Meghan Markle's Earrings "Scandal" Is Nothing Compared to These Headline-Making Royal Jewelry Moments
Coverage of the Duchess of Sussex's jewelry has run the gamut this week, from being lauded for its sentimentality to harshly criticized for its controversial origins. In a clip from Sunday's forthcoming sit-down with Oprah Winfrey, Meghan wears a Cartier tennis bracelet that was once worn by her late mother-in-law, Princess Diana, the same piece from which Meghan's diamond engagement ring was created. By midweek, praise for this thoughtful gesture had been replaced with criticism over a pair of chandelier Chopard earrings the Duchess wore during a royal tour of New Zealand, Fiji, and Tonga in October 2018, specifically at a formal state dinner in Fiji on Oct. 23, 2018 and, later, at Buckingham Palace for father-in-law Prince Charles's birthday on Nov. 14 of the same year.
According to a piece from The Times — curiously released just days before the aforementioned Oprah sit-down — these earrings were a wedding gift from Mohammed bin Salman, Saudi Arabia's crown prince, who in October 2018 was being condemned for approving the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi. The crown prince gave the earrings to Queen Elizabeth during a three-day visit to London in March 2018, two months prior to Harry and Meghan's wedding on May 19.
"As a gift from a foreign head of state, the earrings are officially considered Crown property," The Times reports. So, while they may have been intended for Meghan, they were not hers — they were property of the expansive collection of Crown jewels, and, thereby, owned by the Queen, who loaned them out for Meghan's use. (Crown jewels, upon being received, are catalogued and kept under tight security.) Meghan has never met MBS, and was not present at the March 7 diplomatic lunch where the earrings were gifted.
"The royal family follows a set of guidelines, last updated in September 2003, regarding the acceptance and ownership of gifts," according to The Court Jeweller, a site that examines royal family jewelry from across the globe. These guidelines say that "official gifts are not the private property of the Member of the Royal Family who receives them, but are instead received in an official capacity in the course of official duties in support of, and on behalf of, the Queen."
Meghan's lawyers insist that, at the time of the Fiji state dinner, she did not know that the crown prince was involved in the murder of Khashoggi. (The dinner happened three weeks after the journalist was killed at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, Turkey; the CIA concluded that the crown prince was involved in the killing two days after Meghan last wore the earrings.) A spokesperson for the Sussexes, in response to The Times piece, said "It's no coincidence that distorted several-year-old accusations aimed at undermining the Duchess are being briefed to the British media shortly before she and the Duke are due to speak openly and honestly about their experience of recent years."
Fashion diplomacy is a curated art form, as royals know that what they wear says so much without ever saying a word. And Meghan is hardly the first name to get caught (in this case, undeservedly so) in a scandal involving the Crown jewels. Here are some of the most controversial jewelry moments in recent royals history that sparked headlines of their own.
Diana's "revenge necklace"
The night her estranged husband confessed his adultery in a televised interview, Princess Diana wore a little black dress dubbed the "revenge dress" to a gala at the Serpentine Gallery in London — to worldwide attention. The message the dress sent was obvious — Charles, look at what you're missing out on — but some might have missed the message behind Diana's necklace, a seven-strand pearl choker with a large sapphire and diamond centerpiece – part of a necklace given to Diana by the Queen Mother for her 1981 wedding to Prince Charles. "Glistening at her naked throat, this ornament symbolized Diana's marriage, rank, and defiant blamelessness in the face of her husband's infidelity," The Telegraph said.
Wallis overdoes it
Wallis Simpson, the wife of the former King Edward VIII, who abdicated the throne to marry the twice-divorced Simpson in 1936, was a controversial figure no matter what she wore. But when she arrived at New York's Salvation Army headquarters in the post-War era wearing sables, pearls, a diamond clip, and gigantic sapphire and aquamarine earrings, she was criticized for being completely out of touch and was "condemned for gaudy displays of wealth."
When jewelry becomes offensive
During her first meeting with the then Meghan Markle at the Queen's Christmas lunch in 2017, Princess Michael of Kent infamously wore a Blackmoor brooch that was considered racist and offensive, as the style is "known for romanticizing Black people in subservient roles," Insider said. Princess Michael of Kent later apologized for the gaffe.
Margaret breaks tradition
Always keen to do it her own way, Princess Margaret bucked tradition on her wedding day in her choice of tiaras. While she wore a wedding dress by the same designer her older sister, Queen Elizabeth, wore at her own wedding 13 years prior, she refused tiaras from the Crown jewel collection and wore one that she'd gotten at auction the year before she married.
The most controversial – and cursed? – diamond
Many pieces in the Crown jewels are tied to controversy: the Grand Duchess Vladimir tiara, smuggled from Russia to England in 1917; the Garrard Burmese ruby tiara (Burmese rubies, according to The Telegraph, are now considered a controversial gemstone because of concerns that profits from the ruby trade are responsible for the genocide of Rohingya people); and Camilla, the Duchess of Cornwall and Prince Charles' second wife (and former mistress) refashioning pieces worn by Princess Diana, Prince Charles' first wife, for her own use.
But, according to The Telegraph, "more myths and legends abound about the Koh-i-Noor diamond than almost any other jewel in the royal collection." Known as one of the world's most controversial diamonds, it is set into the Crown of Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother, and is believed to have originated from India's Kollur mine. "The diamond passed through the hands of various rulers and Mughal emperors, many of whom met unfortunate or bloody ends, leading to the belief that the diamond was cursed," The Telegraph said. "Legend has it that whoever owns the Koh-i-Noor — meaning 'mountain of light' — will 'own the world, but will also know all its misfortunes.'" And, The Telegraph continued, "Superstitions aside, its modern-day controversy revolves around a dispute over its rightful ownership: Since India gained independence, the governments of India, Pakistan, Iran, and Afghanistan have all laid claim to the fabled stone."