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Prince Charles picked out Princess Diana's engagement ring

Harper's Bazaar (UK) logo Harper's Bazaar (UK) 21/12/2020 Hilary Weaver
The Crown didn't quite get this royal moment right in episode 3, Fairytale. © Des Willie The Crown didn't quite get this royal moment right in episode 3, Fairytale.

If you keep an eye on the royal family at all, you’ve definitely seen Princess Diana’s 12-carat oval Ceylon sapphire engagement ring on the Duchess of Cambridge's finger—she's been wearing it since she got engaged to Prince William in 2010. But, before it got its second life with Kate, this ring caught the world's attention when Lady Diana Spencer flashed her hand at the cameras upon her engagement to Prince Charles.

As Brides notes and The Crown covers, Diana reportedly chose this specific ring because it reminded her of her mother’s engagement ring. The ring did have royal influences though; according to The Daily Mail, the crown jeweller, House of Garrard, which made the ring, was inspired by Prince Albert’s wedding gift to Queen Victoria in 1840: a brooch with a diamond-and-sapphire design. The brooch was Victoria’s “something blue” at her wedding, and Queen Elizabeth now wears it for special events.

a person talking on a cell phone: Emma Corrin as Princess Diana in The Crown. © Des Willie Emma Corrin as Princess Diana in The Crown.

Before her unexpected death in August of 1997, Diana wrote the following in “a letter of wishes” to her executors to add to her will: "I would like you to divide my personal chattels at your discretion between my sons and godchildren, the division being three quarters to my sons and one quarter to my godchildren. I would like you to allocate all my jewellery to the share to be held by my sons, so that their wives may, in due course, have it or use it. I leave the exact division of the jewellery to your discretion."

We know plenty of details about this ring in its afterlife, but what about its first? Here are the details of Diana’s ring, and why for her, it was the one.

The royal family reportedly thought it wasn’t special enough

a person holding a baby: Princess Diana wearing her ring while holding baby Prince William in 1983. © Tim Graham - Getty Images Princess Diana wearing her ring while holding baby Prince William in 1983.

The white-gold ring with the Ceylon sapphire and 14 solitaire diamonds cost Prince Charles a lot. As far as the royal family was concerned, though, it was not fit for a future queen. Was it because this ring didn’t feature a big diamond? Actually, no. As Vogue reports, the issue was that Diana picked the ring out from a Garrard catalogue, where anyone else with £47,000 (a little more than $60,000 today) could also select it—royal or not. The ring simply wasn’t exclusive enough.

According to the House of Garrard, though, Diana actually didn’t pick out the ring, despite reports that she personally selected it. "Prince Charles had always seen this beautiful sapphire brooch of his mother's," the jewellery brand told Marie Claire in 2017, and "when he went to House of Garrard he saw that ring, and thought it was perfect".

Diana’s two most famous rings now belong to the Duchess of Cambridge and the Duchess of Sussex

As Oprah magazine notes, Diana loved her engagement ring and wore it consistently, even after she and Charles separated. But after Diana and Charles got divorced in 1996, the princess switched out the sapphire for an emerald-cut aquamarine ring that now belongs to Meghan.

When Diana died in 1997, the ring was returned to the Wales family and, as she laid out in her wishes, her sons took possession of it. As Vogue pointed out following the 20th anniversary of Diana’s death in 2017, there were rumours that Harry initially chose the sapphire ring, but when he saw how much William loved Kate, he let his brother have it.

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“It’s my mother’s engagement ring, and it’s very special to me, as Kate is very special to me now as well. It was only right the two were put together,” William said in his initial engagement interview with Kate. “It was my way of making sure mother didn’t miss out on today and the excitement and the fact that we’re going to spend the rest of our lives together.”

“I just hope I look after it,” Kate said in her engagement interview. “It’s very, very special.” According to E! News, the ring is now worth approximately £300,000.

The sapphire ring remains one of the most famous in the world

When William gave the ring to Kate, a whole new generation of royal fans took interest in it.

As Vanity Fair noted earlier this year, Kate hasn’t been wearing the famous jewel much lately. In footage during the early days of the pandemic, she was seen wearing her wedding band without her engagement ring - likely because it might have been seen to be inappropriate to be flashing expensive jewels, given the circumstances.

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