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The best royal engagement rings through history, from the Queen to Princess Beatrice

Sarah Royce-Greensill
·13-min read
Royal engagement rings: Meghan Markle, The Queen and The Duchess of Cambridge - Getty Images
Royal engagement rings: Meghan Markle, The Queen and The Duchess of Cambridge - Getty Images

It’s 73 years since the Queen and Prince Philip tied the knot, 39 years since the world watched Lady Diana Spencer marry Prince Charles, and a decade since Prince William announced his engagement to Kate Middleton. 

After the spate of royal engagements in the last few years, we might have to wait a little while longer until the remainder of the Queen’s grandchildren - 17-year-old Lady Louise Windsor and 12-year-old James, Viscount Severn - announce their own. In the meantime, we’ve rounded up the royal family’s best engagement rings, in detail.

The Queen Mother

Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon reportedly refused Prince Albert’s - later King George VI’s - proposal twice before she agreed to marry him, and even then it seems he didn’t get the ring entirely right. ‘Bertie’ proposed with a sizeable Kashmir sapphire flanked by diamonds - she can be seen wearing the ring in a portrait with Princess Margaret as a baby, taken in 1930.

The Queen Mother wearing her original sapphire engagement ring, in a portrait with Princess Margaret in 1930 - Keystone/Getty Images
The Queen Mother wearing her original sapphire engagement ring, in a portrait with Princess Margaret in 1930 - Keystone/Getty Images

Shortly after, however, Queen Elizabeth stopped wearing the sapphire ring, replacing it with a large pearl surrounded by diamonds. Later in life, she wore a large emerald-cut diamond flanked by baguette-cut diamonds that would eventually end up on the finger of her grandson's second wife, Camilla Parker-Bowles. It is the Queen Mother who began the tradition of having royal wedding bands fashioned from rare Welsh gold.

The Queen

When Philip Mountbatten decided to propose to then Princess Elizabeth in 1946, he looked to his mother, Princess Alice of Battenberg, for help. She gave him one of her antique tiaras, which he dismantled, using the diamonds for his future bride’s engagement ring. The Prince commissioned London jeweller Philip Antrobus Ltd to design and create the ring, which features a three-carat round brilliant-cut diamond set in platinum, flanked by smaller pave-set stones.

The Queen wearing her diamond engagement ring and Welsh-gold wedding band - Antony Jones/UK Press via Getty Images
The Queen wearing her diamond engagement ring and Welsh-gold wedding band - Antony Jones/UK Press via Getty Images

Despite having been granted permission by Elizabeth’s father King George VI in the summer of 1946, the announcement of the couple’s engagement was delayed until the following July, after the Princess had turned 21. They married on 20 November 1947, exchanging wedding bands of Welsh gold, a royal tradition started by the Princess’s mother when she married George VI in 1923.

In pictures: the Queen’s most spectacular jewellery

Princess Margaret

Despite being expected to announce her engagement to Group Captain Peter Townsend after she turned 25 in 1955, and subsequently accepting a proposal from Billy Wallace, it wasn’t until 1960 that the Queen’s younger sister became officially engaged. 

Princess Margaret and Antony Armstrong Jones as they announced their engagement in February 1960 - AP Photo/File
Princess Margaret and Antony Armstrong Jones as they announced their engagement in February 1960 - AP Photo/File

Photographer Antony Armstrong-Jones, whom she met at a dinner party in 1958, proposed with a ruby and diamond ring, the central ruby surrounded by diamonds in the shape of rosebuds. It was designed for the Princess as a nod to her middle name, Rose. Like her sister, she had a wedding ring made from Welsh gold.

Read more: The stories behind Princess Margaret's most fabulous jewels

Wallis Simpson

Wallis Simpson was known for her extravagant taste in jewellery, and the Prince of Wales - later King Edward VIII, then after his abdication, the Duke of Windsor - showered her with expensive gifts throughout their controversial relationship.

The Prince’s gifts tracked the story of their love affair. He favoured Cartier and Van Cleef and Arpels, often commissioning the houses to engrave Wallis’s jewels with cryptic messages, names or dates. He bought her engagement ring from Cartier: an enormous 19.77ct emerald, said to have been hewn from a bird’s egg-sized stone that once belonged to a Grand Mogul. 

Wallis Simpson wearing her emerald engagement ring in a portrait taken in 1937 - Getty Images/Bettmann Archive
Wallis Simpson wearing her emerald engagement ring in a portrait taken in 1937 - Getty Images/Bettmann Archive

Engraved on the reverse was the message ‘We are ours now 27 X 36’, a reference to the date they were engaged, 27th October 1936, the same day that Wallis started divorce proceedings from her second husband, and less than two months before the King announced his abdication.

The emerald was originally set on a platinum band, flanked by diamond baguettes. In 1958, after their 20th wedding anniversary, the couple had Cartier reset the stone in a more elaborate yellow-gold design, surrounded by round diamonds.

In 1987, less than a year after Wallis’s death, her vast jewellery collection was auctioned in a record-breaking, £30 million Sotheby’s sale. The ring sold for approximately £1.2 million.

Read more: how Cartier became the jeweller of choice for royals and rebels

Princess Diana

One of the most enduringly popular and influential engagement rings of our times, Princess Diana’s Garrard engagement ring raised eyebrows when her engagement to Prince Charles was announced in February 1981. Featuring a 12-carat Sri Lankan sapphire surrounded by a halo of diamonds, it perfectly complemented the young bride-to-be’s blue eyes - but some were shocked that rather than being a custom-made design, it was purchased from the Crown Jeweller’s shop stock, meaning that anyone with £28,500 to spare could own the same ring.

Princess Diana wearing her sapphire and diamond engagement ring - Tim Graham Photo Library via Getty Images
Princess Diana wearing her sapphire and diamond engagement ring - Tim Graham Photo Library via Getty Images

The ‘cluster’ style is a classic Garrard design, inspired by a sapphire and diamond brooch it made for Prince Albert to give to Queen Victoria on the eve of their wedding. Queen Victoria was so happy with it that she wore it on her wedding day.

Lady Diana reportedly chose the ring herself, after being presented with several options from Garrard after dinner at Windsor Castle one evening. Some believe that she chose the sapphire because it reminded her of her mother’s engagement ring. Her wedding band, following tradition, was fashioned from Welsh gold.

Lady Diana Spencer and Prince Charles as they announced their engagement in 1981 - Tim Graham Photo Library via Getty Images
Lady Diana Spencer and Prince Charles as they announced their engagement in 1981 - Tim Graham Photo Library via Getty Images

After Diana’s death, the ring was passed on to Prince Harry, who later swapped with Prince William, who had chosen his mother’s Cartier Tank watch as a keepsake. Prince William used the ring to propose to Kate Middleton, to make sure his late mother was involved, and she wears it to this day, increasing the style’s popularity among contemporary brides-to-be.

In pictures: Princess Diana’s best jewellery moments

Princess Anne

Princess Anne met Mark Phillips at a party in 1968, and the couple announced their engagement five years later. Phillips turned to Crown Jeweller Garrard for the ring: a classic three-stone ring featuring a blue sapphire flanked by white diamonds. They married in November 1973 but eventually separated in 1989.

Princess Anne engagement rings - Tim Graham Photo Library via Getty Images)
Princess Anne engagement rings - Tim Graham Photo Library via Getty Images)

The Princess remarried in 1992: her engagement ring from Commander Timothy Laurence was another blue sapphire, this time a rounded, cabochon-cut stone, with three small diamonds on either side.

Sarah Ferguson

When Prince Andrew decided to propose to Sarah Ferguson in early 1986, he, like his father, had a ring custom-made especially for her. He commissioned Garrard to create her cluster-style ring, which featured an oval Burmese ruby surrounded by a halo of 10 white diamonds, set on a band of yellow gold. He apparently chose the ruby to complement her red hair.

Sarah Ferguson's ruby and diamond cluster-style engagement ring was designed to complement her red hair - Tim Graham/Getty Images
Sarah Ferguson's ruby and diamond cluster-style engagement ring was designed to complement her red hair - Tim Graham/Getty Images

Similar in its vintage-style cluster design to Princess Diana’s, Fergie’s ring sparked a trend for ruby engagement rings. Its colouring and style is echoed in her daughter’s pink Padparadscha sapphire cluster ring. The couple married in Westminster Abbey in July 1986 but separated in 1992.

Sophie, Countess of Wessex

Prince Edward, the Queen’s youngest child, followed in the footsteps of his older brothers by turning to Crown Jeweller Garrard when he decided to propose to his girlfriend Sophie Rhys-Jones in January 1999. The couple had been dating for five years, and married that June.

Sophie Rhys-Jones' engagement ring featuring a diamond flanked by heart-shaped stones - Tim Graham Photo Library via Getty Images
Sophie Rhys-Jones' engagement ring featuring a diamond flanked by heart-shaped stones - Tim Graham Photo Library via Getty Images

The engagement ring features a two-carat diamond flanked by heart-shaped diamonds, on a platinum band. It was reported that her ring cost an estimated £105,000; at the time the most expensive royal engagement ring ever given.

Duchess of Cornwall

Prince Charles and Camilla Parker-Bowles announced their engagement in February 2005, less than two months before their wedding at Windsor Castle that April. Charles presented Camilla with a large diamond ring, featuring an emerald-cut diamond flanked by three diamond baguettes on either side. 

Camilla Parker Bowles showing off her vintage diamond engagement ring in February 2005 - John Stillwell/PA/Pool
Camilla Parker Bowles showing off her vintage diamond engagement ring in February 2005 - John Stillwell/PA/Pool

Set in platinum, the ring is typically Art Deco, and is believed to have been made in the 1920s. It belonged to the Prince’s grandmother, the Queen Mother, and much was made of the fact that it was Camilla who received the family heirloom, not Diana. Her ring is often said to be one of the most valuable in the royal family.

Duchess of Cambridge

After years of speculation and being cruelly nicknamed ‘waity Katie’, in November 2010 it was finally announced that Kate Middleton was engaged to Prince William. For their televised interview, a beaming Kate appeared in a navy blue Issa wrap dress to perfectly complement her sapphire engagement ring - the same Garrard ring that had belonged to the Prince’s late mother.

Kate Middleton wearing the sapphire and diamond Garrard ring that previously belonged to Princess Diana, in the official engagement portrait with Prince William - Mario Testino 
Kate Middleton wearing the sapphire and diamond Garrard ring that previously belonged to Princess Diana, in the official engagement portrait with Prince William - Mario Testino

During the interview, the Prince revealed that he’d proposed while the couple were on holiday with friends in Kenya, and that he’d chosen his mother’s engagement ring “because obviously she’s not going to be around to share any of the fun and excitement of it all - this was my way of keeping her sort of close to it all.”

The couple married on April 29, 2011, and the bride received a band of Welsh gold. Prince William opted not to have a wedding band made, as he apparently does not like wearing jewellery.

In pictures: The Duchess of Cambridge’s best jewellery

Meghan Markle

When Prince Harry decided to propose to his girlfriend of 16 months Meghan Markle, he, like his brother, wanted to find a way to involve his late mother.

Meghan Markle engagement ring - Max Mumby/Indigo/Getty Images
Meghan Markle engagement ring - Max Mumby/Indigo/Getty Images

He turned to court jeweller Cleave & Co to commission a yellow-gold three-stone ring, featuring two side diamonds taken from jewellery that belonged to Princess Diana. These flank a central cushion-cut diamond from Botswana, where the couple spent their first holiday together.

“It’s incredibly special. And to be able to have this [ring] which links where [Harry] comes from and Botswana which is important to us - it’s perfect,” said Ms Markle in their engagement interview in November 2017.

Meghan Markle engagement ring 
Meghan Markle engagement ring

The diamonds were originally set on a plain band of yellow gold - “because that’s her favourite,” Harry revealed - but while the Duchess was pregnant in 2018, the ring was restyled with a slimer, pavé-diamond-set band.

The redesigned ring was first spotted when Harry and Meghan introduced Archie Harrison to the world in May 2018. She now wears it alongside her Welsh gold wedding band, and an eternity band also pavé-set with diamonds. Harry, meanwhile, chose a textured platinum wedding ring.

In pictures: Meghan Markle’s best jewellery moments

Princess Eugenie

Princess Eugenie and Jack Brooksbank were engaged in Nicaragua, announcing the happy news via a photoshoot at Buckingham Palace in January 2018. The Princess showed off a vintage-style ring featuring a rare Padparadscha sapphire surrounded by a halo of diamonds on a yellow-gold band, a similar cluster style to the Duchess of Cambridge’s Garrard ring.

Princess Eugenie's Padparascha sapphire and diamond cluster ring - REUTERS/Jonathan Brady/Pool
Princess Eugenie's Padparascha sapphire and diamond cluster ring - REUTERS/Jonathan Brady/Pool

With their peachy-pink tone, Padparadscha sapphires are named after the Sinhalese word for ‘lotus blossom’, and are among the rarest types of sapphires in the world - also making them among the most expensive. The very best Padparadscha sapphires are found in Sri Lanka.

With its pinky colour and diamond halo, the ring also bears a resemblance to Eugenie’s mother’s yellow-gold, ruby and diamond engagement ring. It is not known who made Eugenie’s ring, or whether it was a new commission or an antique.

Princess Beatrice

Unlike her younger sister, Princess Beatrice was very open about the details of her engagement ring, revealing that it had been designed by her fiance Edo Mapelli Mozzi in collaboration with British jeweller Shaun Leane. The property developer surprised her with the ring while they were on holiday in Italy in September 2019, and her sister Eugenie announced the news by sharing pictures of the happy couple on Instagram.

Princess Beatrice's diamond engagement ring - @princesseugenie/Instagram
Princess Beatrice's diamond engagement ring - @princesseugenie/Instagram

The ring features a 2.5-carat brilliant-cut diamond from Botswana, flanked by tapered side stones and smaller pavé diamonds, on a platinum band. Shaun Leane told Telegraph Luxury that the ring was crafted by hand in his Mayfair atelier and was designed over the course of several consultations with the groom, in order to fuse their two styles.

“Where jewellery is concerned, she likes a Victorian aesthetic whereas he likes Art Deco, so I fused the two eras... There’s part of him in there and part of her, which was very important to him,” Leane revealed, adding that the ring was "filled with personal and sentimental signifiers for the couple...unique to them".

Leane also created the Princess’s wedding band, a diamond-set platinum ring that curves slightly to fit snugly next to her engagement ring.

Zara Tindall

Princess Anne’s daughter met England rugby player Mike Tindall in Australia in 2003, and the couple were engaged seven years later. Tindall proposed with a bespoke diamond ring featuring a brilliant-cut diamond clasped at the centre of a split shank in platinum, pavé-set with diamonds, a strikingly contemporary design. 

Zara Tindall's platinum and diamond engagement ring - Tim Ireland/PA Wire
Zara Tindall's platinum and diamond engagement ring - Tim Ireland/PA Wire

The couple married in Scotland in July 2011, and the bride paired her ultra-sparkly ring with a pared-back wedding band of plain platinum.

Autumn Phillips

Autumn Phillips' engagement ring - Barry Batchelor/PA Wire
Autumn Phillips' engagement ring - Barry Batchelor/PA Wire

The first of the Queen’s grandchildren to marry, Princess Anne’s son Peter Phillips proposed to Autumn Kelly in 2007. He chose a contemporary platinum and diamond ring, featuring an oval diamond flanked by two smaller brilliant-cut diamonds, with further baguette-cut diamonds tapering into the ring: a streamlined design that was somewhat echoed in Princess Beatrice’s all-diamond ring.

Read more

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