Regarded as one of the greatest jewelry collectors of all time, the Duke and Duchess of Windsor shared a passion not only for each other but one for remarkable jewelry as well. When the collection was auctioned in April 1987, the world received its first glimpse of the couple’s important and, very personal, jewels.
When King Edward VII met American Wallis Simpson, he remarked that their meeting was ‘destined to change the whole course of my life.’ The rest, as we know, is history. Over the course of their lives together, they profoundly expressed their love through jewelry, commissioning a series of fabulous creations from some of the finest jewelers of the time. Many of her jewels are considered to be among the great masterpieces ever created by Cartier and Van Cleef & Arpels, to name a few.
Among the lots in the 1987 auction was a Cartier chain bracelet from which nine gem-set crosses dangled ever so charmingly. Most recently sold Sotheby’s for 601,250 GBP, or $964,164.50 in today’s USD, this significant jewel – and favorite of the Duchess – offers an intimate view into the love life of a couple whose passion for each other trumped all else, even the British throne.
On the backs of each cross are interesting and sometimes amusing inscriptions, commemorating such occasions as her appendicitis operation in 1944 or the attempt on the King’s life by an Irish journalist in 1936. What made this bracelet particularly notable was the scandal it nearly caused by outing the couple’s relations before the time was right.
Sotheby’s Catalogue Notes best summarizes this close controversy:
“This jewel was worn regularly by the Duchess of Windsor as can be seen in many contemporary photographs; most notably on the occasion of her wedding. It became widely known at the time of the controversial Nahlin cruise in the summer of 1936 from a number of photographs which appeared in the international press. These images clearly showing Wallis Simpson wearing the crosses around one of her wrists, and these caused intense speculation as to the true nature of the couple’s relationship. Lady Diana Cooper, a member of the King’s party on that occasion, remembered that both the King and Mrs Simpson were seen wearing bejewelled crosses. After joining the royal party along the Dalmatian coast, she wrote to her friend, Conrad Russell: ‘We… were greeted by the young King radiant in health, wearing spick-and-span little shorts, straw sandals and two [sic] crucifixes on a chain round his neck…‘ [Diana Cooper, The Light of Common Day, London, 1959, p. 175; Philip Ziegler, Diana Cooper, London, 1981, P. 176].
“In February 1937, by which time Mrs Simpson was staying at Cannes and the Duke at the Schloss Enzesfeld in Austria, she wrote to him enclosing ‘proofs of [Cecil] Beaton’s article that is going to appear in US Vogue. See about the crosses and the chain in the article,’ [Letters, P.227]. The piece duly appeared [1st July, 1937, pp. 32 – 35], but only after their wedding on 3rd June and with a version in which the crosses were no longer mentioned. ”
While many of their jewels were inscribed with personal notes, this bracelet was worn most often by the Duchess of Windsor, showing the world just how much she loved her Duke, the former King of England.
Below are the inscriptions on the nine gem-set crosses, as per Sotheby’s description:
A cross set with calibré-cut sapphires, emeralds, one similarly cut ruby and a baguette diamond, inscribed and dated: Our marriage Cross Wallis 3.VI.37 David, slightly imperfect.
Our marriage cross: The Duke of Windsor and Wallis Simpson were married by the Rev. R. A. Jardine on 3rd June 1937, at the Chateau de Candé, Monts (Indre et Loire), France. The guests included Fern Bedaux, Herman Rogers and his wife, Katherine, Major E.D (Fruity) and Lady Alexandra Metcalfe, Mrs D. Buchanan Merryman (Mrs Simpson’s Aunt Bessie), Dudley Forwood.
The Duchess in her memoirs remembered their wedding day: ‘Somehow the preparations got done. Mainbocher made my trousseau. ~From his sketches I chose for my wedding gown a simple dress of blue crepe satin. Reboux made a hat to match. I asked Constance Spry, the prominent London florist, to come to Candé to do the flowers… [it] was beautifully warm and sunny. Herman Rogers gave me away, and it must have been with a profound sense of relief that he saw me become the responsibility of another.
‘Here I shall say only that it was a supremely happy moment. All I had been through, the hurts I had suffered were forgotten; by evening, David and I were on our way to Australia.’ [The Heart Has Its Reasons, pp.297/9].
A cross set with calibré-cut aquamarines, inscribed and dated: God save the King for Wallis. 16.VII.36.
God Save the King for Wallis: This inscription refers to an incident on 16th July 1936, when King Edward VIII was riding in a procession on Constitution Hill after presenting new colours to the Guards. He was threatened by an Irish journalist named Macmahon with a loaded revolver. Mrs Simpson mentioned the fact, but only in passing and after giving details of her own health [see 4 below],in a letter to Aunt Bessie on 1st August : ‘The shot [sic] at HM and the upset summer plans have all been very disturbing.’ [Letters p.211]
A cross set with calibré-cut amethyst, inscribed and dated: Appendectomy Cross Wallis 31-VIII-44 David.
Appendectomy Cross: The Duchess of Windsor, who in the spring and summer of 1944 had been ailing for some months, left Nassau and was subsequently admitted to the Roosevelt Hospital, New York, where she underwent an operation for appendicitis with complications on 31st August [Michael Bloch, The Duke of Windsor’s War, London, 1982, p.342; and mentioned in Charles Higham, The Secret Life of the Duchess of Windsor, USA, 1988, page 359].
A cross set with calibré-cut emeralds, inscribed and dated: X Ray Cross Wallis – David 10.7.36.
X Ray Cross: This cross was presented only a few days before King Edward VIII was threatened with a loaded revolver [see 2 above]. Mrs Simpson wrote from Fort Belvedere on 1st August 1936, to her Aunt Bessie giving details of her state of health: ‘I had myself X-rayed from head to toes, they found a healed ulcer scar. I have an awfully good doctor and haven’t had any trouble for 6 weeks. Have a diet – not too bad a one – the doctor is a German. I have gained some weight also, and feel better than I have for ages.’ [Letters, p. 211].
A cross set with baguette diamonds, inscribed and dated: The Kings (sic) Cross God bless WE 1-3-36.
The Kings Cross God bless WE: This inscription probably refers to the date of Mrs Simpson’s departure for Paris on 1st March 1936, when, after six exhausting weeks of the new reign, she sought, with her friend ‘Foxy’ Gwynne, a few days relaxation. It may be construed from the sentiment expressed on the charm that the King, still in mourning for his father and heavily burdened with unfamiliar duties, was not exactly pleased at her disappearance. For her part, Mrs Simpson seems to have been equally exasperated with the King, writing to her Aunt Bessie on 8th March that, although she had been incited to go on from Paris to Monte Carlo, ‘that little King insists I return and I might as well with the telephone about 4 times daily – not much rest.’ Meanwhile, apparently upon the initiative of Ernest Simpson, Mrs Simpson’s absence gave the two men an opportunity of speaking frankly about their respective roles concerning her. At a meeting which is thought to have taken place during that first week in March, ‘a private arrangement was reached between the King and Ernest, whereby Ernest agreed to put an end to his marriage with Wallis provided that the King promised to remain faithful to her and look after her.’ [Letters, pp. 188-190].
On a lighter note, the inscription brings to mind a contemporary take about Mrs. Simpson ‘taking a taxi on her now famous journey to Scotland. “King’s Cross”, she is reported to have said. “I’m sorry, lady,” answered the driver.’ [Robert Rhodes James, editor, Chips and the Diaries of Sir Henry Channon, London, 1967, p. 79, 11 November, 1936].
A cross set with calibré-cut rubies, inscribed and dated : Wallis – David St Wolfgang 22-9-3.
St Wolfgang: This cross is similar to another in the original sale in 1987, lot 38. This belonged to the Duke and was a necklace with three cross pendants. One of these was a sapphire set Latin cross Pendant, inscribed and dated on the reverse: 22.9.35 David – Wallis St Wolfgang, signed: Cartier, Paris; another set with rubies inscribed and dated: 23.6.35 for his birthday gift from Wallis.
The Prince of Wales was joined on a two month holiday by a few close friends including Wallis Simpson, his party leaving from Cannes on 9th September via a number of destinations, returning on 2nd October to Paris and thence by aeroplane to Windsor. According to Mrs Simpson, who had written to her aunt from the Carlton Hotel in Cannes on 7th September, they expected to ‘leave Monday for Budapest, 1 day on the train and 2 nights. We shall stay in Budapest until the week-end and then go to some place on a lake for the week-end and then I think motor to Vienna perhaps a touch of the Austrian Tyrol and Paris…‘ [Letters, p.157]. On the way, between 20th and 24th September, 1935, they stayed not far from Salzburg at the small town of St. Wolfgang [A King’s Story, p. 423]. Why the visit to this place should have been remarkable enough for Prince Edward and Mrs Simpson to commemorate it with gifts of crosses to each other is unknown. The reason, as for so much of the jewellery in the Duchess’s collection, was clearly very personal; indeed, the holiday may well have marked a decisive moment in their relationship and, as Michael Bloch has noted [Letters, P. 159], when the Prince of Wales returned to England, ‘the idea of marriage to her had become a fixed and passionate desire.’
A cross set with calibré-cut yellow sapphires, inscribed and dated : “Get Well” Cross Wallis Sept. 1944 David.
Get Well Cross: See note for Appendectomy Cross above.
A cross set with calibré-cut sapphires, inscribed and dated : Wallis – David 23-6-35.
Wallis – David 23-6-35: This cross is similar to another in the original sale in 1987, lot 38. Edward’s pendant designed as a Latin cross one set with rubies, the reverse inscribed and dated: David-Wallis 23.6.35: was Mrs Simpson’s gift to Edward the Prince of Wales, to commemorate his forty-first birthday.
A cross in platinum, inscribed and dated: WE are too (sic) 25-XI-34.
WE are too: The inscription ‘We are too 25-XI-34′ is a punning allusion to Mrs Simpson and the Prince of Wales’ (WE) feelings for one another: WE (Wallis and Edward) are also in love, and WE too are in love. This is of particular significance as the Prince’s brother, George, Duke of Kent, was married a few days later, on 29 November, 1934, to Princess Marina of Greece, at Westminster Abbey.