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The Jewels of Wallis Simpson, Duchess of Windsor

Wallis Simpson in Blue Jewels
Wallis Simpson in Blue Jewels

Wallis Simpson was an American socialite whose third marriage caused her harsh criticism in Britain because her new husband was the heir to Britain's throne, and was forced to abdicate in order to marry her. Ms Simpson was considered by the British aristocracy to be ill-suited for the life of a member of the British Royal Family.

Wallis Simpson lost her father shortly after her birth, which led her mother to manage rented accommodation to make ends meet. Wallis Simpson's first husband was a violent alcoholic, which led to her divorcing him. Her second marriage was to Ernest Simpson, who owned a shipping company and provided her with some much-needed security. Wallis Simpson enjoyed socializing, and it was during several parties that she became acquainted with Edward, Prince of Wales in 1931, who was so taken by her that he wished to have her for himself. In 1934, the Prince and Wallis Simpson grew close, which led to outrage from the other side of the pond; Wallis Simpson was seen as a woman of loose morals, due to her several marriages and self-confident behavior. She was seen as a seductress who had tempted the heir to the throne away from his state duties. In January 1936, King George V (Edward's father) passed away, making Edward King of England.

King Edward VIII
King Edward VIII

During his early life, Edward attempted to live his life as an ordinary man. For example, during the First World War, he requested to be sent to battle, but this was refused on the grounds that he would likely be captured. King Edward VIII abdicated in December 1936, before his Coronation. His love for Wallis Simpson and subsequent neglect of his duties led to a government threat of en masse resignation, and rather than give her up, he renounced the throne. Shortly after he gave up the throne, Wallis Simpson obtained a divorce from Ernest Simpson, and Edward and Wallis were married in 1937. The engagement ring was a 19.77-carat emerald in yellow gold and was engraved with the message, "We are ours now". They referred to themselves as W.E, which are their combined initials. After their marriage, the couple became the Duke and Duchess of Windsor. Edward's successor, King George VI, allowed Edward to retain the title of Royal Highness, but would not allow Wallis or any children of theirs to enjoy the same benefit. The couple was then exiled from Britain for the rest of their marriage, and spent most of their time in France and New York.

Wallis Simpson was known from a young age for her sense of style, and she was known to have said, "I am nothing to look at, so the only thing I can do is dress better than anyone else." During her life with the Duke of Windsor, she continued her glamorous socializing. The Duchess of Windsor enjoyed her life in the limelight; in fact the memoirs of literary agent, Charles Pick, recall Ms Simpson complaining that Marilyn Monroe had pushed her off the front page of the newspaper. The couple were criticized for their lavish lifestyle during the Second World War and contact with Nazi leaders. During their married life, the Duke of Windsor gave his beloved wife numerous beautiful jewels, including a Cartier tiger brooch and bracelet, and a Cartier blue sapphire bracelet.

A Replica of Wallis Simpson's Flamingo Clip
A Replica of Wallis Simpson's Flamingo Clip

One of the most colorful jewels worn by the Duchess of Windsor was a charm bracelet with nine colored gemstone crosses. The gems that the crosses were set with included aquamarine, ruby, emerald, amethyst and diamonds. The bracelet had a special meaning to the Duke and Duchess and it was worn by Wallis on her wedding day. Another beautiful colored jewel she wore was a Cartier Flamingo clip. This was embellished with sapphire, ruby and emerald tail feathers, and has a value of over a million US dollars. She was seen wearing it when pictured with the Duke in 1940 during a trip to Bermuda.

The Duchess of Windsor owned many remarkable Cartier jewels. One bracelet was fashioned from rows of amethyst and turquoise beads, with a hexagonal amethyst and star-shaped clasp decorated with turquoise and diamond. An iconic 1952 Cartier Panther Bracelet made from onyx, diamond and emerald achieved a remarkable world record price of $7 million at a 2010 Sotheby's auction in London. This set a record for the highest priced bracelet sold at auction and most expensive Cartier item to be auctioned. A blue star sapphire panther pin was another Cartier "Big Cat" owned by the Duchess. The cat surrounding the 152.35-carat star sapphire was decorated with blue sapphires. Another brightly colored jewel by Cartier was a choker fashioned from a rope of over twenty rows of coral beads, with an emerald and diamond clasp. Such jewelry, which would never have been worn by a shrinking violet, was appropriate for a confident woman such as the Duchess of Windsor.

The Duke of Windsor passed away in 1972, and the Duchess lived on in Paris as a widow. It is said that during her last days, Wallis Simpson endured a lonely existence. According to a book by Hugo Vickers, the lawyer, Maitre Suzanne Blum, took advantage of the ailing Duchess and did not respect her wishes. Despite their exile, both the Duke and Duchess of Windsor were buried in the British Royal Burial Ground of Frogmore in Windsor. Wallis Simpson's funeral was attended by members of the British Royal Family, though there was no funeral address as the Duchess had wished.

Many consider the relationship between Wallis Simpson and Edward to be the "romance of the century". It could be the idea of a king abdicating for the sake of true love that attracts people to the story of the couple. This also may be the reason for the high prices that the Duchess of Windsor's jewels achieved. After the death of the Duchess in 1986, many of the jewels belonging to the Duke and Duchess of Windsor were auctioned by Sotheby's. The price achieved for the collection of $53.5 million dollars was the highest for the sale of a single owner's jewelry. In December 2013, thirty pieces of the collection were auctioned for over a million dollars. While the couple has passed on, their jewels continue to be admired and enjoyed.

  • First Published: November-06-2015
  • Last Updated: August-30-2017
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