According to season 4 of The Crown, when Prince Charles (played by Josh O’Connor) asked Lady Diana Spencer (Emma Corrin) to marry him, she was presented with not just one ring, but several, to choose from. In episode 4 of the Netflix series, titled “Fairytale,” Diana first selects a ring with a Burmese ruby in the center, a royal family heirloom, before changing her mind. She then opts for a 12-carat oval Ceylon sapphire, surrounded by 14 diamonds, with an 18-karat white gold band, called the Marguerite ring. According to the show, this was the largest and most expensive of all the options presented to her. “And you like that one because?” asks Queen Elizabeth II (Olivia Colman). “Because it reminds me of my mother’s engagement ring,” Diana responds. “And, it’s the same colour as my eyes.”
While the scene was shot in the Heaven Room at Burghley House, an Elizabethan estate in Stamford, Lincolnshire, the real-life ring selection took place in February 1981 at Windsor Castle. According to Royal Secrets: The View from Downstairs by Stephen Barry, one of Charles’ valets at the time of the engagement, Diana said of her selection, “The queen’s eyes popped when I picked out the largest one.” According to The Court Jeweller, at the time of purchase, the ring would have been priced at £28,500, which would amount to about £123,000 today. Per Vogue, the blue colour, its similarity to her mother’s engagement ring, and the impressive size of the ring are some of the theories behind why Diana choose the sapphire engagement ring in real life.
Over the years, rumours have circulated about the royal family being unhappy with Diana’s choice of ring, which was purchased from Garrard, the official jeweller of the royal family from 1843 until 2007, rather than custom-made for the Princess Di. However, Lauren Kiehna, a historian and writer whose blog The Court Jeweller specialises in royal jewellery, told Refinery29, “I've never read anything that suggests that specific members of the family were upset about the ring.” In fact, all signs point to the style being a popular one among royals, thanks to a sapphire and diamond cluster brooch worn by the former Queen of England, Queen Victoria. Victoria was given the brooch, also designed by Garrard, as a wedding gift from her husband Prince Albert in 1840. The brooch has since been passed down through the royal family, with Queen Elizabeth II wearing it to meet John F. Kennedy in 1961.
Following Diana and Charles’ engagement, the shape of the ring, an oval center gemstone surrounded by diamonds, became revered by the public, so much so that replicas became incredibly popular in the engagement ring market. This isn’t surprising: Not only was Diana considered a fashion icon during their marriage and afterward (they separated in 1992 and divorced in 1996), but the late Princess of Wales continues to inspire fashion trends to this day.
Despite her divorce from Prince Charles, Diana never stopped wearing her engagement ring. Upon her death in 1997, it was placed in the care of the royal family, where it remained until it landed on Kate Middleton’s, now the Duchess of Cambridge, finger in 2010, when Prince William proposed. "It’s very special to me,” William said during the couple’s engagement interview. “As Kate’s very special to me now, it was right to put the two together. It was my way of making sure my 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." Per Forbes, once again, the ring sent sapphire sales skyrocketing: Natural Sapphire Company, the gem vendor for luxury jewellery brands like Tiffany & Co. and Cartier, saw a 300% increase in sales in the three months following William and Kate’s engagement.
Interestingly, the ring wasn’t William’s to give to his future bride. That is, not until his younger brother, Prince Harry, gave him permission to do so. In The Diana Story, an Amazon Prime documentary released in 2017, it was revealed by her butler Paul Burrell that, upon Diana’s death, William and Harry were given the opportunity to choose an item of hers to have as a keepsake. "I’d like mummy’s Cartier watch, the one that Grandpa Spencer gave to her for her 21st birthday," William said, according to Burrell. As for Harry, Burrell recalled him saying, "I remember when I held mummy's hand when I was a small boy and that ring always hurt me because it was so big.” For that reason, he chose her engagement ring. But when the time came for William to propose to Middleton, Harry passed it to his older brother, so that, according to Burrell’s recollection of what Harry said to William, “One day that ring will be sat on the throne of England.” In 2017, when Harry proposed to Meghan Markle, he had a ring specially made by Cleave and Company, the jeweller that took over from Garrard in 2007, using three diamonds. The two smaller diamonds were plucked from his mother’s jewellery collection, People reported, while the larger, centre diamond was purchased in Botswana, a special place for the couple.
Meanwhile, Diana’s Marguerite ring remains in the family, still to this day worn by the Duchess of Cambridge.