With Prince Harry and Meghan Markle's wedding fast approaching, seek out the rings inspired by royal weddings – both past and future
When it comes to announcements, they don’t get bigger than a royal engagement. An outright frenzy erupted when His Royal Highness Prince Harry got down on one knee to Meghan Markle; a promise that will be fulfilled in May. But for some, the impact of that excitement will last a lifetime as brides-to-be, whipped up in dreams of being princesses, choose lookalike engagement rings.
“We probably get more enquiries about that than anything else,” says Garrard senior marketing executive, Madeleine David, referring to what is perhaps the world’s most famous engagement ring – the Ceylon blue sapphire and diamond cluster worn by The Duchess of Cambridge. The ring was originally made by Garrard for His Royal Highness Prince Charles to present to Princess Diana when he proposed in 1981, passing down the family line to Kate Middleton when His Royal Highness Prince William popped the question, but David says that the origins of the design go much further back.
“People come in and ask for the Kate ring, but we say that we don’t do the exact thing, it’s just the most modern interpretation. It was chosen by Charles and Diana but it’s a classic Garrard design that started when Prince Albert worked with Garrard to commission the sapphire cluster brooch that he gave to Queen Victoria on the day before her wedding day as her something blue. So it’s not Kate’s ring or Diana’s ring, it’s actually Victoria’s brooch.”
Regardless of its history – though this only ups the fever pitch for buyers, says David – the ring sparked global interest both times it was slipped on a royal-to-be finger. Jewellers working in the 1980s recall a boom in sales of sapphire cluster rings; repeated in 2010 with Kate and William’s engagement.
Just six months after Clarence House confirmed the engagement that would change what a new generation considered acceptable as a ring, the Centre for Retail Research estimated that the market for replica Kate rings was worth £10 million.
And it wasn’t just the upper crust that was suddenly romanced by sapphire clusters. Sales of sapphire rings at high street jeweller H. Samuel rocketed 55 per cent on the week of the engagement. Clogau Gold, a brand that uses the same Welsh gold as all royal wedding rings are made from, took to shopping channel QVC with replicas. “The brief from the buyers was very clear – everyone wanted to replicate the exact style,” says Sonia Menezes, Clogau’s head of brand development. A novelty jewellery charm fashioned in the same style as the sapphire ring remains one of Clogau Gold’s best sellers in the Historic Royal Palaces stores at locations like the Tower of London and Kensington Palace. It is particularly popular with tourists from the US, China and Japan.
“The British royals made coloured engagement rings acceptable”
“The British royals made coloured engagement rings acceptable,” says Eddie LeVian, chief executive of diamond jeweller Le Vian, which is planning to release a collection of engagement rings to coincide with this year’s royal wedding.
Markle’s own ring was made by Westminster jeweller Cleave & Company, which has since vowed never to make a replica in anticipation of the copycat commission requests that must surely have flooded in. Markle’s ring is a classic design, with a large central diamond flanked by two smaller stones, set in yellow gold. However, this simple construction belies a deeply personal story. The two smaller diamonds were lifted from a tiara belonging to Prince Harry’s mother – “to make sure that she’s with us on this crazy journey” as the Prince sweetly described it – while the central stone was sourced by him from a diamond mine in Botswana. Prince Harry also worked with Cleave & Company on the final design.
“Meghan’s ring is a beautiful love story in itself,” says Mita Vohra, creative director of fine jewellery brand Ortaea, which carries similar styles. “The depth and thought in it will, I believe, trigger a more meaningful bespoke order trend for us, as well as a trend for three-stone mixed-cut rings.”
As well as those now classic blue sapphires, Le Vian will include trilogy diamond rings in honour of Markle (with three stones symbolising past, present and future), and rings set with Padparadscha sapphires, the soft pinkish stone now resting on the third finger of Princess Eugenie’s left hand.
Bucherer Fine Jewellery, a Swiss jeweller that recently opened a boutique in Selfridges’ Wonder Room, is also maximising on the hype. Its set of trilogy engagement rings tweak the design by changing the central stone for alternative diamond cuts like pears, emeralds and round brilliants.
Prince Harry’s bespoke approach will inevitably have an impact on prospective fiancés, perhaps encouraging more to get involved in the design process rather than just buying off the shelf. This is something jewellers like Vashi, whose Mayfair shop has windows decorated with slogans such as ‘I made this for you’, is counting on.
Round the corner on New Bond Street, Chaumet is rolling out a new bespoke engagement ring concept called Crown Your Love to coincide with the wedding. Its aim is to eradicate surprise proposals – and sinking hearts on the opening of boxes – in favour of a collaborative experience. The process will involve couples first choosing a style of engagement ring, then a cut of diamond for the central stone and its carat weight. The rings will be made to order especially for the couple; though should a proposer feel confident in their abilities, this could also be a fun solo shopping trip.
Of course it’s not just engagement rings that are obsessed over during a royal engagement and wedding – everything is scrutinised. The pair of yellow gold and opal stud earrings worn by Markle during the announcement and made by Canadian jeweller Birks, which is sold at Mappin & Webb and Goldsmiths, sold out within hours. Traffic to the earrings section of Birks’ website quadrupled that day. There was a similar frenzy to own the Links of London white topaz earrings worn by The Duchess of Cambridge for her official engagement photo in 2010.
As to why we remain so obsessed with royals and their jewels, despite a wealth of more accessible celebrities ready to flash their engagement rings on Instagram, the truth might be that there remains a lingering princess dream locked deep within some of us. Which is probably why the most popular item among brides-to-be at Garrard, after the sapphire ring, is a sparkling diamond tiara.