The British monarchy is no stranger to scandal and controversy. Full of less-than-favorable characters, there is, perhaps, one who was the least favorable in England during a time: Wallis Simpson. A twice-divorced American socialite, Simpson is credited for causing the former King Edward VIII to abdicate the throne after less than a year to marry her. (The Church of England forbade any king from marrying a divorced woman whose former husband was still alive—and Simpson had two of them.) The couple, however, married on June 3, 1937 (this week marks 85 years), at the Château de Candé, and stayed that way until the Duke of Windsor’s death in 1972.
“Wallis Simpson is one of the most famous, and infamous, women in modern history, and her jewelry collection was second to none!” Bill Rau, the owner of M.S. Rau in New Orleans, tells JCK. “Her jewelry became just as much a part of her public persona as her personal life and marriage to Edward VIII, Duke of Windsor. Throughout their marriage, the couple marked special occasions with gifts, and exceptional gems were always on order.”
Among the pieces was a brooch (shown above) from Bukhara, Uzbekistan, created by a local artisan. “The Duke even helped design several pieces for the Duchess, collaborating with jewelers, including Cartier and Van Cleef & Arpels,” says Rau. “This brooch is a perfect example of that. The Duchess was always on the cutting edge of fashion trends, so she altered and redesigned jewelry pieces to suit her modern tastes. For this unique brooch, she commissioned Cartier to add an emerald and tourmaline mounting at the apex of this brooch’s design, further enhancing its visual impact and prestige.”
With an obvious appreciation for jewelry through his gifts to his wife, the duke was also considered a tastemaker when it came to his own pieces. The gold cufflinks above, showcasing hand-painted portraits of Queen Alexandra and King Edward VII, are the perfect example of his sartorial sense.
Despite the trials, tribulations, and public opinions surrounding the marriage of the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, their romance lives on through the sparkling, jeweled legacies they’ve left behind.
(Photos courtesy of M.S. Rau)
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