When Meghan Markle spoke at a Fortune magazine virtual summit late last month, she made headlines for her passionate comments about social media. But a flash of gold Cartier replica watch on her wrist led the Telegraph to ask if Prince Harry had given her a striking heirloom that had once belonged to Princess Diana. On Friday the speculation deepened when the couple released their first official portrait since leaving their roles as senior royals as a part of their work with the Time 100. Though the photograph is in black-and-white, the distinctive band pattern on Meghan’s wrist made it overwhelmingly likely that she was wearing Diana’s gold Cartier Tank Française watch.
The best quality fake Cartier watch, which Diana wore often in the 1990s, was previously owned by Prince William, who reportedly later gave it to his younger brother, though it hasn’t been seen in public for years. By wearing it, Meghan subtly emphasized her connection to the mother-in-law she never met, but she might have also been sending a message of appreciation back to the royal family.
There’s some confusion about how Diana came to own the silver dial Cartier Tank copy watch, some of which is caused by the fact that she actually owned two Cartier Tanks. In the late 1980s, she was occasionally seen wearing a Tank Louis Cartier with a rounded gold face and leather strap. The square-faced Tank Française came around later, after she stopped wearing the engraved Patek Philippe that Prince Charles had given to her for her 21st birthday, just a few weeks after William was born in 1983. When she and Charles finalized their divorce in 1996, she took her engagement ring off quickly, but the watch lingered a bit longer. Eventually, she was wearing the Tank Française for formal and casual engagements. After she wore the watch on a trip to Australia, the Sydney Cartier store sold four more within a week.
In 2003, Vanity Fair reported that about four months after Diana’s death, her butler Paul Burrell walked the brothers through the Kensington Palace apartment they shared with their mother one last time, after which William took the gold Cartier Tank Française and Harry took her diamond-and-sapphire engagement ring. According to biographer Anne Edwards, Diana’s will included a clause that said Harry and William were to have the first pick of her belongings, “including her stuffed animals.” William reportedly also took a stuffed hippo from the apartment that day.
In 1998, the Daily Mail’s Richard Kay reported that the watch William took was given to Diana by her father, the 8th Earl Spencer, but he died in 1992, three years before the Française model was introduced in 1995. It’s possible that the Cartier watch given to Diana by her father was the Tank Louis Cartier and not the Tank Française.
Either way, the Tank Française became emotionally significant to William in the years that followed. He was reportedly seen wearing the watch himself, and in 2000, he took it with him on a trip to Chile where he did work for a sustainable development organization. But when he was preparing to propose to Kate Middleton, he decided he might actually want Harry to have the watch instead. In 2009, William reportedly asked Harry if he would be willing to trade the sapphire engagement ring for the watch. “Harry gave up his precious treasure,” Burrell said in a 2017 interview. “His one thing he kept from his mother, he gave to his brother. That’s selfless, kind, and exactly who Diana was.”
A few weeks before Meghan and Harry announced their engagement in 2017, the Daily Express reported that Harry was considering giving Diana’s Swiss made fake Cartier Tank Française to Meghan because it was a favorite of hers. In 2015, Meghan told Hello! that she bought her own two-tone Tank Française to celebrate the third season of Suits, and had it engraved to say “To MM from MM.” Because she wore much of her own jewelry while in character as Rachel Zane, she also is seen wearing the watch in a few episodes of the USA Network show. It’s possible that Meghan was wearing her own watch in the black-and-white Time photograph, but in the Fortune interview, the watch was all gold, not the alternating silver and gold of her Suits watch.
Over the last few years, Kate and Meghan have become skilled at subtly displaying the family heirlooms while still staying true to their own style. A few weeks ago, Kate turned a pair of Diana’s sapphire earrings into a sleek necklace for a diplomatic event at Buckingham Palace. By pairing Diana’s Tank Française with a sleek black Alexander McQueen suit, Meghan’s newest portrait shows her appreciation for Harry’s royal background.