Wallis Simpson, born on June 19, 1896, in Pennsylvania, United States, gained worldwide notoriety for her role in the abdication crisis of King Edward VIII of the United Kingdom. While her relationship with the British monarch remains one of the most well-known aspects of her life, Wallis Simpson had a passion for exquisite jewellery, particularly Emeralds.
Amongst her most notable pieces was a truly remarkable Emerald and Diamond necklace which combined the grandeur of two separate historic jewels.
A year after the Abdication Crisis, in December 1937, the famous French jeweller Van Cleef and Arpels created an unusual Emerald, Diamond, and Ruby bracelet for the Duchess. In his book ‘Van Cleef & Arpels: Treasures and Legends,’ the jewellery historian Vincent Meylan describes the piece as being
‘Perhaps the most original piece ever created by Van Cleef and Arpels for the Duchess of Windsor.
Against a black lacquered ribbon unfurled a flower composed of five large emerald petals surrounded by diamonds and rubies which could be detached and worn as a brooch.
The size of the emeralds, each weighing between 5.85 and 14ct to make a total of 41.44 carats ensued that this was also one of the most expensive pieces bought by the Duke at 585,000 francs.’
It has been speculated that these Emeralds came from Edward’s grandmother, Queen Alexandra but this has never been established.
After World War II, Wallis and Edward emerged as the de facto leaders of Café Society. Their prominent status meant they frequently graced glamorous gatherings and events. Wallis can be seen here wearing the brooch for a photoshoot by famed society photographer, Cecil Beaton and for a ball in Paris in 1950.
But the Duchess was never static with her jewellery. She was forever redesigning old pieces to be more in line with the contemporary fashions of time.
In 1960, after an embarrassing encounter with the Maharani of Baroda, Wallis exchanged two Emerald and Diamond necklaces with the New York jeweller Harry Winston for a substantial Pear Shaped Emerald and Diamond pendant.
The Emerald alone weighed 48.95cts and was originally suspended in a simple setting featuring three diamonds.
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 in 1931 but is unclear where this stone originated from.
Both the King’s aunt and his mother possesd a vast collection of fine emeralds, no doubt a legacy from Spain’s colonial history in Colombia
In December of that same year, the Duchess took her Van Cleef & Arpels Emerald bracelet to the jeweller Cartier in Paris.
Together with the Alfonso Emerald, the jewellers unset and remounted the five main emeralds into a spiky 1960s style necklace featuring an array of marquise cut and baguette cut diamonds.
The Alfonso Emerald was reset with a diamond border surrounding the main stone using nine marquise cut diamonds totaling 4.68cts and thirteen round brilliant cut diamonds of 3.83cts.
The Necklace would become a prominent part of the Duchess’ collection in later life.
Like her Engagement Ring and her many other bejewelled possesions, this necklace was sold at auction at Sotheby’s. The proceeds from the sale were donated to Pasteur Institute in Paris.