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Video: The story of Princess Di’s sapphire ring

  1. Transcript of: The story of Princess Di’s sapphire ring

    MATT LAUER, co-host: More now on the royal engagement. Prince William proposed to Kate Middleton using his mother's engagement ring . And it's getting nearly as much attention as the happy couple. Here's NBC's Lee Cowan.

    LEE COWAN reporting: The only thing more dazzling that the bride-to-be's smile was Kate Middleton 's left hand. Her engagement ring is blinding, even without the flashbulbs, an 18-carat sapphire blooming out of a garden of diamonds.

    Ms. KATE MIDDLETON: Well, I just hope I look after it.

    COWAN: It is a lot to look after, especially given its former owner. Princess Diana , then Lady Diana , picked the ring out herself back in 1981 for her engagement to Prince Charles . But, oh, what a scandal. People scoffed, including the royal family, that the future princess chose a ring out of a catalog instead of having one custom-made. A mere $60,000 it cost. But Princess Di had an eye for style even then and that commoner sapphire has born her name ever since. Do people still refer to it as a Princess Diana sapphire?

    Mr. MARTIN KATZ (Martin Katz Jewelers): That style of ring, 100 percent. That's the Princess Di ring.

    COWAN: She wore it even after her divorce from Prince Charles . And for her son, the future king, there's isn't a crown jewel more valuable.

    Prince WILLIAM: Obviously she's not going to be around to sharing the fun and excitement of all this. This is my way of keeping her sort of close to it all.

    COWAN: It was tucked away in Prince William 's rucksack, as he put it, for three weeks in Africa before he finally popped the question.

    Prince WILLIAM: I literally would not let it go. Everywhere I went I was keeping hold of it because I knew this thing if it disappeared I'd be in a lot of trouble.

    COWAN: Comparisons between Kate Middleton and Princess Diana are inevitable. She's already become the most photographed woman in Britain .

    Mr. ROBERT JOBSON (Royal Editor, News of the World): She's got to be quite media savvy to be a 21st century princess and she's shown that she is quite able to embrace a lot of problems, like dealing with paparazzis and things like that.

    COWAN: And just like another princess, Kate is already setting trends.

    Mr. KATZ: Sapphires are back in.

    COWAN: Just in time for the holidays, guys. Our wallets are already on painful notice. For TODAY, Lee Cowan, NBC News, Los Angeles .

    MEREDITH VIEIRA, co-host: And we're learning today that that ring was actually in Prince Harry 's possession. After Princess Diana died, he asked for that ring as a memento. And his brother, William , actually asked for a watch, Cartier watch.

    LAUER: That's right . And then Harry apparently decided that the ring should be in the possession or on the finger of the future queen of England . And so he gave it to Prince William to give to Kate Middleton .

Image: Prince Charles and Lady Diana Spencer
Str  /  EPA file
This February 1981 photo shows then Lady Diana Spencer and Prince Charles on the day their engagement was announced. In it Diana wears the sapphire engagement ring with which her son William proposed to Kate Middleton.
TODAY staff and wire
updated 11/16/2010 12:05:51 PM ET 2010-11-16T17:05:51

It was among the first questions asked after news of the engagement hit the press: What does Kate Middleton’s engagement ring look like?

That evening at St. James’s Palace, the world finally got a glimpse of a ring that looked familiar: The 18-carat oval sapphire surrounded by diamonds was the one worn by Princess Diana.

"I just hope I look after it," Middleton said on Tuesday.

Diana chose the ring from several shown to her in 1981 for her engagement to Prince Charles. But her choice at the time didn’t come without a scandal.

Scoffers — including some in the royal family — said that the future princess had chosen a ring that anyone could buy, instead of having one custom-made. At the time, it cost $60,000.

But Princess Di had an eye for style even then, and that “commoner's sapphire” has borne her name ever since. She wore it even after her divorce from Prince Charles.

Video: The story of Princess Di’s sapphire ring (on this page) After Diana’s death, the ring reportedly came into Prince Harry’s possession, while William inherited a Cartier watch. Harry apparently then decided that the ring should be on the finger of the future queen of England and gave it to William to give to his fiancee.

"Obviously, she's not going to be around to share in any of the fun and excitement of it all, so this is my way of keeping her sort of close to it all," William said of his late mother in a joint interview with Middleton on Tuesday.

Before leaving on the trip to Kenya during which he proposed to Kate, William took the ring from a royal safe in what Britain’s Daily Mail newspaper described as a “cloak-and-dagger” operation.

William carried the ring around with him in his “rucksack” for three weeks in Africa before he finally popped the question.

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"I literally would not let it go. Everywhere I went, I was keeping ahold of it because I knew, this thing, if it disappeared, I’d be in a lot of trouble," he said.

Royal blue
During Kate and William’s interview on British TV a few hours after news of their engagement was announced, the dazzling sapphire was set off nicely by the navy silk jersey dress Kate wore with simple black pumps. The dress was by London-based fashion label Issa, Middleton’s favorite designer.

“I’m very happy that she has chosen to wear Issa today,” Daniella Helayel, an Issa designer and friend of Middleton’s, told People magazine Tuesday. The choice fueled speculation that Middleton may wear Issa on her wedding day.

Minutes after the ring was unveiled, jewelry stores around the world started getting calls.

Image:
Frank Franklin Ii  /  AP
Frank Soto works on a replica of the engagement ring Prince William gave to Kate Middleton at Natural Sapphire Co. in New York. Minutes after the world first saw the ring, the phones started ringing off the hook at the Manhattan jewelry maker.

“I called my wife and said, ‘Honey, I’m not coming home tonight!’ ” said Michael Arnstein, the CEO of New York’s Natural Sapphire Co. “We’re in a frenzy. This is changing our business overnight.”

A history of British royal weddings

The company took calls from Britain, Canada, the United States and elsewhere requesting replicas of the ring.

“It’s the biggest news for our company since Princess Diana received her sapphire,” said Arnstein, adding that after Diana’s engagement to Charles, the same ring also was responsible for a surge in business.

“Now, it’s turned into a legacy,” he said.

He planned to work into the night, asking his employees to stay as long as possible. Accounting for international time differences, more calls from Asia were likely to follow.

Most customers couldn’t afford an exact copy of the royal ring: The sapphire alone is worth about $300,000 retail, and the whole ring about a half-million dollars, Arnstein estimated. Using high-tech, 3-D computer software and modeling machines, he’s producing replicas costing mostly $1,000 to $2,500 using 1- or 2-carat certified sapphires surrounded by tiny diamonds also set in 18-karat white gold.

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“They’re just as beautiful," said Arnstein, who’s so immersed in the specialty gems that he even stocks his company bathrooms with bottles of the Elizabeth Taylor-tagged perfume Diamonds & Sapphires.

He also sells sapphires to other jewelers — including a 69-carat one the size of a quail’s egg that’s worth more than $1 million.

Sapphires are rarer than diamonds but less expensive because demand for them is lower. They’re especially beloved in Britain and its former colonies, including Sri Lanka, which Arnstein plans to visit soon to buy more of the sapphires mined there — expecting an uptick in demand through the holidays.

  

The Associated Press contributed to this article.

Photos: A royal couple's long courtship

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  1. William and Kate

    On April 29, 2011, Prince William and Kate Middleton were married, eight years after they first met at university. The prince popped the question five months earlier to his longtime girlfriend during a vacation to Kenya. Take a look at their top moments.

    Official wedding photo The online version of the royal wedding's official program includes a never-before-seen portrait of the couple, shot by Mario Testino. Testino also shot their official engagement pics. (Mario Testino / Art Partner) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. A pre-wedding outing

    Kate Middleton, or the Duchess of Cambridge as she is known after the wedding, waves as she walks with Prince William in Darwen, England, on April 11, less than three weeks until the royal wedding. (Chris Jackson / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. Royal couple mania!

    Excited fans line up to see Prince William and his fiancee Kate Middleton arrive at the Darwen Aldridge Community Academy in Darwen, England, on April 11. The prince was in the town to officially open the school. (Lindsey Parnaby / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. Weather or not

    Heavy rain didn't prevent Kate Middleton and Prince William from thrilling the crowd that gathered to see them as they arrive at the Darwen Aldridge Community Academy in northern England on April 11. (Phil Noble / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. A perfect flip

    Prince William looks on as Kate Middleton tosses a pancake during a visit to City Hall on March 8, 2011, in Belfast, Northern Ireland. (Indigo / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. Wedding blooms

    Britain's Prince William and his fiancee, Kate Middleton, speak to wedding florist Rachel Gibson during a visit to the Greenmount Agriculture & Food College, in Antrim, Northern Ireland, on March 8, 2011. (Paul Faith / Pool via Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. Remembering Christchurch

    Prince William looks on as his fiancée Kate Middleton signs the book of condolence in memory of those who lost their lives in the Christchurch earthquake at the New Zealand High Commission in London. (David Parker / WPA Pool via Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. Romantic homecoming

    Prince William and Kate Middleton returned to the university where they met and fell in love on Feb. 25 with an official visit to St. Andrews on the east coast of Scotland. (Danny Lawson / WPA Pool via Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. Pouring some bubbly

    Prince William and his blushing bride-to-be Kate Middleton performed a bit of royal duty, making a rare public appearance in Anglesey, Wales to christen Trearddur Bay Lifeboat Station’s brand new lifeboat, the "Hereford Endeavour" on Feb. 24, 2011. (Phil Noble / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. Official engagement portraits

    The couple pose in their official engagement portraits, taken by photographer Mario Testino in the Cornwall Room at St James's Palace in London on Nov. 25, 2010. (Mario Testino / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. Engaged at last

    William and Kate pose for the media at St. James's Palace in London on Nov. 16, after they announced their engagement. The couple are to wed April 29, 2011. (Kirsty Wigglesworth / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. Diana's ring

    This close-up shows that the engagement ring Prince William gave Kate Middleton was the one that had belonged to his mother, Princess Diana. The ring is an oval sapphire surrounded by diamonds. (Paul Hackett / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  13. Royal couple

    Months of speculation about William and Kate's engagement grew more intense when the couple attended Harry Meade and Rosie Bradford's wedding at the Church of St. Peter and St. Paul on Oct. 23, 2010, in Northleach near Cheltenham, England. (Indigo via Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  14. Chic chapeau

    In an eye-catching hat, Kate Middleton attends the wedding of Nicholas van Cutsem and Alice at The Guards Chapel, Wellington Barracks on Aug. 14, 2009, in London. Middleton had been named to Vanity Fair's international best-dressed list in July 2008. (Indigo via Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  15. Wedding guests

    Prince William and Kate Middleton attend the wedding of friend Chiara Hunt in Salzburg, Austria, on Sept. 6, 2008. Two years and two months later, it was announced that the prince and his longtime girlfriend had finally become engaged. (Ikon Pictures via Rex USA) Back to slideshow navigation
  16. A jolly good time

    Prince Harry, Prince William's girlfriend Kate Middleton, and Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall laugh together as they watch the Order of the Garter procession at Windsor Castle on June 16, 2008. (Tim Graham / Pool via Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  17. Together again

    Prince William and Kate Middleton at a Royal Air Force graduation ceremony held at RAF Cranwell, England on April 11, 2008. Middleton's accompanying the prince as he was awarded his RAF wings was a clear indication that the couple had reconciled after a widely reported split a year earlier. (Michael Dunlea / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  18. A day at the races

    Kate Middleton attends a horse race at the Cheltenham Festival in Gloucestershire, western England, in this March 16, 2007, photograph. (Eddie Keogh / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  19. On the slopes

    Prince William and Kate Middleton were spotted skiing in Klosters, Switzerland, on March 19, 2008, one of a number of public appearances together that showed that they had reconciled after a reported April 2007 breakup. (Rex USA) Back to slideshow navigation
  20. They're off!

    Prince William and Kate Middleton on the first day of the Cheltenham Race Festival in Gloucestershire, on March 13, 2007. One month later, the media reported that Middleton and the prince had broken up. (Stephen Lock / Rex USA) Back to slideshow navigation
  21. Separate seats

    Prince Harry (front left) and Prince William (on Harry's left) are clearly enjoying a performance at the Concert for Diana at Wembley Stadium in London on July 1, 2007. So is Kate Middleton (upper right corner). At the time, rumor had it that William and Kate had reconciled after their split in April 2007, but they sat separately, insisting that they were "just good friends." (Leon Neal / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  22. Sports fans

    Prince William and Kate Middleton attend a rugby match in London in this Feb. 10, 2007, photo. (Richard Heathcote / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  23. Paparazzi prey

    Photographers snap pictures of Kate Middleton as she leaves her Chelsea home on Jan. 9, 2007, her 25th birthday. The growing media attention that she attracted at this time prompted warnings to the press from Prince Charles, Prince William and Middleton's lawyers. As a result, two newspaper groups decided to cease publishing paparazzi photos of Middleton. (Solo via ZUMA Press) Back to slideshow navigation
  24. Lady in red

    Kate Middleton arrives at the Sovereign's Parade at The Royal Military Academy in Camberley, west of London, on Dec. 15, 2006. (Ben Gurr / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  25. Guest of honor

    Kate Middleton is seen at the wedding of Laura Parker Bowles and Harry Lopes at St Cyriac's Church, Lacock on May 6, 2006, in Wiltshire, England. (Tim Graham / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  26. Model behavior

    Kate Middleton models on the catwalk at a student fashion show attended by Prince William on March 26, 2002, in St. Andrews, Scotland. The prince reportedly paid 200 pounds to sit in the first row and watch Middleton model a sheer dress over a black bandeau and bikini bottoms. (M Neilson / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  27. Heads on a platter

    In November 2006, British retailer Woolworths showed a china plate representing Prince William and Kate Middleton as a commemorative gift for their wedding. Four years later the prediction finally came true when the royal family announced that the couple were engaged. (Woolworths via EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
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  1. Mario Testino / Art Partner
    Above: Slideshow (27) A royal couple’s long courtship
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    Slideshow (51) The lives of princes
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    Jayne Fincher/Getty; Davidson/O'Neill/Rex via InStyle.com
    Slideshow (13) Kate Middleton’s princess style

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