More than 20 years since she passed away, the “Diana effect” is still as strong as ever. Season four of The Crown invited viewers to see a version of her rise to fame and revisit the unforgettable occasions, the beauty and the style that lead to her rise as one of the most iconic 20th century figures, and the new film Spencer starring Kristen Stewart as “The People’s Princess” is getting rave reviews and Oscar buzz.
Like nearly every fairy tale princess, Princess Diana had a marked love for jewels: diamonds, pearls, sapphires, emeralds, aquamarines… She chose to champion these gemstones in bold and beautiful pieces of jewelry.
But as the 1980s got into full swing, Diana developed a penchant for refashioning them; she began to style chokers as headbands, transform brooches into statement necklaces, turned tiaras into necklaces and beyond. It was this kind of rule breaking and trend setting that ranks her among our favorite fashion icons to this day.
Princess Diana and the Art of Transforming Diamonds
Transforming jewelry is a well-established practice. Back in the early 1800s, Empress Joséphine, who made the tiara fashionable, had a suite of diamond-encrusted pieces that could convert it in a myriad of ways.
However Diana did it in a way that was simply daring, effortlessly turning tiaras into necklaces or breaking them down into smaller pieces, such as pendants or clips.
Beanie Major, London based engagement ring consultant, who specializes in helping clients to find or commission their perfect engagement ring says, “Diamonds are treasured, passed down through generations, given to loved ones. Bought and sold, lost and found, forgotten and rediscovered, re-set and redesigned.”
Major continues, “Design trends in jewelry change from generation to generation. I work with many clients who want to rework their engagement ring or an engagement ring they have inherited because it doesn’t feel like them. The design completely changes, but the constant is the diamond. It never ceases to amaze me how many different ways you could set the same diamond—there is so much value in that. It will be adored by every generation, no matter how they choose to set it.”
There is certainly a special type of joy connected with transforming diamonds. Shaun Leane, the jewelry designer who famously created Princess Beatrice’s engagement ring, says, “The longevity of a diamond is timeless, therefore when I redesign family heirlooms using these beautiful materials for my bespoke collectors, it fills me with joy to know I am continuing the story and history of that precious stone.”
Lisa Levinson, Head of Marketing and Communications UK at Natural Diamond Council says, “Each diamond is valuable. Diamonds have a rich history as family treasures with powerful emotional value reaching across generations. Diamonds are heirlooms that are given from parents to children to grandchildren. We feel the presence of Princess Diana seeing her daughters-in-law wearing her diamonds. Her diamonds connect them in a way that warms our hearts.”
Diana’s Transformational Diamond Moments
The Spencer Diamond Tiara
On her wedding day, unlike more recent royal brides, Lady Diana did not wear one of the very many tiaras belonging to her new family; she wore her own family’s Spencer Tiara. Almost a century old, the all-diamond tiara is actually made up of other pieces of jewelry all gifted to Diana’s grandmother, Lady Cynthia Hamilton, who in 1937, called upon Garrard Jewelers to remount the pieces with new elements, resulting in the delicate floral diadem we see today. Diana wore this family heirloom throughout her life and unlike many of her jewels, after her passing it was returned to her brother to remain in the Spencer family.
Princess Diana’s Sapphire and Diamond Engagement Ring
Up until her wedding day, the only major piece of jewelry we saw Lady Diana Spencer wearing was her enormous 12 carat sapphire engagement ring surrounded by 14 solitaire diamonds and set in 18 carat white gold. It is without doubt the most famous diamond and sapphire ring ever created, particularly now that the Duchess of Cambridge wears it as her own.
Queen Mary’s Art Deco Emerald & Diamond Choker
During a Royal tour of Australia in 1985, Diana improvised a tiara by wearing an exquisite Art Deco emerald and diamond choker as forehead adornment, a style statement that caused quite a stir and made headlines all over the world. It was an early glimpse of the rule breaker in Diana.
The choker, once owned by Queen Mary, was created by Garrard in 1921 and is part of a bigger Cambridge Emerald Parure. It was inherited by the Queen in 1953, but since she didn’t wear chokers, it remained unworn for decades—until Diana brought it out into the light again in her own special way that defied convention. The last time Diana, Princess of Wales wore Queen Mary’s Art Deco Emerald choker was on her neck for her 36th birthday at the Tate Gallery in London in July 1997.
The Saudi Sapphire and Diamond Velvet Choker
Princess Diana once again caused another stir in 1989 when she styled a velvet choker as a head piece at the Imperial Palace in Tokyo in 1986. Her bold style statement sent ripples of excitement across the globe. She had refashioned the choker from two pieces—a ring and a watch—gifted to her as a wedding present by the then Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia. To complement Diana’s engagement ring, a suite of sapphires and diamonds was commissioned from Asprey by the Crown Prince. It comprised of a diamond and sapphire pendant suspended from a diamond necklace, a ring, earrings, a bracelet and a watch. The princess decided to transform the stones from the watch and ring to make four new pieces of jewelry, including the velvet choker which she wore many times. The last known appearance of the choker was at an event in Cardiff in 1995.
Princess Diana’s Sapphire and Diamond Seven-Strand Pearl Choker
A favorite piece of jewelry worn by Princess Diana throughout her life was the mesmerizing seven-strand pearl, sapphire, and diamond choker. It started life as a large oval sapphire and diamond brooch, given to Diana by the Queen Mother as a wedding gift. Diana decided to convert this rare and enormous stone into a magnificent neck piece that she wore with style and grace throughout her life. One of the earliest famous appearances was in 1985, when she wore the choker to dance with John Travolta at the White House.
The Cambridge Lovers Knot Tiara
The Cambridge Lovers Knot Tiara was commissioned by Queen Mary in 1913 and made by Garrard, the royal jewelers. Queen Mary wanted to create a tiara based on the design of one owned by her maternal grandmother Princess Augusta of Hesse, the Duchess of Cambridge, so she sacrificed a tiara and other diamonds and pearls from her own jewelry collection to make the piece which has been worn beautifully in recent years by The Duchess of Cambridge. Diana famously wore the Cambridge Lover’s Knot tiara in Hong Kong in November 1989 with her iconic Catherine Walker Elvis dress and then again in the early 90s for the iconoclastic photoshoot which produced the famous black and white photo of the Princess wearing a strapless dress along with the tiara and a megawatt smile that captured he rmost vulnerable and truthful beauty.