worn by a companion of the Order and is surmounted by crossed quills in gold. The badge of the Herald is the same as that worn by a companion of the Order and is surmounted by crossed batons in gold.
The badges of a principal companion and knight/dame grand companion measure 60 mm in diameter and are suspended from a 100 mm wide riband worn over the right shoulder and resting on the left hip; the accompanying gold breast star measures 78 mm in diameter. The badges of a distinguished companion, knight/dame companion and companion measure 60 mm in diameter and are suspended from a 38 mm neck ribbon (men) or from a bow worn on the left shoulder (women); the accompanying silver breast star measures 78 mm in diameter. The badges of an officer and member measure 48 mm in diameter and are suspended from a 38 mm wide ribbon.
The ribbon of the Order is red ochre (kōkōwai).
 Curiously, although it bears the words “Order of Merit” in its name, the New Zealand Order of Merit is termed an “Order of Chivalry” in its royal warrant.
 Between 2000 and 2009, to apply the Order's warrant literally, the New Zealand Order of Merit had become a very rare thing: an order of chivalry to which no knights or dames could be appointed. I had been informed, however, that upon the death of the Order's last living knight or dame the Order's statutes were to be amended so as to transform the Order from an order of chivalry to an order of merit.