The royal family members lead calculated lives – right down to the sparkling baubles on their heads, ears, necks and wrists. Yes, many pieces in their jewelry collection have backstories that are just as stunning as the priceless gems themselves. Why did Meghan wear that zodiac necklace? Why did Kate wear acorn earrings to her wedding? And why didn’t they love Diana’s iconic engagement ring? We have uncovered the truth about these and other beloved pieces of royal jewelry.
20. The mystery of the Queen’s flower basket brooch
The Queen’s beloved flower basket brooch sparkles with delicate flowers made of sapphires, diamonds and rubies. The mystery in this piece isn’t its naturally inspired design, though. Royal watchers wonder when the accessory came into the monarch’s possession, as evidence suggests two potential timelines.
Leslie Field, who penned the book The Queen’s Jewels, wrote that the monarch “was given [the brooch] in November 1948 by her parents to mark the birth of Prince Charles.” However, a 1939 telecast featuring a then-Princess Elizabeth shows her wearing the very brooch that she supposedly received a decade later. Some wonder if the piece still belonged to her mother at that point, and the then-13-year-old royal got to wear it as a treat. One thing’s for sure, though – it’s hers now, and it has glistened from her lapel on many occasions.
19. …But that’s not a royal jewel?
Since she became part of the royal family, Meghan Markle has risen the ranks to become a fashion icon. Fans dissect her looks, and they have found that the Duchess often wears jewelry that carries hidden significance to her. For example, she once layered zodiac necklaces with the Taurus and Virgo symbols, which represented the birthdays of her son, Archie, and her husband, Prince Harry.
For all of her meaningful fashion choices, though, you won’t see any pieces from the Royal Collection glistening from Meghan’s ears, neckline or wrists. Although the Queen often loans the family jewels to her relatives, she supposedly refuses to do so with the Duchess. According to an insider who spoke to The Sun in 2019, “The Queen likes Meghan personally,” but she “is showing that maintaining the correct order and precedence within the family is important. Even if Meghan is the most popular woman in the world, she is of a lower rank than Kate [Middleton].”
18. The Brazilian Aquamarine tiara gives a glimpse into the Queen’s personal style
The majority of the jewelry in Queen Elizabeth’s collection has been passed down from the royals who reigned before her. As such, she hasn’t had much of a chance to pick out or design accessories for herself. The Brazilian Aquamarine tiara is an exception, though. It all started with a gift that inspired the monarch to make a special crown of her own.
First, Queen Elizabeth II received an aquamarine necklace from the people and president of Brazil in honor of her 1953 coronation. The stunning gift inspired a third piece that the monarch added to the collection herself – a matching tiara set on a bandeau base, flecked throughout with blue gems and diamonds. Most excitingly, though, this crown is something she commissioned herself, meaning it’s a reflection of her personal taste and style – not a precious heirloom like the rest.
17. Choker? That’s not in the current Queen’s taste
Speaking of heirlooms that the Queen wouldn’t have designed for herself, she has long held Queen Mary’s Art Deco Emerald Choker in her collection. Held it, of course, because the reigning monarch does not like to wear this style of neckwear. After she inherited the precious piece – which features precious gems gifted to her grandmother – she kept it in the vault for nearly three decades.
However, by 1981 the Queen had a new family member who could – and would – pull off an emerald choker. So she gifted the Art Deco piece to Lady Diana Spencer when she married Prince Charles. And the Princess of Wales wore the stunning deep-green piece often, perhaps most famously as a bandeau across her forehead at a Melbourne, Australia, event. After Lady Di’s untimely death, though, the piece returned to the Queen’s vault.
16. Meghan’s ring tells a bit of her love story with Prince Harry
Talk about a date night. Back when Prince Harry courted Meghan Markle, the royal must have wanted to sweep the actress off of her feet. There’s no other explanation for U.K. tabloid The Sun’s report that he flew her to Botswana to camp in the African bush – on their third meeting. Later on, that rendezvous would inspire the design for a very important piece of jewelry: Meghan’s engagement ring.
Prince Harry chose a diamond from Botswana to feature at the center of Meghan’s stunning engagement ring, a nod to their very special date. But that wasn’t the only sentimental feature he worked into the design. He also plucked two diamonds from his late mother’s collection and had them added to either side of the African gem. Clearly, the Duchess of Sussex is not the only one in her marriage who likes sentimental jewelry.
15. The Diamond Diadem is more than just a postage stamp-worthy crown
King George IV spared no expense for his 1821 coronation. The entire soiree cost £230,000, the equivalent of more than £25 million – or about $34 million – today. One major element of the ceremony was the Diamond Diadem, a new crown that he commissioned. And, perhaps unsurprisingly, it flaunted an extravagant 12,000 of the glimmering gems.
But the design of the Diamond Diadem said more about the King than the fact that he had deep pockets. Each spray of this magnificent crown features an emblem representing one of the four countries within the United Kingdom: England, Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales. It makes sense, then, that the Queen wears this one often – it’s even the headpiece that she’s wearing on many U.K. stamps that feature her silhouette.
14. The Cullinan V diamond brooch is a chip off the biggest diamond in history
Imagine descending into the depths of a dark mine, hacking into the wall and striking something – a 3,106 carat diamond. A story similar to that one unfolded in Pretoria, South Africa, in 1905, when miners uncovered what’s now known as the Cullinan diamond. At the time of its discovery, this sparkler measured in at three times larger than any diamond found before it. The prime minister of the then-British colony in South Africa decided to pass the massive stone on to King Edward VII as a show of loyalty to the monarch.
The Cullinan diamond was, of course, much too large to polish and shape into one single gemstone. Instead, jewelers had to cleave it into two pieces before breaking it down further into nine principal stones. Cullinan V, an 18.8-carat diamond, sits at the center of its namesake brooch. Look a bit closer at it, and you’ll realize it comes in a sweet heart shape too.
13. The Queen’s rubies may have made a secret political statement
Queen Elizabeth got some pretty unfathomable gifts when she married Prince Philip in 1947. From the people of Myanmar, for example, the monarch received a set of gorgeous rubies – imagine getting a bag of priceless gems on your wedding day. Nearly 30 years later, she had the House of Garrard jewelers transform the glittering red stones into the tiara, necklace and earring set she often wears.
Now you’re probably wondering where the political statement part comes in. The Queen donned her rubies when U.S. President Donald Trump came for a state dinner in 2019. Meanwhile, House of Garrard – the jewelry maker that created the monarch’s pieces – shared via Instagram that the rubies were gifted from Myanmar as “a symbol of protection against illness and evil.” Now let’s consider why she wore them for that specific visitor. It could be a coincidence, of course…
12. The longstanding legacy of the Prince Albert brooch
On the day before her 1840 wedding to Prince Albert, Queen Victoria received a glittering gift from her beau. It was a sapphire and diamond brooch that the bride-to-be loved so much that she decided to make a last-minute adjustment to her wedding get-up – she wore the brooch at the center of her gown.
Queen Victoria obviously cherished the gift from her betrothed, but it didn’t become clear how much she loved it until she passed away. In her will, she deemed the Prince Albert brooch to be an heirloom of the crown. That meant that whoever succeeded her on the English throne would also get the sapphire stunner. As such, every queen or queen consort since has worn the bauble.
11. Princess Margaret’s Poltimore tiara broke with family tradition
If you’re a member of the royal family, you wear jewelry from the monarch’s collection on your wedding day – that’s just tradition. Yet one person decided not to follow that rule. The notoriously rebellious Princess Margaret could have donned an heirloom crown for her May 1960 nuptials, but she opted to wear the Poltimore tiara, which she had purchased for herself.
Princess Margaret’s crown got its name from its original owner, Lady Poltimore, who had the extravagant piece designed by Garrard in 1870. Ninety years later, the bride-to-be opted to wear it for her wedding because its lofty design added inches atop her head and made her look taller. Sadly, the piece is no longer part of the royal collection: Margaret’s children sold it after her death for $1.7 million.
10. Princess Diana’s famous sapphire choker had more humble beginnings
Marrying into the royal family means you get some pretty spectacular wedding gifts. When Princess Diana joined the family, the Queen Mother handed over a brooch that featured a sparkling oval sapphire at its center. The newlywed wore it as intended a few times but quickly had the piece redesigned into something even more eye-catching.
The Princess of Wales had the brooch made into the clasp of a new choker, a sparkly accent on top of seven strands of pearls. She famously donned the redesigned piece on a 1985 visit to the White House, during which she hit the dance floor with actor John Travolta. It appeared again in 1994 as part of Diana’s so-called “revenge dress,” which she wore after her husband admitted public to his infidelities.
9. Kate Middleton’s secret wedding-day ode to her family
It has been almost ten years since Kate Middleton married Prince William, but royal watchers will remember her classic look on the day in 2011. Among the perfect little details was a pair of earrings, which looked like simple drop diamonds at first glance. But the Queen-to-be’s baubles contained a secret ode to her side of the family.
Before their daughter married the future king of England, Carole and Michael Middleton had the chance to design a family coat of arms. They incorporated acorn sprigs to represent their trio of children, as well as a pair of white chevrons to honor the family’s shared affinity for skiing. It was the former detail that inspired Kate’s wedding-day earrings, which she received as a gift from her parents. Upon closer inspection, you’ll see that they contained oak leaves and dangling pavé acorns.
8. Almost all of the royal wedding bands come from the same lump of gold
As you’ve certainly gathered by now, the royal family has many traditions when it comes to jewelry. One we haven’t yet mentioned is the unspoken rule about wedding bands. Everyone on the Windsor family tree gets their simple, sun-colored rings made from the same piece of Welsh gold.
Of course, there’s always someone willing to break the royal rules. This time, it’s Princess Beatrice, who steered clear of the family’s go-to gold wedding bands when she married Edoardo Mapelli Mozzi in 2020. Instead, she chose a platinum and diamond ring, one that featured both Art Deco and Victorian design elements – a far cry from the plain pieces that everyone else in the monarchy wears.
7. Meghan’s wedding tiara had a hidden detail
Imagine perusing the royal collection to choose the tiara you want to wear on your wedding day. Meghan Markle did just that ahead of her 2018 nuptials, an experience that she described as “incredibly surreal” on the audio guide at a Windsor Castle exhibition. The sparkler she chose was Queen Mary’s art deco tiara, which the queen had made in 1932.
Now a closer look at this stunning tiara reveals a particularly big and sparkly diamond at its center. Of course, there’s a story here. Queen Mary received that rock as a wedding present herself, but, at the time, it was a brooch. Four decades after her nuptials, she had a headpiece designed to flaunt the massive diamond in a new way. And nearly 90 years after that, the Duchess of Sussex chose to wear that very crown on her wedding day.
6. The dark history of the Queen’s Belgian Sapphire tiara
Queen Elizabeth received sapphire earrings and a matching necklace from her father, King George VI, in celebration of her 1947 wedding. But the monarch came to realize that the set felt incomplete without a tiara, so she sourced one from Belgium. As it turned out, the glittering, blue-flecked crown was up for sale for a very sad reason.
It all started with Princess Louise, who wed Prince Ferdinand Philipp of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha in 1875. She didn’t find much happiness in her union, though, and had several dalliances outside of her marriage. In 1895 one of her affairs – with Count Geza Mattachich from the Austrian army’s Croatian contingent – had turned into true love. By leaving her husband, though, she caused so much of a ruckus that the princess had to flee to Paris with her beau. And there she fell so far into debt that her royal jewelry had to be sold. That’s how the Belgian sapphire tiara became part of the royal collection – the Queen purchased it in the 1960s.
5. Princess Diana chose The Spencer Tiara over one from the Queen’s collection
On her wedding day, Princess Diana could have worn a classic crown from the Queen’s collection – more on that later. But the bride-to-be opted to wear an heirloom piece from her family’s collection instead. Garrard designed The Spencer Tiara, as it’s called, in the 1930s, and the late royal’s family continues to wear it for special occasions.
Queen Elizabeth had given her daughter-in-law the Cambridge Lover’s Knot tiara to wear on the day of her wedding. But Diana found the piece to be too heavy, and that’s why she opted for her family’s daintier tiara instead. Still, the Princess of Wales would go on to wear the queen’s crown to other events, transforming the cumbersome piece into a fan favorite. So when Kate Middleton wore it in 2015, people were thrilled to see it again.
4. The mysterious crown that resurfaced at Princess Eugenie’s 2018 wedding
Perhaps the most stunning detail of Princess Eugenie’s wedding-day look was the glittering emerald crown atop her head. This particular piece has Russian roots, hinted by the name of its design. The kokoshnik tiara, as it’s called, draws inspiration from headdresses that Russian peasants used to wear.
Made in 1919, this particular kokoshnik tiara once belonged to socialite Margaret Greville, who gifted it to the Queen Mother. But the royal recipient didn’t wear the piece – in fact, no one had seen it for a century until Princess Eugenie wore it for her wedding. She may be the first-ever royal to have worn the tiara in public, making its appearance at her wedding all the more special.
3. The Vladimir tiara has ties to the ill-fated Princess Anastasia
Some say that the Vladimir tiara is one of Queen Elizabeth’s favorites, but it’s not your typical English heirloom. No, this tiara – which can feature either drop emeralds or pearls – came from Russia, reportedly part of the Duchess Vladimir’s impressive collection. She was married to the uncle of Tsar Nicholas II, the father of the infamously ill-fated Princess Anastasia.
After the Russian Revolution – during which Anastasia was murdered – Duchess Vladimir had to sell all of her jewelry to restart her life. One piece that had to go was her namesake tiara, which Queen Mary scooped up from the former Russian royal. And it was she who decided to make the crown more versatile by making the drop pearls removable and replaceable with drop emeralds.
2. The controversy behind Princess Diana’s engagement ring
Princess Diana’s engagement ring has become one of the most famous baubles in the world. It features a large oval-cut sapphire surrounded by 14 solitaire diamonds – an impressive design to the public. But to the royal family, the ring didn’t quite fit the bill, as far as their family’s accessories were concerned.
The problem with Diana’s engagement ring? It hadn’t been made especially for her. Instead, she picked the deep-blue stunner from a selection provided by Garrard, and it just so happened to be one featured in the jeweler’s catalogue. Anyone else could have bought it – and that’s why it wasn’t special enough to be on a princess’s finger.
1. … And the sweet way in which it ended up on Kate Middleton’s finger
Nowadays, Princess Diana’s iconic sapphire sits on Kate Middleton’s ring finger – and the way it got there is truly heartwarming. The Princess of Wales’s former butler, Paul Burrell, told the tale in a 2017 Amazon documentary called The Diana Story. First, he said that the late royal’s sons, William and Harry, got a chance to choose one piece of her jewelry to keep after her death in 1997.
According to Burrell, William got to go first, and he selected his mother’s Cartier watch, which she had gotten from Prince Charles to mark her 21st birthday. Harry chose second and picked Diana’s sapphire engagement ring. Years later, though, it ended up on Kate Middleton’s finger when she got engaged to Prince William. That all came down to Harry’s generosity, Burrell revealed. He remembered Harry saying, “Wouldn’t it be fitting if she had Mummy’s ring? Then one day that ring will be sat on the throne of England.” Clearly, his brother agreed – and now the future queen wears the iconic bauble.