18 December 2020

Princess Diana's Sapphire and Pearl Choker Necklace

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One of the pieces of royal jewelry that I'm asked about most frequently is the iconic sapphire, diamond, and pearl choker necklace worn by the late Diana, Princess of Wales. Today, I've got the story of the long-hidden necklace for you—plus some speculation about where we might see it next.


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The large sapphire and diamond cluster, one of Diana's most sparkling wedding presents, was a gift from her new grandmother-in-law. In The Royal Jewels, fashion historian Suzy Menkes described the piece: "The Queen Mother's wedding present to Diana was a duck egg of a sapphire, surrounded by a double row of diamonds and mounted as a brooch." One of Diana's first public appearances in the jewels came in February 1982, when she wore the brooch pinned to the lace trim of her Belleville Sassoon dress for a dinner at 11 Downing Street in honor of the British Film Institute.


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A few months later, Diana wore the brooch at Hampton Court Palace for a banquet in honor of Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands. She used the diamond and sapphire cluster to secure the sash of the Order of the Crown, which she received from Queen Beatrix during the state visit. She also wore the Lover's Knot Tiara, the Queen's Japanese Pearl Choker Necklace, and the Bahrain Pearl Drop Earrings for the dinner. 


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Diana wasn't a frequent brooch-wearer, and at some point the sapphire and diamond cluster was adapted so that it could be worn as the clasp of a seven-stranded pearl choker necklace.


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Diana wore the new necklace setting of the piece for a famous visit to the White House in Washington, D.C., in November 1985. The dinner, hosted by President and Mrs. Reagan, was a star-studded '80s event. Above, you can see Diana wearing the necklace as she meets Tom Selleck.


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The details of the new necklace are clear in this photograph of Diana dancing with President Reagan in Cross Hall at the White House.


White House Photographic Collection/Wikimedia Commons


But, of course, we'll all remember this necklace, dress, and event mostly because of Diana's famous dance with John Travolta.


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Though the sapphire cluster was adapted to be worn as part of the pearl choker necklace, the change was not an irreversible one. On at least one more occasion, Diana wore the piece again as a brooch. Here, in February 1986, she wears the brooch pinned to the neckline of her blue velvet dress for a charity gala concert of selections by Beethoven at the Royal Academy of Arts in London.


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But Diana mostly wore the cluster in the necklace setting—and she wore it this way often throughout the rest of her marriage and afterward. Above, in the summer of 1991, she wears the necklace with a blue fringed dress for a concert at the Royal Albert Hall in London. Diana usually paired the necklace with one of her two pairs of sapphire and diamond cluster and drop earrings.


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Diana's final appearance in the necklace came in December 1996, when she wore it at the Met Gala in New York, which she attended with a friend, Harper's Bazaar editor Liz Tilberis. The sapphire cluster was one of Diana's personally-owned pieces of jewelry, so it was almost certainly inherited by her sons after her death in 1997. We haven't seen it in public in 24 years. My guess is that the Duchess of Cambridge will be the next person to wear the sapphire and diamond cluster, either in necklace or brooch form, in public, as she also now wears Diana's famous sapphire and diamond cluster engagement ring, as well as the Queen Mother's sapphire and diamond fringe earrings. The three pieces would make a lovely little married demi-parure for Kate, don't you think?