The History Of The UK’s Most Controversial Engagement Ring

The History Of The UK’s Most Controversial Engagement Ring

The purchase of a piece of jewellery is one that is rich in meaning and emotions, which can range from the simple and direct to values that are more abstract and often discussed to this very day.

Whilst a piece of love heart jewellery falls into the former category, the latter is possibly best expressed by one of the most controversial engagement rings in British history, the reasons for which were not based on its design but on the person who wore it on her ring.

Diana, Princess of Wales, first wife of now-King Charles III, was a person who left a very interesting legacy when it came to her jewellery, from wearing a diamond and emerald choker as a headband to the pearl choker necklace worn with the infamous “revenge dress”.

Her style was unconventional and defied several royal traditions, and nowhere was this more evident than her famous Ceylon sapphire ring, a piece that was initially controversial and then became a formative part of her legacy.

It was a 12-carat sapphire with an oval cut surrounded by a ring of 14 round diamonds, set in a ring made of 18-carat white gold, which at the time cost £47,000.


The Commoner’s Sapphire

Given that price, and the sheer audacious design and size of it, why was it controversially known as the “Commoner’s Sapphire”? Ultimately, the answer is based on what was a royal tradition at that time.

The ring was made by Garrard, a company that was at the time the crown jeweller, inspired by Queen Victoria’s signature cluster brooch worn at her wedding in 1840.

However, whilst it had a design inspired by royalty and was made by the jewellers who fashioned the rings for royal weddings, it was neither unique nor custom-made. In fact, in 1981, anyone with £47,000 could buy that same ring straight out of the catalogue.

At the time, every royal engagement ring was uniquely made and often had details that were the source of speculation and intricate meanings.

For the soon-to-be Princess Diana, there was a mix of meanings attached to this choice of a ring. It was a strikingly large ring with an unusually large central stone, but it also reminded her of the engagement ring her mother had.

Initially, this name was used as an epithet, but after her estrangement and later divorce from the then-Prince of Wales and her widely publicised charitable endeavours that eventually garnered her the moniker “queen of people’s hearts” and the “People’s Princess”, she still wore the engagement ring.

The “Commoner’s Sapphire” became part of her brand, a tragic symbol of her second life away from her marriage, her untimely death and the legacy that this left.


Tragedy And Rebirth

Diana, Princess of Wales died on 31st August 1997, which created a public outpouring of grief unlike any ever seen before.

The ring itself was given to Prince Harry, Diana’s youngest son as a memento whilst Prince William chose a Cartier watch. They eventually swapped mementoes and Diana’s engagement ring was later given to Catherine Middleton, now Catherine, Princess Of Wales.

Back to blog