There aren’t many royal tiara appearances as iconic as this one: Diana, Princess of Wales wearing her famous “Elvis Dress” with gorgeous heirloom diamonds and pearls.
On November 8, 1989, the Prince and Princess of Wales attended a special reception and concert at Hong Kong’s new cultural center. The engagement was part of a three-day tour of the city, which was then a British territory.
For the event, Diana wore an ensemble that was destined to become an instant classic: a white silk strapless column gown by Catherine Walker, with a matching bolero jacket, all embroidered with sequins and oyster pearls. The dress had been specially commissioned by Diana for the Hong Kong visit. She quickly nicknamed the piece the “Elvis Dress,” because the jacket’s tall collar resembled the high collars of Elvis’s jumpsuits in the later years of his career.
Here’s a closer look at the details of the jacket and dress. The embroidery was done by S. Lock Ltd., a British firm. Though the ensemble was made specifically for the Hong Kong tour, Diana actually wore the dress and jacket once before the trip, for the British Fashion Awards at the Royal Albert Hall in October 1989. On that occasion, she wore simpler jewels: no tiara, just a pair of petite diamond and pearl earrings. Later, she wore the jacket and dress for a formal portrait, and in 1990, she wore the strapless dress without the jacket (paired with her famous sapphire, diamond, and pearl choker necklace) for a banquet in Hungary.
For the Hong Kong outing, Diana piled on the pearls. She wore Queen Mary’s Lover’s Knot Tiara, which had been offered to her as a long-term loan at the time of her wedding in the summer of 1981. Diana reportedly didn’t love wearing this tiara, because she disliked the noise of the pearls clacking against the diamond frame, and supposedly because the weight of the piece gave her headaches. Regardless, it was the only tiara with royal provenance that she wore during her marriage.
She also wore the Collingwood Pearl Drop Earrings for the concert. These were a wedding gift to Diana from Collingwood in 1981. They’re extremely classic and beautiful pearl drop earrings, but they got lost a bit against the high collar of the jacket on this outing.
And finally, she added her Three-Stranded Pearl Bracelet, which features diamond spacer elements. The bracelet was a newer addition to her jewelry collection. Made by Nigel Milne in 1988, the piece was part of a range supporting Birthright, one of Diana’s charitable patronages which supporting mothers and babies. And finally, you’ll spot her iconic sapphire engagement ring and her wedding band on her left hand.
All of the jewels worn for this occasion—the tiara, the earrings, the bracelet, and even the engagement ring—are now worn by Diana’s daughter-in-law, the Duchess of Cambridge. As for the dress, it was one of many that she decided to auction for charity in the spring of 1997. The gown and the coordinating jacket were purchased by the Franklin Mint, an American company that sells collectibles. They produced a range of Diana dolls featuring mini replicas of the ensemble, as well as other collectible items, before donating the original dress and jacket to the Victoria & Albert Museum in London in 2006.