Wednesday, 24 January 2018

Windsor Engagement Rings: the sapphires


The latest Windsor engagement ring follows a long tradition. For while the stone at the centre of Princess Eugenie's ring might be pink, it's a version of a gem that has been a favourite of her family for betrothals for almost a century. When Albert, Duke of York proposed to Lady Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon in 1923 he chose a sapphire engagement ring and ever since then, that gem has turned up as a marry me moment on plenty of occasions.  As Eugenie adds another interesting sparkler to the collection, here's a look at the Windsor engagement sapphires....



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Let's start at the very beginning, it's a very good place to start. When the future George VI finally got Lady Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon to accept his proposal, he presented her with a sapphire and diamond engagement ring to seal the (long awaited) deal. Like Eugenie's ring, it was rather unusual. It featured a large Kashmir sapphire with two much smaller diamonds on either side. You couldn't miss it from a mile off although in later years, the Queen Mother (as she became known) was often seen to top her Welsh gold wedding ring with even bigger sparklers from her collection of gems and leave this very personal piece of jewellery at home.




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In fact, Bertie started a trend. Four of King George V and Queen Mary's sons would marry and three of them picked sapphires as engagement rings for their fiancees (only Edward VIII took a different tack, presenting Wallis Simpson with an emerald, but then the course of the House of Windsor wasn't one he really chose to follow). Next to wed after Bertie was George, Duke of Kent, who got engaged to Princess Marina of Greece and Denmark in 1934. The bride to be showed off a rather large Kashmir sapphire ring following her engagement - there are diamonds on either side but this square stone is so big, it kind of dominates the view.  





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Next, it was the turn of Henry, Duke of Gloucester. He married Lady Alice Montagu Douglas Scott in 1935 and the engagement ring he presented her with featured a simple, square sapphire. Simple in the sense that it's huge and very art deco and very, very expensive. You can just about make it out in the photo above of doting mum, Alice.


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The sapphire tradition got off to a good start in the next generation of royal weddings. Edward, Duke of Kent chose the stone to take a starring role in the engagement ring he presented to Katherine Worsley in 1961. This was a classic design featuring a blue sapphire flanked on either side by diamonds. They were clearly much coyer about showing off the ring back then but if you peer hard enough, you'll catch a flash of blue on the bride to be's finger.




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The first of the Queen's children to wed kept up the family tradition. Princess Anne followed in her grandparents' footsteps when she got engaged to Captain Mark Phillips in 1973. Anne's first engagement ring is a paler blue sapphire surrounded on each side by diamonds. Anne also chose a sapphire for her second engagement ring ahead of her marriage to Timothy Laurence in 1992.


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It's the most famous sapphire engagement ring of the lot next. In February 1981, the Prince of Wales announced his engagement to Lady Diana Spencer who appeared with her fiance just hours later in the grounds of Buckingham Palace wearing a sapphire and diamond ring. The round sapphire surrounded by smaller diamonds came from Garrards and was picked by Diana herself. It became world famous in seconds and remains one of the most easily recognised pieces of royal jewellery in the world.




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That's also in part down to the decision by Diana and Charles' elder son, William, to present the ring to his own fiancee, Catherine Middleton, when they announced their engagement in 2010. William admitted he had carried the precious gem around in his backpack while the couple holidayed in Kenya while he waited for the moment he was going to propose to Kate. The Duchess of Cambridge is rarely seen without it and has added a whole new chapter of royal history to its already famous story.


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Fast forward to 2018 and Princess Eugenie has added her own twist to the Windsor love of sapphires. Her engagement ring, presented by fiance Jack Brooksbank, features a padparadscha sapphire surrounded by diamonds. It's rather similar in design to Diana's sapphire ring although the diamond surround is more sold. But of course the really striking thing about this ring is its colour. Eugenie's stone is pink, a characteristic of this kind of sapphire. But a sapphire it still is. It joins a long line of those stones to take a starring role at these major moments in royal life. George VI, the man who made the House of Windsor a force to be reckoned with once more, has left his mark on it in more ways than one.

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