Like all royal families, the House of Windsor has in its arsenal one of the most storied and significant collections of jewelry in the world. There are Burmese rubies to ward off evil, prized emeralds won at a raffle 200 years ago, sparkling gifts from foreign heads of state, an Imperial State Crown flecked with nearly 3,000 precious gems, so many parures, and even more brooches. While nearly all of these treasures, having been passed down through several blue-blooded generations, are inevitably filled with sentimental value, a case can be made that members of the royal family are particularly enamored with the sapphire.
In modern times the most famous case in point is obviously Princess Diana’s (and now Kate Middleton’s) sapphire engagement ring, but that is just the tip of the iceberg. Three other royal women—Princess Eugenie, the Queen Mother, and Princess Anne—sported sapphire engagement rings as well (Princess Anne opted for the deep blue stone for both of her betrothals). And Queen Victoria had a well-documented emotional attachment to sapphires—she was especially fond of her sapphire and diamond cluster brooch, a gift from husband Prince Albert the day before their wedding in 1840, which the monarch wore down the aisle as her “something blue.” Even many of Queen Elizabeth’s sapphire jewels are imbued with meaning, especially the stunning demi-parure she received as a wedding gift from her father, King George VI.
Below, a brief survey of the royal family’s cherished sapphires.
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In 1981, after a whirlwind courtship, Prince Charles presented Diana Spencer with an array of engagement rings by the House of Garrard. The 19-year-old royal bride-to-be took to a 12-carat Ceylon sapphire ring surrounded by 14 diamonds. Her “off the rack” choice may have appalled certain members of the Firm but Princess Diana loved her ring so much she continued to wear it after her divorce.
Princess Diana’s engagement ring design was inspired by the Prince Albert Brooch, seen here on Queen Elizabeth II during her visit to Saudi Arabia in 1979. The piece, which its namesake consort gifted to Queen Victoria on the eve of their wedding, was beloved by the monarch and is now an important piece in her great-great-granddaughter’s collection. Upon her death in 1901, Queen Victoria designated the brooch an heirloom of the crown, meaning it would be specifically reserved for use by future queens and queen consorts.
Among the many pieces Queen Elizabeth inherited from her grandmother Queen Mary (who died in 1953) is the Queen Mary Russian Brooch, which features a square-cut diamond and square cabochon sapphire surrounded by round brilliant diamonds that can be worn vertically or horizontally. The jewel was a gift to then Princess Mary of Teck by Empress Marie Feodorovna of Russia in 1893.
When her mother died in 2002, Queen Elizabeth inherited several pieces of jewelry, including this Sapphire and Diamond Grapes Brooch.
Olympic equestrian and retired British Army officer Mark Phillips proposed to Princess Anne in 1973 with a Garrard-designed ring that featured a sapphire stone flanked by two diamonds. Nearly two decades later, for her marriage to current husband Sir Timothy Laurence, a retired Royal Navy commander, Princess Anne received another sapphire engagement ring, this time a cabochon sapphire with three diamonds on each side.
Princess Diana, here at a state reception in Australia in 1983, received a suite of sapphire jewels from the Saudi royal family as a wedding gift, which included a very large Burmese sapphire pendant set on a thin diamond necklace and surrounded by baguette diamonds, matching earrings, a ring (not pictured), a double-row diamond bracelet with a sapphire centerpiece, and a watch featuring seven sapphires (also not pictured).
In 2002, Queen Elizabeth attended a dinner at 10 Downing Street to celebrate her golden jubilee. She wore a tassel necklace, trefoil earrings, and bracelet. While their provenance is unknown, they have been rumored to have been a gift from Middle Eastern royalty (another similar tassel necklace belonging to the queen, set in emeralds, is said to have come from Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan of the United Arab Emirates).
Queen Mary was famous for her healthy appetite for jewelry. She commissioned what are now the royal family’s most iconic tiaras, from the Diamond Fringe worn by Queen Elizabeth, Princess Anne, and Princess Beatrice on their wedding days to the Cambridge Lover’s Knot, a favorite of Princess Diana and now Kate Middleton. She also loved to shop, especially from the estates of Romanov royals (see: the legendary Vladimir Tiara and many of Empress Marie Feodorovna’s sapphire pieces on this list). The parure pictured here, however, came from within the family and was passed down from Queen Mary’s grandmother, Princess Augusta, Duchess of Cambridge. Queen Mary made adjustments to the jewels and later gifted the set to her daughter-in-law Princess Marina for her 1934 wedding to George, the Duke of Kent. It then went to their eldest son Edward, who had to sell parts of the set for financial reasons.
The Russian Sapphire Cluster Brooch belonged to Empress Marie Feodorovna, who was married to Tsar Alexander III and whose sister Alexandra was the consort of King Edward VII. Though it bears a resemblance to the Prince Albert Brooch, this one features an intricate gold filigree detail. Queen Mary purchased the piece from the Empress’s estate and it later entered into Queen Elizabeth’s collection upon her death in 1953. The Queen Mother, however, was said to have adored the brooch and she wore it numerous times throughout her life. Queen Elizabeth didn’t start wearing the brooch until 2014, for a visit to the Vatican (pictured here).
Princess Diana received a giant sapphire brooch as a gift from the Queen Mother and fashioned it into a multi-strand pearl choker, which she wore on several occasions throughout the ’90s—here, she attends a London gala in 1995.
During Queen Elizabeth’s tour of the Middle East in 1979, the Sheikh of Dubai presented her with a stunning collection of sapphire jewels made by Asprey—a looped diamond and sapphire necklace, plus matching earrings and a ring. Later, the monarch had the necklace shortened and used the surplus sapphires to create a new set of earrings; she then refashioned the original ring and earrings to make a bracelet. She wore the entire resulting suite—with Queen Alexandra’s Kokoshnik Tiara—to a dinner in Canada in 2005.
For the opening of the Invictus Games in Sydney in 2018, Meghan Markle wore a navy Stella McCartney cape dress, which she accessorized with a pair of delicate diamond and sapphire drop earrings.
Duchess Camilla reportedly received this sapphire and diamond necklace (part of a parure) from the Saudi royal family as a wedding present.
Not all sapphires are blue: In 2018, Princess Eugenie and Jack Brooksbank announced their engagement with a pink padparadscha sapphire ring that seemed to have been inspired by her mother Sarah Ferguson’s Burmese ruby engagement ring.
For her annual Christmas address in 2013, Queen Elizabeth wore a symbolic brooch—the diamond, sapphire, and ruby encrusted jewel was a gift from her parents to celebrate the birth of Prince Charles in 1948.
Princess Michael of Kent’s husband, Prince Michael, inherited this Cartier brooch—a pansy motif featuring sapphires, emeralds, and black pearls—from his mother, Princess Marina.
Here, Princess Michael of Kent wears the Cartier pansy brooch as part of a necklace.
The George VI Sapphires are undoubtedly among Queen Elizabeth’s most meaningful jewels. The demi-parure, which consists of a Victorian-era necklace and earrings, was a wedding gift from her father in 1947. A few years later, the Queen refashioned the necklace, shortening it and removing the largest sapphire stone to turn into a pendant (as seen here). Sometime during the ’60s, she also commissioned a matching bracelet to accompany the set.
The true origins of Queen Mary’s Sapphire Bandeau Tiara, seen here on Princess Margaret in 1958 attending a state banquet with the Queen Mother (who seemed to have borrowed Queen Elizabeth’s George VI Demi-Parure for the occasion), are unknown. Some believe it came from the collection of Empress Marie Feodorovna while others contend Queen Mary had it commissioned herself. Though this tiara, whose center sapphire stone could be removed and switched out for other gems, looks very much like the Queen Mary Diamond Bandeau Tiara that Meghan Markle borrowed for her 2018 wedding to Prince Harry, they aren’t the same piece. It’s unclear what became of the Sapphire Bandeau.
Camilla wore this large floral sapphire and diamond pendant to a 2013 performance in London.
For a dinner in Hungary in 1990, Princess Diana accessorized her Catherine Walker gown with her beloved sapphire and pearl choker.
During Princess Diana’s 1986 visit to Oman, the Sultan gifted her a suite of crescent-shaped sapphire jewels, which she wore to a state banquet in Germany a year later.
As the story goes, when Princess Diana died it was Prince Harry who kept his mother’s sapphire ring, while Prince William chose her Cartier Tank Française watch. Eventually the brothers swapped, and the rest is history.
On the occasion of her sapphire jubilee in 2017, celebrating her 65th year on the British throne, Queen Elizabeth received this Sapphire Jubilee Snowflake Brooch from Canada. The jewel, which she wore to Ascot here in 2019, is set with rare Canadian sapphires discovered in 2002 on Baffin Island.
Princess Diana refashioned the watch and ring from the Saudi Sapphire Suite and turned them into a choker, which she wore with the Saudi earrings and the Spencer Tiara to a state dinner in Australia in 1985.
Princess Diana was fond of turning her chokers into headbands, as she did here for a dinner with the emperor of Japan in 1986.
The exact provenance of Princess Anne’s sapphire brooch isn’t clear. Some believe that when creating that aforementioned famous brooch for Queen Victoria, Prince Albert made replicas for their daughters. Others believe that only one copy was made for the queen herself. Either way, the piece found its way to Queen Elizabeth’s only daughter.
For her son Lord Frederick Windsor’s wedding in 2009, Princess Michael of Kent wore a multi-strand pearl and sapphire necklace adorned with two detachable Cartier sapphire and diamond clips, created by the maison in 1931 and later purchased by the Duke of Kent for his wife, Princess Marina. When she died, Marina left them to her younger son, Prince Michael of Kent.
The Queen Mother’s brooch collection was legendary. For her 88th birthday celebration at Clarence House in 1988, she wore this diamond and sapphire brooch.
Empress Marie Feodorovna’s Sapphire Brooch was among the many items Queen Elizabeth inherited from her grandmother Queen Mary. The piece, a large cabochon sapphire surrounded by two rows of diamonds and adorned with a pearl drop, was originally a wedding present for the Russian Empress in 1866 from her brother, the Prince of Wales. Queen Mary later purchased it from the dowager’s estate in 1929.
Princess Diana on an official tour of Argentina in 1995.
For a visit to Scotland in 2019, Kate Middleton wore a pair of sapphire and diamond drop earrings that belonged to her mother-in-law Princess Diana. Prince William reportedly gifted them to his wife when they got engaged in 2010.
Queen Elizabeth received this diamond and sapphire feather brooch as a wedding gift in 1947 from the jewelry firm Carrington’s.
The Queen Mother is pictured here in 1986 wearing her beloved Russian Sapphire Cluster Brooch with a pair of sapphire and diamond fringe earrings.
In 2015, the Duchess of Cambridge wore her great-grandmother-in-law’s sapphire and diamond fringe earrings for a gala at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London.
Princess Anne’s sapphire, diamond, and pearl choker was one of the many pieces from Russian Empress Marie Feodorovna’s collection that Queen Mary later purchased. In 1953, Queen Elizabeth inherited the jewels from this cache, but as she rarely wears chokers, it is believed she passed this down to her daughter, either as a gift or longtime loan. The necklace can be taken apart to become a pair of bracelets, while the centerpiece turns into a brooch.
The Sapphire Chrysanthemum Brooch has been in the Queen’s collection since her days as a princess and is a rare piece that predates her ascension to the throne. She received it as a gift in 1946 when she launched an oil tanker named the British Princess.
In 1963, Queen Elizabeth commissioned a sapphire tiara to complement her George VI Sapphire Demi-Parure. Known as the Belgian Sapphire Tiara (the monarch wore the whole set to a banquet for the president of France in 1992, pictured here), the piece was made from an antique sapphire and diamond necklace that belonged to Princess Louise of Belgium, which the Queen had set on a frame to be exclusively worn as a tiara.
And finally, that giant sapphire took on new significance as accessory to Princess Diana’s infamous revenge dress moment in 1994.
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