Several European countries still have a monarchy. Most now fulfill little more than a ceremonial role, with no direct influence over their country or its laws. For centuries, these crown heads of state have commissioned the world’s finest jewelers to create rings, necklaces, and even crowns. At the very top of these regal families, of course, is the British Royal Family.
The Crown Jewels contain some of the very best diamonds, sapphires, and rubies that exist today. The tradition in the Royal Family for fine jewelry extends to engagement rings presented by Princes, or to Princesses. Here, we take a look at some of the best over the last 100 years.
Up until 2015, Victoria was the longest-reigning monarch in British history. Her reign started in 1837, at age 18, and she became engaged to Prince Albert of the House Saxe-Coburg in 1839. In actual fact, it was Victoria who proposed to Albert and not the other way around.
Victoria’s engagement ring was unusual by today’s standards. Instead of any kind of gold/platinum and diamond, it took the form of a serpent. Snakes and serpent rings go back to Ancient Rome, and are a symbol of everlasting love. They were very popular in Victorian times, and there would have been no raised eyebrows regarding the design. In common with most serpent rings, the band is not a complete circle. The band mimics the coil of a snake and the tail never meets the head. It is believed that Albert, himself, designed the ring which had rubies for eyes and diamonds for the mouth.
It also contained a large emerald, as this was Victoria’s birthstone. The metal, again common for the times, was yellow gold, believed to be 18 karats.
King Edward VIII came to the throne in January 1936, on the death of his father, George V. His relationship with American Wallis Simpson, frowned upon due to her being twice married already, caused a constitutional crisis in England. After ascending the throne, he appeared on the balcony of St James’ Palace with Wallis Simpson at his side. Up to that point, divorced women had not been allowed at court, and Edward incurred the wrath of the British Parliament as well as his advisors. By December of the same year, Edward had abdicated the throne in order to marry Wallis Simpson, a first in modern British history.
The engagement ring contained a huge 19.77ct emerald surrounded by a halo of diamonds in yellow gold. The ring had the inscription “We are ours now 27 x 36”. The numbers signify October 27th, 1936, the date Edward proposed to Simpson.
Queen Elizabeth, The Queen Mother
This is not Queen Elizabeth who reigns today, but her mother. Full name Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon, she twice turned down proposals from George VI, then the Duke of York, and subject of the movie “The King’s Speech“. With the exception of George’s elder brother, Edward VIII, heirs to the throne had always married other royalty. George’s marriage to “a commoner” was seen not as a scandal, however, but as a necessary modernization of the British Royal Family. The marriage set the tone for future generations of royal weddings.
The ring contained a sapphire with diamond accents and a gold band. This sapphire/diamond combination is one which we would see more than once in Royal Family engagements from that point.
Being Queen was never actually Elizabeth’s destiny at birth. It was only on the abdication of Edward VII that her father became king, making Elizabeth heir. She learned of her father’s death whilst in Kenya on a tour of the Commonwealth. It was actually Prince Philip who broke the news to the new Queen. In accordance with British tradition, Philip did not assume the title of King. This is due to Kings being seen as a position above Queen, however odd that may seem today. The title used in such circumstances is Queen’s Consort.
When Philip asked the King for Elizabeth’s hand, in 1946, the King agreed but asked that any engagement be delayed until her 21st birthday the following year. On the occasion of the engagement, Philip presented a ring with a very large, round-cut center diamond. Smaller side diamonds complete the collection, all set in platinum. As is customary, the diamonds came from a tiara belonging to Philip’s mother. Unusually, Elizabeth still wears the ring every day. It is common for monarchs to change jewelry according to the formality of any event, but Elizabeth chooses not to remove the ring.
The younger sister of Queen Elizabeth, Margaret was never required to observe the strict formalities of her sibling. As a result, she lived life and became enormously well-liked for it by the public. Said to smoke 60 cigarettes a day, and also fond of a drink or two. Margaret married Anthony Armstrong-Jones – later Earl of Snowdon – in 1960. It was the first Royal Wedding to be aired on TV and drew an estimated worldwide audience of 300 million. Sadly the marriage didn’t last, and the couple divorced in 1978. It was the first royal divorce since 1901.
Margaret’s middle name was Rose, and her engagement ring resembles a rosebud as a result. Three rubies had small diamonds alongside to mimic the flower. The stones are in a platinum mount, atop a yellow gold band.
Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall
Camilla has been something of a divisive figure in the UK. Because of the great affection for Princess Diana, Prince Charles’ choice of consort after Diana’s death was controversial. It became an even bigger issue when it became clear that Charles and Camilla had been having an affair during Charles’ marriage to Diana. However, Camilla has proved herself to be a great asset to the Royal Family, and has succeeded in becoming very well-liked by the public.
The engagement ring given to Camilla by Charles belonged to his grandmother, the Queen Mother. It has a large emerald-cut diamond, with baguette diamonds on each shoulder. The ring is classic art deco, in design, and is a style that is still very popular today.
By 1981, the British people hadn’t really had a royal wedding they could enjoy in quite some time. So when the heir to the throne, Prince Charles, proposed to Lady Diana Spencer, the nation rejoiced. Diana was young, pretty, and hugely popular. Charles and Diana first met several years earlier, when Charles was in a friendship with Diana’s older sister. After a brief courtship, and despite the 13 year age difference, Diana accepted Charles’ proposal and they married in July 1981. Their marriage lasted just 5
Diana’s engagement ring is one of the most famous rings in the world. A stunning 12ct sapphire has a halo of 14 solitaire-set diamonds. After Diana’s death, the ring passed to her son, William. William proposed to Kate Middleton with the very same ring. Uniquely for any royal jewelry, the ring design was not bespoke. Instead, it was an “off-the-shelf” ring, but Diana adored it and insisted on having it.
In terms of popularity, Henry Duke of Sussex is one of the best-loved royal family members in British history. Seen very much as “one of us” by the public, Harry has proved himself to be an engaging and compassionate man. This has not been a typical part of the British Royal family’s character over the centuries. After a string of romances, Harry met an American actress and divorcée Meghan Markle. Despite the circumstances, the public approved when it was seen how in love the pair are.
Harry was involved in the design of the engagement ring, which is a three-stone setting. The center diamond is from Botswana. There are smaller diamonds on either shoulder which originally belonged to Harry’s mother, Princess Diana.