Today marks the 125th Anniversary of the Birth of the Duchess of Windsor, who was born on this day in 1896! The twice-divorced American for whom a King gave up his Throne, the Duchess possessed a massive jewellery collection of sumptuous modern pieces, but to mark the anniversary, we are featuring her only Royal Heirloom, the splendid Pearl Necklace from Queen Mary!
While some sources claim that the pearl necklace was a piece from Empress Maria Feodorovna of Russia, King George V commissioned this splendid pearl necklace with 28 large pearls from Cartier as a gift for Queen Mary in 1926. While it is sure that the necklace was worn, it is difficult to find photographic evidence, but one can imagine Queen Mary wearing this necklace in her toques of pearl and diamond necklaces.
Queen Mary gave quite splendid gifts to the Princess Royal, Duchess of York, Duchess of Gloucester, and Duchess of Kent on their Weddings, but due to the controversial circumstances of their marriage, not only did Queen Mary not give any gifts to Wallis for her wedding but also refused to speak to or receive her. However, by 1952, Queen Mary had thawed enough to send a special gift to her daughter-in-law, likely given to the Duke when he came to Britain for King George VI’s Funeral, and gifted her Cartier Pearl Necklace. The Duchess first wore the Pearl Necklace for a series of Dorothy Wilding portraits a few months later and it quickly became a favourite, though the Duchess later erroneously claimed that the Duke had inherited the necklace from Queen Mary and also talked about a Russian provenance.
Early on, the Duchess of Windsor paired Queen Mary’s Pearl Necklace with a pear-shaped pearl pendant purchased from New York jeweller Olga Tritt in 1948, and worn with an additional strand of faux pearls. In 1963, the Duke commissioned a necklace of 29 pearls from Van Cleef & Arpels, to which the pendant was attached, and from then on the two were usually worn as a pair, along with a pair of black and white pearl earrings, though there are notable instances when they were worn individually.
The Duchess frequently wore the Pearl Necklaces in the 1970s, for many official portraits and visits, and also at the Duke’s Funeral at 1972, as well as the Trooping the Colour Ceremony a few days before that, which she watched from the Balcony of Buckingham Palace. Later in the 70s, the Duchess wore the necklaces for a portrait at their Villa in Paris.
After the Duchess’ death in 1986, her jewels were auctioned at Sotheby’s in Geneva for $45 million, with the proceeds going to the Pasteur Institute medical research foundation. Queen Mary’s Cartier Pearl Necklace sold for $733,333 to an unknown owner while the Van Cleef & Arpels necklace and pendant sold for $193,000 to Kelly Klein, the wife of the designer Calvin Klein, who wore it for numerous occasions in the 1980s and 1990s, before auctioning it at Sotheby’s in 2007 for $3,625,000