The Duchess of Windsor’s Flamingo

We publish courtesy of The Wall Street Journal

Author: Pia Catton

Edward VIII made one great gift to the American divorcee Wallis Simpson: He gave up his rights to the throne of England in 1936 to marry her. But he didn’t stop there; he kept giving her lavish jewelry.

Some 20 jewels and objects once in the collection of Mrs. Simpson, who became the Duchess of Windsor, will go on sale Tuesday at Sotheby’s in London. A single collector originally bought all 20 during the Sotheby’s 1987 auction of the duchess’s entire collection; that 306-lot sale totaled $50 million and benefited the Institut Pasteur.

Then and now, one piece stands out: a 1940 flamingo brooch, made by Cartier in Paris and estimated to sell for at least $1.5 million. In several photographs, the duchess—one of the most fashionable women in the world at that time—wears the flamingo on her lapel or shoulder.

The sale comes on the heels of a new world record in jewelry sales: On Nov. 16, London jeweler Laurence Graff paid $46 million for a 24.78-carat pink diamond at a Sotheby’s sale in Geneva. The previous highest price for a gem at auction was $24.3 million for the 35.56-carat gray-blue “Wittelsbach Diamond,” also bought by Mr. Graff, at Christie’s in 2008. Colored diamonds have been setting many of the jewelry records: One, for “fancy intense” blue diamonds, fell in May, with an $8.03 million Sotheby’s sale of a 7.64-carat cushion-shaped diamond. But the value of Duchess of Windsor’s collection is shaped more by style and sentiment.

The Cartier archives reveal that the duchess reused gems from a necklace and four bracelets in her collection in order to have the flamingo made. The bird’s plumes are set with emeralds, rubies and sapphires—42 of each. The legs and body are made of 102 diamonds. The advent of World War II, with its cutting of trade routes, may have prompted the recycling, says David Bennett, chairman of the Sotheby’s jewelry department for Europe and the Middle East.

Several custom-made pieces engraved with personal notes will also be auctioned. The duchess added to a bracelet of crosses, each of which contains a reference to an important date in the couple’s life together between 1934 and 1944. The duchess added two crosses to mark her appendectomy and recovery in 1944. Photos show the duchess wearing the bracelet on a 1936 cruise and on her wedding day, June 3, 1937. Sotheby’s wants at least $540,000 for the bracelet.

Other lots in the sale are the duke’s cuff links and military medals that became the duchess’s property when he died in 1972.

 

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