I’m sure many of you are aware of the upcoming (November 30) Sotheby’s auction “Exceptional Jewels & Precious Objects formerly in the Collection of The Duchess of Windsor”. The original historic auction in 1987 of “The Jewels of the Duchess of Windsor” included over 300 items and brought in $50.3 million, over six times its estimate, making it the highest valued jewelry collection ever sold. Wow!! This is not a sale of that magnitude. These 20 pieces, all from a single private collection have a pre-sale estimate of $4.8 million. But there are many spectacular pieces, several of which were cornerstones of the Duchess’ collection. Here is an entertaining and informative video by Sotheby’s giving a quick history and previewing several of the more iconic pieces from the upcoming sale.
I think one of the most interesting aspects of the auction is realizing how personal these objects were to the Duke and Duchess, many of them inscribed with intimate engravings. Theirs was one of the great romances of modern times and these pieces document that. For every possible anniversary or special occasion, the Duke had a piece commissioned for Wallis, many from Cartier since they lived mostly in Paris. Wouldn’t that be nice?! I’ll have to casually remind my husband of the Duke’s devotion and thoughtful, generous nature.
The Duchess’ two favorite jewels are included in this auction – firstly, this wonderful charm bracelet, which I find the most interesting. Bought from Cartier by the Duke on December 3, 1934, it features nine crosses, each commemorating a personal moment of significance for them. Wallis loved this bracelet, never traveled without it and even wore it at their wedding. Quickly reviewing the charms will give you a little insight into the meaning these jewels held for them and the fun they had in gifting them. The first, simplest cross, is unadorned platinum with the inscription “WE are too 25-XI-34”, a simple declaration of their love. The second cross, in sapphires, celebrated the Duke’s 41st birthday with the engraving “Wallis – David 23.6.35”. Next, in ruby, is the cross celebrating their 1935 vacation with the reference “Wallis – David St. Wolfgang 22.9.3(5).” Number 4 is baguette diamonds inscribed wtih “The Kings Cross God bless WE 1.3.36,” referring to an alleged meeting between Edward and Ernest Simpson, Wallis’ second husband. This is supposedly when Ernest agreed to end his marriage with Wallis. Next is the emerald cross with the engraving “X Ray Cross Wallis – David 10.7.36”, referring to a letter Wallis wrote to her aunt explaining how she had her entire body X-rayed, revealing a healed ulcer scar. Number six is the aquamarine cross, which, referring to an attempt on the King’s life, has the inscription “God save the King for Wallis 16.VII.36.” The sapphire, emerald and diamond cross, inscribed “Our marriage cross Wallis 3.VI.37,” obviously celebrates their wedding. I find the last two rather amusing. Number eight, engraved “Appendectomy Cross Wallis 16.VII.44 David” notes when Wallis was admitted to Roosevelt hospital for the obvious operation. The last, number 9, in yellow sapphires, is the follow up with the inscription ” ‘Get well’ Cross Wallis Sept. 1944 David.” I know I’ll be expecting jewels for my next recuperation!
Wallis’ other favorite piece was this brooch, also from Cartier, which the Duke gave her in 1957 to celebrate their 20th wedding anniversary. It is beautiful, sentimental and charming. Set against diamonds, their initials are entwined in emeralds with the Roman numeral XX below in rubies. Although Wallis was not officially a royal, the ruby crown on top signifies her regal status in her husband’s eyes.
The two other most famous pieces, the flamingo brooch and the masterfully engineered panther bracelet are described in detail in the video.
The last piece I’d like to feature is a gold and gem cigarette case, again by Cartier that Wallis gave the Duke for Christmas in 1935. Although this piece is discussed in the video, I am including it for those who didn’t have the time to watch because it is of such significance. The inscription inside reads “David from Wallis Christmas 1935” and commemorates the three holiday trips they took together in 1934, 35 and 36 (I guess that ’36 trip was added later?). It was during or just after the 1936 trip that the Duke made the decision to abdicate – must have been quite the special vacation! I just love how they captured her handwriting in the engraving – so beautiful! The route is enameled and each special destination is indicated by a gemstone.
Who knows when this iconic collection will ever surface again. If you don’t have the catalogue from the original sale, this one might be a keepsake worth owning. And if you’re going to be in London, the pre sale exhibition starts this Friday. And if you’re feeling generous, I’m rather fond of the heart brooch.