Jewels in a crown...that’s romance

When Prince William of Britain announced this past week that he planned to marry his longtime girlfriend, a commoner, the world heaved a collective sigh of gratified pleasure.

By Claudia Barbieri (Celebrity)

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Published: Tue 23 Nov 2010, 9:03 PM

Last updated: Thu 2 Apr 2015, 10:29 AM

And when his father, Prince Charles, married a divorcée five years ago, the world barely shrugged or lifted an eyebrow. It was not always so accommodating. Three generations back, when King Edward VIII announced his plan to marry the American divorcée Wallis Simpson, his decision cost him his throne and drove him into exile in France. For many of his critics, the king’s choice of happiness over duty was an act of dereliction verging on treason.

Yet through all the controversy and bitterness of the abdication, no one ever questioned the reality of the deep and abiding love that Edward, or David as he was known to his intimates, felt for Mrs. Simpson, or the Duchess of Windsor as she became after the marriage.

By a quirk of history, some of the proofs of that love, in the form of gifts exchanged by Edward and Wallis, are on public show this month before being offered for sale in an auction of exceptional jewels and precious objects formerly in the collection of the Duchess of Windsor, at Sotheby’s in London. Viewing starts next Friday, and the sale will be on November 30. The 20 pieces to be sold are often deeply personal. The Windsors loved jewelry, using it to exchange little jokes and to mark the milestones of their life together.

One of the highlights of the sale is a Cartier diamond bracelet adorned with nine platinum crosses set with diamonds, sapphires, emeralds, amethysts and aquamarines – each inscribed on the back with a memento of a key moment in their lives: “God save the King for Wallis” says one, dated 1936, the year of the abdication; “Our marriage cross” says another, dated 1937.

Another piece is a gold oval Cartier watch-cum-compass and sundial. One side of this inspired piece of boy-scout lunacy has a sundial with a flip-up, discreetly phallic, pink-gold gnomon and an inset compass. The other has the watch face and, beneath it, a message engraved in handwritten script: “No excuse for going in the wrong direction. Easter 1939.” It’s not clear what direction that might have been, but the next year, as the German Army invaded France, the Windsors fled Paris, first to Biarritz, then Spain, then Portugal, and finally to the Bahamas, where the former king was appointed governor; so the compass and sundial may have come in useful, after all.

This is not a large sale. The 20 pieces, from a private collection, compare with more than 300 offered when the Windsors’ jewelry first came to market in 1987, and the estimate for this month’s sale, at 3 million pounds, or $4.8 million, compares with 31 million fetched then – which would be a lot more now, allowing for inflation.

But if you’re searching for a holiday season gift with a rare romantic history, this could be a good place to look. “These pieces are very representative of the best of the Windsor collection,” said David Bennett, of Sotheby’s. And there is something for almost every pocket.

An elegant, and rare, platinum pocket watch with moon phases, made by the Geneva watchmaker Haas Neveux around 1925, carries a low estimate of 2,000 pounds; three exquisite Art Nouveau white rose dress buttons, in English enamel, set with garnets and small rose diamonds, has a low estimate of 4,000 pounds; a gold and diamond Cartier evening bag, inscribed “Wallis from Edward, 1947” is estimated at 50,000 pounds to 70,000 pounds; a dramatic, diamond-encrusted, onyx-spotted panther bracelet, with glowing green emerald eyes, is estimated at 1 million pounds to 1.5 million pounds.

But don’t get carried away. The 1987 sale, Sotheby’s says, raised six times its estimate. In a London looking to celebrate a new, and happier, era for Britain’s royalty, the bidding could be fierce.


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