Princess Diana’s enviable sense of style has been a part of the late royal’s legacy from the beginning, and while certainly her flair for a polka dot pattern and a stand out sweater (not to mention, the infamous “revenge dress”) have continued to echo through fashion history, her accessories have also gained lasting acclaim. While The Crown has previously delved into one of her most iconic pieces, her sapphire engagement ring, in its latest (and final) season, the series features a prominent moment with one of Diana’s other best known baubles—her Cartier Tank watch.
The first episode of season 6 comes to a close with a shot of Diana opening one of Cartier’s famous red boxes to reveal a Tank Française and a note reading “Paris next week?” The watch is shown as a gift from Dodi Al Fayed, the film producer boyfriend whom Diana died alongside in a tragic Parisian car crash in 1997, but the real history of Diana’s much-loved timepiece is less clear.
Diana was a fan of Cartier watches in general in the later years of her life. Throughout much of her time as a working royal, she had worn a Patek Philippe gold watch which had been a gift from then-Prince Charles for her 20th birthday. However, following the couple’s divorce in 1996, Diana began favoring an alligator-strap Cartier Tank Louis piece which had been a present from her father Earl Edward John Spencer, as well as the Tank Française. While various reports have speculated that the Française was also a gift from her father, its origins remain slightly murky.
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According to royal biographer Judy Wade, who wrote Diana: the Intimate Portrait, Dodi did give Diana a Cartier timepiece, albeit a different design: the Panthère de Cartier watch. During their brief relationship, Dodi showered the princess with presents, Wade told People, including “a huge box of tropical fruit, a roomful of pink roses, a Cartier panther watch.”
The backstory of Diana’s Française carries extra meaning for royal fans, not only because of the princess’s affection for it, but because the piece was eventually inherited by Diana’s youngest son, Prince Harry. The story goes that the watch was actually chosen as a keepsake by Prince William, while Harry opted from Diana’s engagement ring, but the brothers supposedly swapped when William decided to propose to Kate Middleton. Harry later gave the watch to his own bride, Meghan Markle, who is herself a longtime fan of the style. Meghan is often seen sporting a Cartier Tank Française at public events, though it remains a long-running debate whether the piece in question is the one inherited from Diana or the version she purchased for herself in 2015.
Lauren Hubbard is a freelance writer and Town & Country contributor who covers beauty, shopping, entertainment, travel, home decor, wine, and cocktails.