TODAY   |  November 17, 2010

The story of Princess Di’s sapphire ring

In 1981, Prince William’s mother, Princess Diana, caused a stir when she picked out the 18-carat sapphire ring for her engagement. Now, her son’s wedding announcement adds more lore to the ring. NBC’s Lee Cowan reports.

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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 .