By Vennette Lailani Seprado
Sapphire, the September birthstone is coveted for its array of colors and durability. Along with other colored gemstones such as emeralds and rubies, sapphires have become popular alternatives to diamond engagement rings for symbolizing love, fidelity, and commitment. A holy stone given importance by members of the Catholic Church who believed that sapphires represented the heavens, it reached stratospheric popularity when the crown prince of England, Prince Charles proposed to a shy 19-year old named Lady Diana Spencer in February 1981.
Contrary to the romantic mystique that surrounded the young couple, the engagement was anything but. Much has been said about the life and tragic death of the princess but the way the proposal was laid out should have been a clear sign that all was not well from the very beginning. For starters, Prince Charles popped the question without a ring! Instead of presenting his future bride with a customary heirloom or bespoke piece, the prince gave the then Lady Diana a catalogue from Garrard (the Crown Jeweller at that time) to select a ring of her choice. The gesture raised a few eyebrows among royal watchers who felt that the future Queen of England should have been presented with something more unique, special and meaningful. The ring was later dubbed in popular media as “The Commoner’s Sapphire” not because Diana was a commoner but because the ring itself was readily available for public consumption.
To be fair, the seemingly ordinary (for royal standards) acquisition of the ring isn’t for something that was quite so ordinary at all. The ring in question was a massive 12-carat oval Ceylon Sapphire in the deepest blue shade surrounded by fourteen brilliant solitaires set in 18-karat white gold. The design was said to be inspired by Queen Victoria’s wedding brooch chosen for her by Prince Albert.
The ring reached iconic status as its wearer evolved from a romantic fairytale princess to a fashion force to be reckoned with. Widely photographed, Princess Diana continued to wear it even after her much-publicized divorce from Prince Charles.
After Princess Diana’s tragic demise in Paris in 1997, her sons Princes William and Harry selected mementos from their mother’s belongings. Harry initially chose the engagement ring while William opted for her Cartier gold watch. Upon learning of William’s planned proposal to longtime girlfriend Catherine Middleton, the brothers exchanged mementos. In August of 2010, Prince William proposed in Kenya with his mother’s iconic ring. The couple held a press conference to formally announce their engagement to the world with Kate, wearing a similarly colored dress to match and highlight the world’s most beloved engagement ring.
Today, the ring remains intact and unchanged, still dazzling social media-loving spectators. The “Commoner’s Sapphire” is now one of the world’s most recognizable and copied engagement ring styles. In 2010, when William and Kate announced their engagement, sales of sapphire engagement rings went through the roof once more. Jewelers all over the world frantically bought hoards of the blue gems to satisfy the public’s demand.