Art + Auctions

Princess Diana’s Personally Designed Jewelry Is Heading to Auction

The People’s Princess wore the gems, a symbol of her post-Charles independence, during one of her last public appearances
Princess Diana in blue dress wearing diamond necklace shaking hands
Princess Diana wore the diamond-and-pearl necklace to a Royal Gala performance of Swan Lake three months before her death.Photo: Dave Benett/Getty Images

Princess Diana’s status as a style icon for the ages is unquestionable. With her looks earning unofficial names (from her “revenge dress” to the “Travolta dress” to the famous sheep sweater), the late royal’s fashion choices fascinated the masses during her lifetime and have had a lasting cultural impact decades after her death in 1997. A necklace donned by the princess in one of her final public outings, a performance of Swan Lake at London’s Royal Albert Hall three months before her fatal car accident, will hit the auction block via New York–based Guernsey’s on June 27 at the Pierre Hotel. The necklace will go up alongside a pair of matching earrings to complete the “Swan Lake Suite,” named for the show she attended while wearing them.

Designed in collaboration with Garrard, a luxury jewelry firm which served as the official British crown jewelers until 2007, the necklace features nearly 200 marquise- and brilliant-cut diamonds as well as seven South Sea pearls. The coordinating platinum-mounted pearl drop earrings which join the necklace at auction were also designed by Garrard but had not yet been finished when the princess died that August.

The Swan Lake Suite.

Photo: Courtesy of Guernsey’s

Following her passing, Diana’s family authorized the sale of the suite to a private buyer, with a portion of the proceeds benefiting UNICEF. The jewels were reportedly secured by a British lord and his wife, who never wore them, due to her discomfort around their connection to the princess in the wake of her tragic death. In December 1999, the suite arrived at auction through Guernsey’s, where the auction house’s president, Arlan Ettinger, would go on to shepherd them through several transitions of ownership throughout the following decades. When the crown jeweler and president of Garrard first reached out to Ettinger to arrange their auction, he relayed the story of the Swan Lake Suite, explaining why the pieces were so singular. 

Diana at the ballet.

Photo: Dave Benett/Getty Images

“When she was married to then Prince Charles—now King Charles—when she would wear jewelry, or attend some occasion requiring jewelry, it was on loan to her for the occasion by her mother-in-law, the queen,” Ettinger recounts. “So, when she needed something impressive-looking, it was a loan.”

After divorcing out of the family and starting to establish her independent image, it followed that Diana would require some pieces of her own for public events. “She had designed a magnificent necklace and matching earrings utilizing hundreds of diamonds plus South Sea pearls that were her favorites,” Ettinger says. “Diana retained the title Patron of Dance, so the ballet was a very important function for her, and it was said that she was photographed more often that night wearing this necklace than on any other occasion of her life, except for her wedding day.”

The auction house sold the gems to American businessman James McIngvale. After years of ownership, Guernsey’s was summoned once again to manage the private sale of the Swan Lake Suite from McIngvale to their current owners. Now, approximately 14 years later, Guernsey’s will continue their stewardship of the suite with another auction. 

Diana descending the steps, followed by lady-in-waiting Anne Beckwith-Smith.

Photo: Tim Graham/Getty Images

Ettinger says it’s been humbling to direct Diana’s design through several iterations of owners throughout the years. To him, the suite represents a time in her life where she boldly forged her own path in the wake of highly publicized family struggles.  

“When she divorces out of the family, unlike many people who I suspect would have said, ‘Ok, I’ve had my moment in the sun, I’m going to live the rest of my life attending tea parties and living in the shadows,’ she became a woman of her own,” he says. “She became strong and admired around the world, and I can assure you that, at the time of her death, there was no person more beloved and respected than Diana.”