Ahead of these weddings, specialist valuables insurer Ripe Insurance has delved deep into the archives to discover as much as possible about royal engagement rings from the last 200 years.
From Alexandra of Denmark’s acrostic inspired ring to Princess Eugenie’s pink sapphire, let’s go back in time and explore what makes these pieces of jewellery so unique.
Prior to the Victorian era of 1837 to 1901, engagement rings were a rare commodity. However, during the reign of Queen Victoria, there was an increased demand for jewellery and many young women dreamt of owning a diamond engagement ring – even though these were a luxury reserved for the aristocratic ruling class.
In-keeping with this emerging trend, on the announcement of their engagement in 1839, Prince Albert presented Queen Victoria with an 18-carat gold, serpent engagement ring. The head of the serpent was adorned with rubies for the eyes, diamonds for the mouth, as well as a large emerald set at the centre, representing Victoria’s birthstone. Whilst a serpent may seem an unusual choice for an engagement ring, it is an ancient Roman symbol for everlasting love and was a particularly popular expression of adoration during these times.
Prince Albert himself designed the ring, and it’s believed Queen Victoria was wearing it when she was buried.
Acrostic jewellery, which conveys certain messages or terms of endearment through the first letter of each gemstone, rose in popularity during the Victorian era. Jean-Baptiste Mellerio (1765-1850), jewellery designer to Marie Antoinette and the French court, is credited with popularising acrostic rings.
Ever the trendsetters, the British Royal Family followed suit. In 1862, Edward VII proposed to Alexandra of Denmark with a gold acrostic style ring at the Royal Palace of Laeken in Brussels, Belgium.
The ring was designed by London jewellers Garrard & Co and its gem stones were made up of beryl, emerald, ruby, topaz and jacinth. It spelled BERTIE, in reference to the name that Alexandra affectionately called her husband-to-be.
For all the publicity surrounding the aforementioned engagement rings, very little is known about the engagement ring of Queen Mary, also known as Mary of Teck. Her reign lasted from 1910 to 1936, but prior to this she was actually engaged to her husband’s older brother; Prince Albert Victor – the heir to the British throne, until his premature death from pneumonia at the age of 28.
George proposed to Mary in 1893 in the garden of Sheen Lodge, but little else is known about their engagement. To this day, it is still not fully known whether Mary even received a ring from George – despite extensive research into royal weddings in recent years, no conclusive information has come to light either in archival documents, diaries, or photographs.
Some historians suggest that, if Queen Mary did have an engagement ring, it may have been bequeathed away from the current core Royal Family to the Countess of Harewood or a daughter in law, but this is unconfirmed speculation.
Sapphire engagement rings have been a staple part of Royal Family tradition for centuries. Queen Victoria, in particular, was fond of sapphires, so Prince Albert regularly bought them for her. In fact, Queen Elizabeth still often wears a famous sapphire brooch which was passed down from Queen Victoria. This brooch was the inspiration for the sapphire engagement ring that Kate Middleton received from Prince William.
But why exactly has there been such a infatuation with sapphires among generations of royals? Well, its distinguishing attributes are its energy and healing properties. Among other things, it is associated with deep spirituality, devotion, integrity and regality.
The word ‘sapphire’ actually comes from the Greek word ‘sappheiros’ meaning blue colour. This deep blue colour features prominently in the engagement rings of the Queen Mother, Princess Anne and Princess Diana.
Staying true to tradition, albeit with a slightly extravagant twist, Princess Eugenie of York was proposed to with a sapphire engagement ring. The ring features a pink padparadscha sapphire, which are amongst the rarest and most valuable sapphires in the world, and experts have estimated its worth at around £100,000. What’s more, its unusual pink and orange colour is one of the rarest colour sapphires available.
Of all the royal relationships through the years, the one between King Edward VIII and American actress Wallis Simpson was perhaps the most controversial. Wallis, an American socialite, had been divorced twice before getting engaged to Edward in 1936.
The ring he gave her featured a rectangular step-cut emerald, sat within a stylised leaf border and set with 14 brilliant cut diamonds. It was engraved with the words: "We are ours now 27 X 36.", which is shorthand for the day Edward proposed (October 27, 1936).
However, the ring’s aesthetic appeal was sadly overshadowed by the scandal surrounding Wallis and Edward’s engagement – such was the furore over their relationship, that Edward had to abdicate the throne in order to marry her.
Despite the widespread disapproval of their wedding, which attracted less than 20 guests, the couple remained together until Edward’s death in 1972. A year after Wallis’ death in 1986, the ring sold at a Sotheby’s auction for an eye-watering £1,312,757.
Although Princess Eugenie’s pink sapphire ring is quite overstated in its design, it is arguably no less lavish than Sarah Ferguson and Prince Andrew’s ruby engagement ring; an Oval cut, Burmese ruby surrounded by 10 diamonds in a floral arrangement and set on a yellow gold band.
Prince Andrew presented the ring to Sarah on his 26th birthday and supposedly chose the ruby in homage to her fiery, red hair. His bachelor party certainly attracted a high-profile crowd, with Prince Charles, Billy Connolly, David Frost and Elton John rumoured to have been in attendance.
Sarah and Andrew’s ring was not the first ruby ring in royal history, however. Antony Armstrong-Jones proposed to Princess Margaret, Countess of Snowdon, with a ruby ring set in diamonds at Windsor Castle in 1960. The design was created to look like a rosebud in honour the princess’ middle name, Rose.
Princess Margaret and Anthony’s wedding was the first televised royal wedding in history, being watched by 20 million viewers. Sadly though, their marriage was relatively short-lived by royal standards, lasting only 18 years until their divorce in 1978.
As everlasting symbols of grandeur, it is no surprise that diamonds have appeared so regularly on the fingers of royals – and recent history has suggested that diamonds are a Queen’s best friend.
When Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Phillip got engaged at Balmoral Castle in 1946, Philip presented her with a square-cut diamond engagement ring with diamond side stones. The ring’s diamonds came from a tiara belonging to Philip's mother, Princess Andrew of Greece, because Philip knew he would need a ring fit for a (soon-to-be) Queen.
Just over 50 years on from Elizabeth and Philip’s engagement, Sophie Rhys-Jones & Prince Edward tied the knot. But this was no customary ring – the 2.05 carat, white gold engagement ring is thought to be the most expensive royal engagement ring ever purchased, with an estimated value of £105,000. However, if the estimated values of Meghan Markle’s jewel from Botswana are to be believed, this record may no longer stand.
One of the more recent diamond ring proposals within the Royal Family was in 2005, when Camilla Parker Bowles was given an 8 carat, art deco style ring by Prince Charles. The ring’s exact origin is unclear, but it is rumoured to have been a gift to the Queen Mother from George VI to mark the birth of their daughter, Queen Elizabeth II, in 1926.
With so much heritage and prestige, it’s no wonder the Royal Family’s engagement rings are the subject of national fascination.
In recognition of their historical and cultural significance, Ripe Insurance has created a interactive site showcasing the Royal Family’s engagement rings over the last 200 years.This visual features the design, detail and value of the rings, as well as details of the engagements and some surprising facts.
So if you’d like to know more about the fascinating past of the royal family’s sparklers, head on over to explore the history for yourself.