The symbolic expression of love and the desire to shine make bridal jewelry essential elements for the Big Day.


PRINCE HARRY AND MEGHAN MARKLE. PHOTOGRAPH BY ALEXI LUBOMIRSKI VIA GETTY IMAGES.

All around the globe, jewels are at the heart of the wedding ceremony. In the West, the ring that seals the union – a circle with no beginning or end – symbolizes the unbreakable bond of eternal love; in Africa and Asia, elaborate silver headdresses and belts, along with amber, coral and turquoise beads, all play highly important roles in marriage ceremonies. And just as rituals continue to take on increased importance – see the ongoing trend for dramatically staged proposals and weddings – so has bridal jewelry become a high-profile feature of the Big Day. Nowhere is this more evident as in the royal nuptials of England’s Prince Harry and American actress Meghan Markle at Windsor Castle on 19 May. 

So what can we expect or, at least, fantasize about? First, a tiara, as this piece of jewellery has long been a princess’s attribute and a bride’s crowning glory. Traditionally the prerogative of married women, the tiara took pride of place in the 19th-century corbeille de mariage, or wedding basket, a treasure-box of jewels presented by the groom to his wife-to-be to equip her for her elevated social status. I can’t help but wonder whether HM the Queen will lend Markle a royal tiara as “something borrowed,” as she did to Kate Middleton on her wedding day. Should she not – which I doubt – Markle could turn to Sotheby’s Magnificent Jewels auction where an array of suitably festive options abound. 

Pearls, emblems of purity and femininity, long a wedding staple. Today’s brides tend to be less demure in their style choices, so a multi-strand necklace of ravishing rare natural pearls clasped on either side with diamond motifs, would make just the right balance between classicism and exuberance. 

Other bridal essentials include earrings, most notably classic white diamonds, which glimmer alluringly beneath a veil and draw attention to love-filled eyes, along with necklaces. Modest brides will wear studs, while others will opt for classic drops or stun with a more contemporary design. Necklaces work with the tiara and earrings to radiantly frame the bride’s face. The choice here would be a simple diamond rivière, perhaps with a flash of intense emeralds, or an elaborate extravaganza, such as the early 20th-century necklace by Maison Fontana, so evocative of the Belle Époque. 

Finally, as the wedding ring is slipped onto the bride’s finger, a simple, slender diamond-, pearl- or gem-set bracelet would add light and movement to a nicely turned wrist, held fast against the bouquet as the bride makes her way down the aisle. Meghan Markle may be marrying her prince in May, but all brides this spring can live out their own fairy tales.


Vivienne Becker is a jewelry historian and a contributing editor of the Financial Times’s How to Spend It.

Launch the slideshow to preview a selection of bridal jewels from Sotheby's upcoming sales: