The sapphire and diamond eternity ring was typical of Carolyn Bessette-Kennedy’s pared-back style.
As the poster girl for ’90s minimalism, Carolyn Bessette-Kennedy’s jewelry collection was decidedly unflashy. It makes sense, then, that when John F Kennedy Jr proposed to her in 1995, he opted for a pared-back engagement ring that was in keeping with the rest of her wardrobe.
In fact, the eldest son of JFK was inspired by a gold and emerald band that belonged to his mother, Jackie Kennedy, which she dubbed her “swimming ring”, according to Carole Radziwill’s book What Remains. Bessette-Kennedy reportedly told the journalist (a friend whose husband Anthony Radziwill was Jackie’s nephew), at the time that her engagement band, featuring round-cut sapphires and diamonds on a platinum band, was “a copy of a ring [John’s] mother wore”.
The First Lady’s swimming ring is believed to have been gifted to her by diamond dealer and long-time companion Maurice Tempelsman, although there is some speculation that the inspiration for Bessette-Kennedy’s engagement band was a Schlumberger Sixteen Stone ring that also belonged to her mother-in-law. “I can’t say with certainty which ring was Jackie’s swimming ring,” Marion Fasel, jewelry historian and founder of The Adventurine, tells Vogue, although Tempelsman is thought to have helped design Bessette-Kennedy’s band.
However, what is clear is that Bessette-Kennedy’s simple band perfectly encapsulated her style. You just have to compare it to her mother-in-law’s own dazzling engagement ring from Van Cleef & Arpels—comprising a 2.84-carat emerald and 2.88-diamond—to notice how simple the design was. “[Carolyn’s] engagement ring epitomized the minimalism of that style moment,” Fasel continues. “It was understated elegance.”
Bessette-Kennedy was not the only style muse to have worn an eternity ring as an engagement band, with Audrey Hepburn receiving a baguette-cut diamond band from Mel Ferrer in the 1950s. More recently, Sofia Coppola has sported an eternity ring from Cartier, gifted to her by husband Thomas Mars. “I always wonder why eternity bands aren’t more popular; they are so easy to wear, beautiful and modern,” Fasel comments. “They are such a great alternative to a solitaire, but have never been nearly as popular.”
While the exact origins of Bessette-Kennedy’s engagement ring might never be known, it’s sure to be a continual source of inspiration for brides in the years to come. “Bessette-Kennedy’s life and her romance with John Kennedy are cloaked in myth and mystery,” British Vogue’s jewelry director Rachel Garrahan says. “Her typically minimalistic engagement ring is no different.”
This article was originally published on British Vogue