On October 15th 1946, the Duke and Duchess of Windsor were dining in London with their friends, The Earl and Countess of Dudley.
It was the first time the notorious couple had set foot in England since the end of WWII . When they returned to their hosts residence at Ednam Lodge in Berkshire they were horrified to discover that they had been robbed and that the Duchess’ jewel box was missing.
When a rope of pearls belonging to Queen Alexandra was found in the fields surrounding the house, the rumour mill went wild. Were the Royals behind the robbery? Were they trying to reclaim fabulous jewels that the Duke of Windsor had ‘stolen’ after his abdication?
Wallis Simpson, Duchess of Windsor was no stranger to fine jewels.
Since becoming mistress to Edward, Prince of Wales, she had been showered with gifts (Emeralds being a particular favourite) and throughout her life she would receive many spectacular pieces featuring the luscious, green gemstone.
The earliest known purchase featuring emeralds was in 1935, when the Prince bought a double-row diamond and emerald necklace from the famous French jewellery house, Van Cleef and Arpels.
In 1937, Van Cleef and Arpels created an unusual Emerald, Diamond and Ruby bracelet for the Duchess.
The central element could be detached and worn as a brooch.
Wallis’ jewels were never static. She was forever dismantling and resetting her pieces into more up to date designs. The stones featured in this bracelet were to be transformed into a stunning necklace in the 1960’s.
Her most famous Emerald though was her legendary engagement ring.
When he abdicated the throne in 1936 in order to marry Wallis, King Edward VIII commissioned the great jeweller, Cartier to make an important Emerald and Diamond ring . The central stone was to be a breath-taking, 19.77 Carat rectangular Emerald, said to be one half of a great stone belonging to a Grand Mogul. Engraved on the inside of the platinum band was the message “We are ours now 27 X 36”
To celebrate their 20th wedding anniversary, Wallis had Cartier remount the ring into an extravagant gold and platinum creation which reflected the lavish mid century styles. She did however, keep the original platinum mount and both were to be sold at auction after her death.
But what of the legendary Emeralds of Queen Alexandra? The gems that Edward VIII is supposed to have stolen from the Royal vaults and bestowed on the woman for whom he gave up his throne? The Emeralds that were stolen back by the Royal Family in the dead of night?
When Princess Alexandra of Denmark wed the future Edward VII in 1863, it is said that she brought the alleged Emeralds to England. This is easily refuted given that the Danish princess had to make her own bridal gown and was, by royal standards, rather impoverished. While Alexandra did acquire numerous priceless gems through her roles as the Princess of Wales and Queen, she seemed to favour Pearls and Diamonds, which were in style at the time. She might have had a collection of loose jewels that her husband, Edward VII, had brought back from his trips to India.
Amongst the list of stolen items handed over to the Police and the insurers, there is only one Emerald mentioned and this was a ring:
The list of missing items:
1 x Diamond Bird Clip
One Diamond and Aquamarine brooch
One platinum and diamond bracelet with six large Aquamarines
One Aquamarine Solitaire Ring – 58.2 carats
One gold ring set with One gold sapphire (41.4ct)
One solitaire Square Cut Emerald Ring (7.81ct)
One pair of Sapphire and diamond earrings
One pair of diamond ball earrings
One pair of earrings in the shape of a shell, one set with a blue sapphire and the other with a yellow sapphire
one double gold chain necklace with one large blue sapphire and one yellow sapphire
Suzy Menkes in her legendary book ‘Royal Jewels’ solves the mystery for us.
According to her, the great society hostess and Royal friend Mrs Ronald Greville gave an interview to an American newspaper stating:
“King Edward bought priceless Emeralds for Mrs Simpson. These were the property of Queen Alexandra who left them to her daughter Princess Victoria, who in turn sold them to Garrads…who sent them to Cartier in Paris and it was actually Cartier who made the sale”
But Nicholas Rayner, chairman of Sotheby’ Geneva, disputes this account. ”I don’t believe the Alexandra emeralds ever existed,” he said. ”We’ve found no evidence of them at all. I believe the story was simply malicious gossip started by people who were offended by the marriage. They wanted to believe the Duchess stole jewels belonging to the royal crown.”
The Cartier Emerald and Diamond Diadem
The Ednam Lodge robbery did nothing to stop the Windsor’s insatiable appetite for Emerald jewellery.
Although she is supposed to have told Princess Olga of Yugoslavia ‘A tiara is one thing I will never own’, this particular Emerald and Diamond diadem would probably be the closest Wallis would ever come to wearing a conventional tiara. It is 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.
The Emerald and Diamond Necklace
Her last important Emerald piece would be a grand necklace featuring stones taken from her Van Cleef bracelet and a 48.49 carat Emerald that had previously belonged to King Alfonso XIII of Spain.
In 1959 the Duke and Duchess acquired the extraordinary pear shaped gem from legendary New York jeweller, Harry Winston.
A year later Cartier designed an eye catching Emerald and Diamond necklace that merged the Van Cleef stones with the Harry Winston Pendant. The Duchess would wear it frequently in later life.
After her death, the necklace, together with the rest of her jewellery collection, was sold at auction at Sotheby’s. The proceeds from the sale were donated to Pasteur Institute in Paris