When a member of the royal family puts a ring on it, it normally comes with a heavy dose of history and sentiment.
When Prince Philip proposed to Queen Elizabeth back in 1947, he used diamonds from a tiara belonging to his mother Princess Andrew of Greece to make a stunning diamond engagement ring for his bride-to-be. In doing so, he started quite the trend in repurposing heirloom jewels for royal brides.
“It’s wonderful because it gives an old piece of jewelry new life,” jeweler to the royals, Annoushka Ducas, tells PEOPLE. “There’s something so lovely about handing down the memories, the narrative and what that piece of jewelry reminds you of, it’s a complex thing.”
The Queen In The Green Room At Home In Windsor Castle
Fast-forward 70 years and Prince Harry followed suit, this time with a bittersweet nod to his late mother Princess Diana; using two stones from her personal jewelry collection to design Meghan Markle’s engagement ring. “The little diamonds on either side are from my mother’s jewelry collection to make sure that she’s with us on this crazy journey together,” he said at the time of their engagement in 2017.
Prince Harry and his fiancée US actress Meghan Markle pose for a photograph in the Sunken Garden at Kensington Palace
Of course, the most famous hand-me-down is the sapphire engagement ring first worn by Princess Diana and currently worn by her daughter-in-law Kate Middleton. Featuring a 12-karat oval Ceylon sapphire, set in 18-karat white gold and surrounded by 14 solitaire diamonds, the giant sapphire design by Garrard was valued at $37,500 in 1981 when Prince Charles proposed to Diana — but is now considered priceless.
“It’s my mother’s engagement ring,” William said in a post-engagement interview with Kate by his side. “So, I thought it was quite nice 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.”
Diana, Princess of Wales’ engagement ring, wedding ring; Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge presents medals to members of the Irish Guards at the Victoria Barracks
When Charles remarried in 2005, he also shopped from his own family jewelry box — choosing a stunning Art Deco diamond ring from his grandmother’s personal collection. The Queen Mother (who replaced her own engagement ring with a pearl and diamond design during the course of her marriage) and Charles were reportedly very close until her death in 2002.
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Even when the royals don’t propose with a ring of significant provenance, there is often a sentimental nod to the past. When Princess Eugenie announced her engagement to long-time boyfriend Jack Brooksbank in 2018, she did so wearing a dazzling padparadscha sapphire ring. The pink gem (chosen by Brooksbank) bears a striking resemblance to her mom Sarah Ferguson’s ring given to her by Prince Andrew in 1986.
Prince Andrew with Sarah Ferguson at Buckingham Palace after the announcement of their engagement; Princess Eugenie and Jack Brooksbank pose in the Picture Gallery at Buckingham Palace
While her sister Princess Beatrice was one of the few royal fiancées whose ring had no historical references, it was designed by her now-husband Edoardo Mapelli Mozzi and made by London jeweler Shaun Leane who said the design (four months in the making) represented their unity.
“We talked about aesthetic — he really loved Art Deco and Beatrice really likes the Victorian aesthetic in jewelry so we fused those two elements together, fusing their personalities,” Leane told PEOPLE at the time of their engagement.