I love a good scandal. Well, I love being spectator to a good scandal rather than participant in one; but in dire circumstances I suppose I wouldn’t be opposed to stirring the pot a little. . .just a little. What’s even better than a scandal is one that is immortalized in jewels. Wallis Simpson, née Bessie Wallis Warfield, was already married to shipping magnate, Ernest Simpson, when she met Edward, Prince of Wales. The soon-to-be King Edward VIII was seduced by Mrs. Simpson and engaged in a very public affair with her. His love for her was so all-consuming that he chose to abdicate the throne on December 11, 1936, rather than face a life without her as his wife. Alas, King Edward’s reign lasted less than a year before he left his throne for love. The couple finally married in June of 1937, and became the Duke and Duchess of Windsor; not a single member of the royal family attended their wedding and the couple were forced to live out the rest of their life in exile. Not the kind of dreary exile that one normally thinks of mind you, theirs was a jet set sort of exile filled with parties, extravagance and celebrity. For the Duke of Windsor and Wallis Simpson, jewelry was a way of commemorating their life together. The Duke of Windsor presented Wallis Simpson with jewelry commissioned from large jewelry houses like Cartier and Van Cleef & Arpels to mark every special occasion.
The Cartier diamond bracelet below features nine gem-set crosses, each cross represents a special occasion in the Duke and Duchess’ lives from 1934 to 1944. The crosses are quite large, I estimate them to be at least an inch in length. While I’m not crazy for charm bracelets nor crosses, this one is so lavish I find myself strangely drawn to it.
The plume-shaped diamond brooch in the photo above was first given to Wallis Simpson by Edward, the Prince of Wales, in 1935. The three plumes are a symbol of the Prince of Wales and it is said that the gift of this brooch was a demonstration of the Prince’s intention to make Wallis Simpson his queen. The brooch was later purchased after the Duchess’s death by Elizabeth Taylor at auction in 1987. Ms. Taylor reportedly outbid Prince Charles for it, who asked a dealer to buy it for Lady Diana. Liz Taylor and Wallis Simpson although friends, were said to be constantly competing to outshine each other when it came to jewels. Liz Taylor admired this brooch so much that Richard Burton asked the Duchess for permission to copy it, though it never was. Not surprising then that Liz would snatch that piece up after the Duchess’s passing at any price.
The Wallis Simpson jewelry collection may be one of the most beautiful collections there ever was, she and the Duke of Windsor had an excellent eye for detail and design. One of my favorite pieces designed by Wallis Simpson is the Van Cleef Zip necklace which you can read about in this post. The reason Wallis Simpson’s jewelry is so magical is because the Duke and Duchess of Windsor commissioned each piece to be custom-made and they both weighed in on the design of every piece. As a result, each item tells a story and the collection as-a-whole serves to immortalize their love affair. In case you needed a reason to commission bespoke jewelry, there you have it–nothing store-bought could ever compete with the weighty significance of a piece custom-made for someone you love, even if that someone is yourself. David Bennett of Sotheby’s said, “They say no man has ever given up more for the love of a woman. The quality of the jewels and the way they tell the story of the relationship are just irresistible.” The Wallis Simpson jewelry collection has been put to auction twice after her death–once in 1987 and again in November of 2010.
Big Kiss and Bigger Diamonds,