Today mark the Anniversary of the Death of Wallis Simpson, the Duchess of Windsor, who died on this day in 1986! The twice-divorced American whose long-standing affair with King Edward VIII led to the 1936 abdication crisis in Britain. Wallis, later styled as the Duchess of Windsor, after marrying ex-King Edward VIII in June 1937 in France, did not posses any tiara but was no stranger to jewels, having amassed a magnificent collection throughout her life, so to mark the anniversary, we are featuring her Emerald Necklace!
In 1960, the Parisian branch of Maison Cartier mounted for the Duchess of Windsor a necklace with five pear-shaped clusters, each one of them set at the centre with a pear-shaped emerald within a radiant border of baguette and marquise diamonds, the sides and back are designed as a set of semi-circular links set with circular- and square-cut diamonds. The principal emerald weights 14.61 carats and the four pear-shaped emeralds range from 5.82 to 7.82 carats.
From the necklace, hangs a spectacular 48.95 carat pear-shaped emerald surrounded by a frame studded with brilliant- and navette-cut diamonds, acquired from Harry Winston on that same year. It can also be worn as a brooch. The stone is said to have been property of King Alfonso XIII of Spain, who sold it after he had to been exiled from his Kingdom, as a consequence of the fall of the Monarchy in 1931. Unfortunately, it is not precisely known how Alfonso XIII became on its possession. Various sources point out his aunt, Infanta Isabel, as its previous owner. She died childless, leaving a major part of her jewellery collection to her nephew, the King. “La Chata” had an impressive number of emerald-studded jewels, however, she was never pictured wearing such a similar pear-shaped stone. Another possibility is that it may come from the collection of Queen Maria Cristina. It is known that her son, Alfonso XIII, inherited “a pear-shaped emerald suspended from three diamonds” from her estate. This piece, valued in 40.000 pesetas, could very much be the emerald that was later in the Windsors’ possession.
The ‘Spanish’ emerald was given by Harry Winston to the Duke and Duchess in exchange of a pair of Oriental ankle bracelets that Wallis used to wear as a necklace. The piece was made up of 52 cabochon pear-shaped emeralds (670 cts) and 28 rose-cut diamonds (135 cts). The jewels first belonged to Sita Devi Sahib, the Maharani of Baroda, also known as “the Indian Wallis Simpson”. She sold them to the Jeweller in 1953. As Pablo Milstein notes in his Blog, there is a very funny story, that brings the two ladies together, who, so to say, didn’t get along very well, that explains why the Duchess wanted to get rid of her Emerald Anklets:
“the famous incident occurs, some say in Paris, others in New York, in 1957 during which the ‘arch-enemies’ are going to coincide. Obviously, the Maharani savoured the pleasure of revenge, recognizing on the neck of the Duchess, her emerald anklets. With a deliciously timed ‘bon mot’, the Maharani muttered to her «The emeralds that now adorn your neck, at one time caressed my feet»
After this occurred, Wallis sent a letter to Harry Winston letting him know that she would like to return the necklace to him and exchange it for another piece, with the condition that he would not sell the anklets to anyone who knew that she had used them. (…) The necklace was sold to a prominent social figure from Dallas, Texas.”
After this exchange, the pear-shaped emerald was suspended from the Duchess’ recently acquired Cartier necklace. She would use this piece very often, until her later years, at many social events and portraits, as well as an iconic feature in Vogue in 1964.
After the Duchess’ death in 1986, the Emerald Necklace, together with the rest of her splendid jewellery collection, was sold at auction at Sotheby’s. The proceeds from the sale were donated to Pasteur Institute in Paris.
This article was written by assistant editor, David Rato, who runs the Spanish Royal Jewels account on Instagram!