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.
‘A tiara is one thing I will never own’ she is supposed to have quipped to Princess Olga of Yugoslavia, but although she may never have owned a traditional tiara, the future Duchess of Windsor did wear several imaginative head pieces throughout her life.
Thelma Furness’ Aquamarine Band
Whilst living in London in the early 1930’s, Mrs Wallis Simpson became very friendly with fellow American, Thelma, Viscountess Furness, the mistress of Edward Prince of Wales.
In order to gain entry in the upper echelons of society, Wallis needed to be formally presented at the Court of King George V and Queen Mary. But despite her husband Ernest’s successful career in merchant shipping, being presented was an expense that the Simpsons could ill afford.
Therefore, Wallis borrowed an Aquamarine bandeau and matching cross from Thelma, along with a train, fan and her Prince of Wales feathers.
Ironically, it would not be long before Mrs Simpson took the Prince of Wales himself from Thelma, leading to the Abdication Crisis of 1936.
The Van Cleef and Arpels Diamond Headpiece
After his Abdication on 11th December 1936, King Edward VIII (now to be known as the Duke of Windsor) went into exile. Wallis Simpson was already living in France but she could not join him as this could have compromised her divorce. Despite their enforced separation, Edward placed several orders with the famous jewellers, Van Cleef and Arpels, for his bride to be.
According to renowned jewellery historian Vincent Meylan in his book ‘Van Cleef and Arpels, Treasures and Legends’, The Duke of Windsor ordered as a wedding present:
“A hair ornament. Set exclusively with diamonds, it was accompanied by a set of clips, large and small, that could be attached to the armature to make it more imposing or be worn separately”
The new Duchess of Windsor would wear this piece early on in her marriage. Here she is seen wearing it for a photo-shoot with Cecil Beaton for Vogue in 1937.
It is unclear what became of this piece. Some people like to speculate that it was stolen in the famous Ednam Lodge robbery but the list given to the insurance assessors does not include a headpiece or diamond brooches. It was more than likely broken up by the Duchess, with the stones being used in her future jewellery creations.
The Cartier Emerald and Diamond Tiara
This particular diadem would probably be the closest Wallis would ever come to wearing a conventional tiara. Thought to have been a Cartier stock piece made in 1949, it was originally a necklace but Wallis had some of her own Emerald beads added to the base to give it the required height.
Again, the Duchess of Windsor only wore this circlet during the early years of her marriage. It’s currently unknown what it’s eventual fate may have been.
The Van Cleef and Arpels Ruby and Diamond Leaf Brooch
As he was ordering her the Diamond Headpiece for their wedding, the Duke of Windsor also collected Wallis’ Christmas present for 1936. The Van Cleef & Arpels Ruby and Diamond Leaf brooch was one of the first jewellery pieces to use the “invisible” setting for which the jewellers are now renowned and would become the basis for a stunning Ruby Parure that Wallis would build up over the years.
This piece did survive in tact and at the legendary 1987 Duchess of Windsor auction, held after her death, the Van Cleef & Arpels ruby and diamond brooch sold for an amazing price of $806,000.