Like with all things affected by fashion trends, engagement rings go in and out of style. However, several proposal bands from the last 100 years have managed to stand the test of time. Whether due to an unusual design or their sheer size and value, these rings have such breath-taking beauty that they are universally revered – and will continue to be coveted for decades to come.
Colourful gemstones for royalty
For centuries, the British monarchy has been committed to continuing conventional behaviour. It might surprise you to learn, therefore, that two of the most surprising engagement ring designs of the last century were selected by members of that royal family.
Most famous of these is Princess Diana’s Ceylon sapphire. Diamonds were a more traditional choice, but Diana picked out a large sapphire ring surrounded by smaller diamonds – from a catalogue rather than the collection of royal heirlooms.
Edward VIII, who famously abdicated the throne so that he could marry Wallis Simpson, echoed his rejection of the traditions of the crown in his choice of engagement ring. Edward, known then as the Duke of Windsor, commissioned a spectacular 20-carat emerald engagement ring from Cartier. This was considered a rebellious move as emeralds scratch much more easily than diamonds.
Jackie Kennedy’s art deco design
When you browse different styles of engagement ring, you will notice that most boast one large stone that is sometimes flanked by smaller stones. This is to maximise the sparkle of the gemstone. However, US President John F. Kennedy ignored this traditional design which led to Jackie Kennedy sporting one of the most unique engagement rings of the last century.
Jackie Kennedy’s art deco ring had two square cut stones of equal size offset against each other. One stone was diamond, the other emerald. Clusters of baguette diamonds in a floral pattern intertwined around the stones, with more diamonds on the band.
Dazzling diamonds for Hollywood stars
In contrast to the coloured gemstone designs outlined above, two of the most famous Hollywood stars of the 20th century were firmly committed to the tradition of a diamond engagement ring.
Perhaps most famous is Elizabeth Taylor’s Krupp diamond. This beautiful actress was engaged ten times, but it was Richard Burton’s 33-carat Asscher-cut diamond that stole the show. This blue-white stone was simply colossal and caught the light – and the eye – from every angle.
13 years earlier, American actress Grace Kelly was invited to join the royal family of Monaco when Prince Rainier proposed with a bespoke Cartier ring of diamonds and rubies that reflected to Monegasque flag. Just three months later, the pair celebrated their union with ‘the wedding of the century’.
However, this engagement band was replaced a few months later with an upgraded Cartier ring that was more traditional in design. This 10.5-carat emerald-cut diamond with diamond baguettes on either side was thought to be the most expensive ring in existence at the time, instantly earning its place in the engagement ring hall of fame.