I was fascinated to learn the costume team for Crazy Rich Asians, originally designed an engagement ring for the matriarch of the movie inspired by Jackie Kennedy’s engagement ring from President Kennedy. They didn’t end up using the splashy Jackie jewel, but it got me to thinking about the intriguing story behind the iconic design. The one that is so well-known was actually a redesign of the First Lady’s original ring.
The story of the jewel began around 1953 when Senator John Kennedy and Jackie made the announcement of their engagement to the press. Reporters asked to see the ring and there wasn’t one. “Jack and I have looked at dozens of them,” Jackie explained, according to Jay Mulvaney, the author of Kennedy Weddings. “Some I didn’t like and others weren’t the right type.”
Well, eventually they found a ring at Van Cleef & Arpels in New York. The bypass jewel was composed of a 2.84-carat emerald-cut emerald and a 2.88-carat emerald-cut diamond. Baguette-cut diamonds and emeralds decorated the arms of the original design.
It’s not clear exactly when Jackie acquired the ring. There are zero photos of her showing it off as so many brides do when they first receive their engagement rings. Jackie almost seemed to hide the jewel between her fingers. Sometimes she covered up her left hand in photos. Often, she was wearing gloves as women did at the time. There are many images of her only wearing a gold wedding band
Jackie’s actions might suggest she thought the jewel was too flamboyant, but that doesn’t seem to be the case. When the First Lady began the now famous 1961 renovation of the White House with decorator Sister Parish, she also decided to revamp her ring. She took the piece back to Van Cleef & Arpels to actually make it fancier. The sleek baguettes in the original ring were replaced with more formal marquise shape diamonds. The gems appear sort of like a laurel wreath holding the two main stones. Round brilliant-cut diamonds cover the remaining front half of the band.
It is not known if Jackie had the redesigned ring when she went on the June 1961 state visit to Paris with the President. The new jewel certainly would have matched the style of the Van Cleef & Arpels jewels from her personal collection she wore during the trip. A couple of the pieces she had on for the dinner at Versailles included emerald and diamond earrings and diamond wheat sheaf clips she fashioned in her hair like a modern tiara.
After Jackie had her ring redesigned, she continued her pattern of wearing it discreetly. Today, the jewel is among the former First Lady’s possessions kept at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum in Boston. Occasionally, the piece is put on display.