Jackie Kennedy Quietly Redesigned Her Engagement Ring From JFK at the Same Time the White House Was Renovated

Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis was an icon. The former First Lady led her life with grace and a celebrity fashion sense that most homemakers of the ’60s idolized. It was a time when few women attended college or developed their own careers. Yet Kennedy Onassis, who never wanted to be an ordinary housewife, was able to attend three colleges including her spending one year abroad with the Smith College Junior Year in Paris program. By her early 20s, she was on track for her journalism career when she was introduced to Congressman John F. Kennedy.

Jacqueline Kennedy smiling, gesturing to a candelabrum in the White House
Jacqueline Kennedy | Ed Clark/The LIFE Picture Collection via Getty Images

How old was Jackie Kennedy when she married JFK?

In 1952, Jacqueline Lee Bouvier was invited to a dinner party by fellow Washington Times-Herald journalist Charles Bartlett and his wife, Martha. What the 23-year-old didn’t know was that her future husband, the then-congressman for Massachusetts’ 11th congressional seat, would be in attendance. The two were instantly drawn to one another, but when asked if she’d like to follow dinner with a drink, she turned him down citing a previous engagement, according to Best Life.

Before the couple could start dating, she had to call off her previous engagement to John G. W. Husted Jr., a stockbroker who she had agreed to marry only having known him for a month. Within a year, Bouvier accepted a proposal from JFK, and married him when she was 24. But when the now a Massachusetts senator and his wife-to-be made their official announcement, they had no ring to show off. “Jack and I have looked at dozens of them,” Bouvier explained, according to The Adventurine.

“Some I didn’t like and others weren’t the right type.” When they did find a ring, she didn’t wear it much. The 2.84-carat emerald-cut emerald with a 2.88-carat emerald-cut diamond ring was adorned with baguette-cut diamonds and emeralds along the arms. They found it at Van Cleef & Arpels. Within a couple of months, the Kennedys were married in Newport, Rhode Island. Following the ceremony, she had a gold wedding band to wear on her ring finger.

Jackie Kennedy’s engagement ring got a makeover

As JFK continued to climb the political ladder, his wife was by his side, although her engagement ring was hardly ever seen. She often wore gloves and for photos, she covered up her left hand. No one knew why she wouldn’t show off her engagement ring. After JFK’s election to the presidency in November 1960, the Kennedys moved into the White House the following January.

Kennedy Onassis soon began renovations of the White House and at the same her engagement ring. She took it back to Van Cleef & Arpels wanting it to be fancier. The diamond and emerald baguettes were replaced with marquise-shaped diamonds. They created the shape of a laurel wreath holding the two original main stones. Brilliant-cut diamonds followed down the remaining front of the band.

Jackie’s fashion sense and jewelry collection

The redesign matched the style of some of Kennedy Onassis’s other Van Cleef & Arpels jewelry. She still never wore the ring as an everyday piece, nor even very often. Throughout her lifetime, Kennedy Onassis’s acquired some other iconic jewelry pieces. Her Moon earrings were a gift from her second husband, Greek shipping tycoon Aristotle Onassis. They were gold and ruby pendants commissioned from Greek jewelry designer Ilias Lalaounis. The earrings were named in honor of Apollo 11 landing on the moon on July 21, 1969, just days before her 40th birthday.

In the ’70s, Kennedy Onassis was often seen wearing a Cartier tank watch. The watch was given to her sister Lee’s husband Prince Stanislas Radziwill. The engraving read, “Stas to Jackie 23 Feb. 63 2:05 AM to 9:35 PM.” The wording attested to his completing the challenge of a 50-mile hike within 20 hours, given by JFK. The president also challenged the Marine Corps inspired by President Theodore Roosevelt mandating all Marine officers be able to do so in a 1908 executive order.

Today, Mrs. Kennedy Onassis’s engagement ring is among her possessions held at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum in Boston. It is at times placed on display. Her Moon earrings were auctioned by Sotheby’s in 1996 as part of her estate. They sold for $112,500.

In 2017, Mrs. Kennedy Onassis’s Cartier tank watch was auctioned along with one of her original paintings, according to Town & Country. Estimated to sell for between $60,000-$120,000, the pairing sold to an anonymous bidder for $395,000 by Christie’s Rare Watches and American Icons. The buyer turned out to be a fashion icon by today’s standards, Kim Kardashian West.