September 4, 2018—If you had asked me last week about a minimalist movement making a comeback in fashion, I would have said “no way.” Then the 2018 Venice Film Festival happened and things were looking kind of ‘90s spare. The inkling of the style’s revival got me to thinking about one of the Queens of Minimalist Chic, Carolyn Bessette-Kennedy. Of course, she didn’t wear much jewelry. Minimalists don’t. Sometimes she put on a couple of little gold rings. There was also a pair of pearl studs she appeared in on occasion. Once she wore a pearl necklace which seemed like a complete anomaly, almost as though she was trying on traditional Kennedy style. A Kennedy signature item she did wear regularly was a Cartier Tank watch. The most fascinating piece of jewelry in her collection was her engagement ring. It has an air of mystery like many parts of her life story.
Since the Kennedy’s are an endless source of fascination to the public a few people have spilled the beans on their experience surrounding the engagement ring in books. According to Carol Radizwell’s What Remains, when Carolyn Bessette showed her the ring, she said “It’s a copy of a ring his mother [Jackie Kennedy] wore. He said she called it her ‘swimming ring.’”
The so-called Swimming Ring is generally believed to be a gift from Jackie’s final life partner the jeweler, Maurice Tempelsman. It is thought to be made of emeralds and gold. The piece most likely got its name from the fact that it was small and she could wear it for a dip in the water.
A few stories have theorized the Swimming Ring was a tenth anniversary present President Kennedy commissioned from Van Cleef & Arpels. Some claim Jackie wore it with her wedding band. I have recently studied a ton of pictures of Jackie during her marriage to the President and I never spotted it, so I am not so sure about this theory. I think the Swimming Ring was more likely a gift from Tempelsman.
Another theory suggests, Tempelsman based the design for John to give Carolyn on a Schlumberger classic, the Sixteen Stone Ring, that Jackie had in her collection. Jackie was a great fan of Schlumberger and had many of his enamel and gold Croisillon Bracelets. Tempelsman clearly knew, however, to make Carolyn Bessette’s ring much simpler than the Schlumberger piece to match her basic style. So perhaps it was a combination of the Schlumberger gems in Jackie’s jewel and the Swimming ring.
Close-up views of Carolyn’s ring reveal it was set with little round diamonds and smaller, possibly oval shaped, sapphires. By jewelry definition, it’s an eternity band, a ring with stones going all the way around.
John Kennedy’s assistant Rosemarie Terenzio, said in her tell-all Fairy Tale Interrupted, that she picked up the ring from Tempelsman’s office—not realizing it was the ring—and that it sat in a Duane Reade plastic bag on John’s desk. She believes he proposed to Carolyn around the July 4th holiday in 1995 while the couple was fishing on Martha’s Vineyard. His words when he asked for Carolyn’s hand were supposedly “Fishing is so much better with a partner.” Seems a little fishy to me, but that’s what she says John said.
Despite the fact that Carolyn’s engagement ring was minimal, it was not quite sleek enough for her taste. She was frequently photographed without it. She often only wore her yellow gold wedding band. When John and Carolyn, as well as her sister Lauren, died in a plane crash off of Martha’s Vineyard on July 16, 1999, it is not known if she had on the jewel.