The extraordinary jewellery collection of Wallis Simpson, the Duchess of Windsor

Wallis, The Duchess of Windsor, was one of the most controversial figures in the history of the modern British Royal family due to causing the abdication of King Edward VIII.

She was born as Bessie Wallis Warfield in Pennsylvania in 1896, an only child to Teackle Wallis Warfield, a merchant who once ran for Mayor of Baltimore, and Alice Montague. Her father died later that same year.

When she was just five years old, she moved with her mother and stepfather to Maryland, where her paternal uncle paid for her to go to the most expensive girls' school in the state. According to Charles Higham's biography, a fellow pupil at one of Wallis's schools recalled,

"She was bright, brighter than all of us. She made up her mind to go to the head of the class, and she did."

Wallis's first marriage was to Earl Winfield Spencer, Jr a US Navy pilot, in 1916. The marriage was not a success; Spencer was an alcoholic and Wallis had at least one affair during it. However, it did lead to Wallis travelling, including a tour of China.

An Italian diplomat remembered Wallis from this time: "Her conversation was brilliant and she had the habit of bringing up the right subject of conversation with anyone she came in contact with and entertaining them on that subject." whilst the wife of a Chinese diplomat claimed that the only Mandarin phrase that Wallis learned during her sojourn in Asia was "Boy, pass me the champagne".

By the time the marriage was dissolved, Wallis was already involved with Ernest Aldrich Simpson, an Anglo-American shipping executive who divorced his wife to be with her, and the pair settled in London.

In 1931, Wallis was introduced to Prince Edward by his then mistress, Lady Furness, whom Wallis ousted. Lady Furness is supposed to have reduced the sofa on which they met from a three-seater to a two-seater as an ironic comment. It later proved popular at auction.

Edward was fascinated in part by Wallis's irreverence for his position and became besotted with her, and they are thought to have begun an affair in 1934. However, she only divorced her husband in 1936 after Edward ascended the throne.

The King was then forced to choose between Wallis and the crown, and abdicated at the end of 1936, leading to his brother ascending the throne, not to mention a string of interesting collectibles, notably 1937 coins with Edward's profile, which were hurriedly withdrawn.

Edward showered Wallis, by now the Duchess of Windsor with gifts, especially pieces of jewellery, and these formed the backbone of an extraordinary collection.

Wallis Simpson's Jewelled flamingo clip
Wallis Simpson's Jewelled flamingo clip

A famous sale of her collection in 1987 achieved a record £31m - six times the total expected - with most of the proceeds going to the Pasteur Institute in Paris, known for its AIDS and cancer research. This raised some surprise and suspicion as Wallis had shown no interest in charity during her life.

Some of the choicest examples of the collection are returning to Sotheby's this month however, in a sale expected to raise around £3m.

Included is a ruby, sapphire, emerald, citrine and diamond flamingo clip, mounted by Cartier. Designed by Peter Lemarchand, it is known to have been worn by the Duchess soon after acquiring it, when she is recorded in a photograph with the Duke wearing it as they arrived at the Ritz Hotel, Madrid, on his forty-sixth birthday on 23rd June 1940.

From Cartier's archives it is apparent that in order to make this jewel, the Duchess had several of her own pieces unmounted so that the stones could be re-used in this clip; jewels used included a necklace and four bracelets to supply the 42 calibré-cut rubies, the same number of sapphires and emeralds and 102 diamonds that make up this piece. It is expected to sell for £1m-1.5m

Wallis Simpson's cross jewellery bracelet
Wallis Simpson's cross jewellery bracelet

A gem-set and diamond cross bracelet also made by Cartier with chain bracelet spectacle-set with circular- and brilliant-cut diamonds, suspending nine gem-set Latin crosses, also highlights the sale.

This was worn regularly by the Duchess of Windsor, including at her wedding, though perhaps its most notable appearance was at the time of the controversial Nahlin cruise in the summer of 1936, when it fuelled speculation about their relationship. It is listed at £350,000 - 450,000.

We believe it is worth more as an investment, due to the memorabilia value. There are a number of personalised inscriptions on the crosses and it appears in many key photographs.

Finally, the expected top lot alongside the Flamingo clip of the sale is an onyx and diamond panther bracelet, made by Cartier in Paris in 1952.

The Duchess of Windsor's striking diamond panther bracelet
The Duchess of Windsor's striking diamond panther bracelet

Designed to encircle the wrist and to assume a stalking attitude, the extremely striking piece is pavé-set with brilliant- and single-cut diamonds and calibré-cut onyx, with the eyes each set with a marquise-shaped emerald. It too is expected to fetch £1m -1.5m in the sale which takes place in London on November 30.

Speaking of the sale, David Bennett, Chairman of Sotheby's Jewellery in Europe and the Middle East, said: "It is an extraordinary honour to bring once again to sale these jewels worn by a woman who was a leader of fashion and the epitome of elegance and sophistication for her generation and beyond.

"The offering comprises not only incomparable examples of the genius of Cartier in collaboration with the Windsors, but also pieces whose inscriptions tell the story of perhaps the greatest love story of the 20th century, the romance that led Edward VIII to abdicate the throne of Great Britain."

Collectors interested in Wallis will be interested to know that there is also letter written by the Duchess for sale right now.


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