Besotted and bedazzled

Wallis Simpson, the Duchess of Windsor, possessed a jewellery collection of 214 pieces that was truly unique. This dazzling collection is intrinsically associated with the most controversial love story of modern times. King Edward VIII, the man who famously gave up the throne of England for the woman he loved, showered her with jewels designed and made by houses such as Cartier and Van Cleef & Arpel.

The brooch, known as The Prince of Wales Brooch, was commission in 1935 by Prince Edward (then Prince of Wales), as a demonstration of his commitment to Wallis and his intention to make her his future Queen. Set in platinum and 18k gold, it features pave-set diamond feathers highlighting baguette-cut diamonds.

The engagement ring on the left, is a stunning 19.77 carat emerald by Cartier. It’s engraved “We are ours now 27×36” – the day and year he proposed. Wallis had the ring redesigned in 1958 in a more modern style of yellow gold and diamonds.

The heart shaped brooch on the right was given by the Duke to Wallis on their 20th wedding anniversary in 1957. Made by Cartier it is pave-set with diamonds with their intertwined initials set with calibré-cut emeralds. Below calibré-cut rubies mark the Roman Numeral XX (20) as well as forming the top of the coronet.

After the Duke abdicated the throne, he commissioned Van Cleef & Arpels to design the most famous ruby suite comprising a tassel necklace, bracelet and brooch. Notably, this was one of the first jewellery pieces to incorporate the use of ‘invisible’ settings for the rubies and baguette diamonds. The necklace was engraved ‘My Wallis from her David 19.VI.1936’.

The Duke received the single-strand necklace from his mother, Queen Mary which he then gave to the Duchess. In 1950 the Cartier designed pendant was added. Van Cleef & Arpels designed the avant-garde ear clips bordered by pear-shaped and round diamonds.

These three main pieces formed a suite that was a favourite ‘go to’ for the Duchess of Windsor.

One of the most iconic pieces in the collection is the Cartier flamingo brooch commissioned by the Duke of Windsor in 1940 as a birthday gift for the Duchess. Set in platinum, the flamingo’s body, head, neck and legs are pave-set with diamonds while a sapphire eye and yellow citrine cabochon and blue sapphire form the beak. The flamingo’s tail feathers are brilliantly crafted in a colourful assortment of emeralds, rubies and sapphires.

The Duchess is particularly known for her penchant for ‘big cat’ jewellery. She started a fashion trend for feline bijou that has continued to this day. In 1952 Cartier custom-made the iconic Cartier diamond and onyx panther bracelet in collaboration with the Duchess. The specially crafted design enables the bracelet to wrap around the wrist rather than being rigid. The panther is set in platinum with diamonds and black onyx. Marquise-shaped emeralds denote the eyes.

This stunning panther brooch by Cartier (1949) mounted in platinum, features sapphires and diamonds sitting on a sapphire cabochon of 152.35 carats. This was one of the Duchess’s favourite pieces and it’s very easy to see why. Animal pieces were soon to become her signature and created a demand for Cartier to produce more panther pieces. Such was the success that the panther has become a Cartier icon.