The Duchess of Windsor had an impressive jewellery collection that the Duke of Windsor gifted her throughout their marriage. The collection was so extensive that it was given the nickname “the alternative Crown Jewels.”
The Duchess had many extravagant jewellery items in her royal life – including a diamond, onyx and emerald panther bracelet; a ruby and sapphire flamingo brooch; an 18-carat gold and gem-set bib necklace by Cartier; and a diamond, ruby and emerald heart-shaped brooch made to commemorate her 20th wedding anniversary with the Duke of Windsor.
Wallis’s collection had many emeralds, including a massive diamond and emerald necklace with the emeralds in a pearl shape and surrounded by smaller diamonds. She also had a smaller square emerald and diamond bracelet and brooch that she was photographed in, in the 1930s.
Of course, the most famous of her emerald jewellery was her engagement ring – a 19.77-carat rectangular emerald set in platinum. It was made by Cartier, and the Duke of Windsor (then King Edward VIII) had “We are ours now 27 X 36” engraved inside the ring.
After the Duchess of Windsor passed away in 1986, her collection of jewels went on sale the following year in Geneva, fetching $50 million (£30m). Around 200 pieces were sold in the world record-setting auction that included the famous engagement ring. The proceeds of the sale went to the Pasteur Institute in Paris.
The two-day sale was hosted by Sotheby’s outside the Beau-Rivage hotel on 2 and 3 April 1987 and included a ruby and diamond bracelet the Duke of Windsor purchased for Wallis before she divorced Ernest Simpson; that bracelet had “hold tight” inscribed on the clasp. A cigarette case by Cartier was also sold that featured a map of their trips in the Mediterranean. A gem marked each spot where they stopped to visit.
A diamond brooch in the shape of a plum fetched over $566,000 (£400,000); it was purchased by American actress Elizabeth Taylor. However, the item sold for the highest price was a 31-carat diamond ring that sold for $3.15m (£2m).
Since 1987, some of the items have been auctioned again – including in 2010 when the panther bracelet and flamingo brooch were re-sold.