Here's Princess Diana's Secret Jewelry Trick That Fooled Everyone

Those priceless earrings? They cost $30.

Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge, has often been singled out as the first royal to wear affordable "High Street" accessories and costume jewelry with couture clothing, but Princess Diana did it long before her stylish daughter-in-law ever even heard of Zara.

During a 1986 trip to the Persian Gulf to meet the Sultan of Oman, Diana wore glittering crescent moon earrings (pictured above) that were widely reported to have been an extravagant gift of multi-karat diamonds from her hosts—but were, in fact, costume jewelry. The princess had actually purchased the whimsical earrings in the shape of Saudi Arabia's national symbol the day before leaving on the trip for £23 ($30) at her favorite costume jewelry shop.

Though the late Princess of Wales had one of the most impressive fine jewelry collections in the world (some estimates put its value at over $30 million), her tastes were decidedly eclectic. While some of her most priceless pieces were gifts—including the Queen Mary tiara, which was given to her by Queen Elizabeth II in 1981, and her iconic sapphire and diamond engagement ring from Prince Charles (which Prince William later gave to Catherine)—some of Diana's favorite pieces came from a surprisingly unconventional source: the popular London boutique Butler & Wilson, well-known for its extensive collection of costume jewelry.

When I interviewed Simon Wilson for my first book on the Princess of Wales, Diana: The Secrets of Her Style, he told me she was a frequent surprise visitor in his Fulham Road shop. "She would come in with just one bodyguard and buy loads and loads of earrings and pearls," he said. "The princess would try earrings and say to customers, 'Do you like these?' She wore loads of our earrings. She was just fantastic. She never called to say, 'Will you send me some things over?' She would come shopping."

The first item she ever bought at Butler & Wilson were bow-and-heart drop earrings which cost £20 ($27) and became instant best-sellers in the mid-'80s when Diana was photographed wearing them on several occasions.

Ironically, Diana did receive a gift from the Sultan during the tour: a crescent-shaped diamond and sapphire necklace and earring set which she first wore to Germany in 1987. But during the '80s, she was just as likely to be wearing pieces that any other young woman could afford.

"She would go out wearing the real thing when she had to," Wilson told me. "But she loved to buy other things for the fun of it just because she liked them."

And for more fashion from the royal court, check out Meghan Markle's 10 Favorite Brands That Became Instant Bestsellers.

Diane Clehane is a New York-based journalist and author of Imagining Diana and Diana: The Secrets of Her Style.

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