After the celebration of the Queen’s 21st birthday, she returned home for a particularly exciting new part of her life: the official announcement her upcoming marriage to Lieutenant Philip Mountbatten. And an engagement, of course, usually requires a ring!
Prince Philip of Greece and Denmark and Princess Elizabeth of the United Kingdom had known each other through family connections since childhood. Their paths undoubtedly crossed along the way, but their first meaningful meeting reportedly happened in 1939, during a visit by the royal family to the Royal Naval College at Dartmouth, where Philip was a cadet. Afterward, the teenagers began writing to each other, a correspondence that continued when Philip went to war a few years later. Eventually friendship and crushes turned to genuine romance. After the end of the war, both began thinking of marriage, and Philip proposed to Elizabeth during a holiday at Balmoral Castle in September 1946.
Elizabeth’s father, King George VI, agreed to give his blessing to their marriage, though he asked them to delay announcing their engagement until after the royal tour of South Africa, during which Elizabeth would celebrate her 21st birthday. They agreed to wait, but the public quickly began to suspect that something was up. In October 1946, the familiarity between the pair at the wedding of a mutual cousin, Lady Patricia Mountbatten, raised eyebrows. As agreed, though, the couple kept mum.
Meanwhile, preparations began behind the scenes to prepare for Philip’s integration into the British royal family. He agreed to become a British subject, divesting himself of his Greek and Danish royal titles to become simply Lieutenant Philip Mountbatten. While the royal family headed out on their African royal tour, Philip and his mother, Princess Andrew of Greece and Denmark, also began making plans to procure an engagement ring fit for a princess. Alice agreed to provide gemstones from one of little-used tiaras to make the ring.
Alice traveled to Paris, where she retrieved an aquamarine and diamond tiara from a bank vault. The tiara had been one of her own wedding gifts, a present from her uncle and aunt, Emperor Nicholas II and Empress Alexandra of Russia, in 1903. She’s pictured above wearing the tiara in a portrait, which dates to 1909. Now, she intended to have the jewel broken up so that some of the diamonds could be used to make an engagement ring for Elizabeth. Press scrutiny had become so intense by that point that Philip was too nervous to visit a jeweler, for fear that the news of the engagement would leak early. So it was Alice herself who worked with a jeweler, Philip Antrobus in Bond Street, to have the ring made for her future daughter-in-law.
In the spring of 1947, a three-carat diamond taken from Alice’s tiara was set in platinum, with additional smaller stones, to make a gorgeous engagement ring for the princess. “I think the ring is a great success,” Alice told her brother, Lord Mountbatten. More of the diamonds from the tiara were also used to make a fabulous wedding present for Philip to present to his bride.
Philip presented the ring to his future bride privately just before the official announcement of their engagement. In her controversial royal memoir, Marion Crawford remembers that Elizabeth came into her room early on the morning of July 9 to show off her new engagement ring. The ring was too large, Crawfie remembered, because “of course [Elizabeth] had been unable to go and try it on.”
But when Philip and Elizabeth stepped before the press cameras on July 10, 1947, the ring was sparkling beautifully on her left hand. The day of the engagement announcement was full of events, which you can read about in detail here. Elizabeth also wore one of her new 21st birthday presents, the Diamond Clematis Brooch, for the official photographs.
The Queen continued to wear the classic, beautiful ring for the rest of her life. With Romanov diamonds grand enough for a monarch, but a simple design that suited for a woman who preferred country pursuits, the ring fit its wearer perfectly.