Wallis Simpson’s engagement ring, given to her by King Edward VIII of the United Kingdom is one of the most iconic pieces of jewellery in modern history. This stunning ring not only represents the love between the Duke of Windsor and his American divorcee, but it also symbolises the constitutional crisis in the United Kingdom that ultimately led to the abdication of the King.
Wallis Simpson, the Duchess of Windsor, was a true connoisseur of exquisite jewellery. Born on June 19, 1896, in Pennsylvania, United States, she gained worldwide notoriety for her role in the abdication crisis of King Edward VIII of the United Kingdom. She was gifted with numerous pieces of jewellery from her royal lover, with emeralds being a particular favourite.
Upon his ascension to the throne in 1936, Wallis Simpson believed that her relationship with King Edward VIII would come to an end. However, his love for her only grew stronger, eventually reaching a level of obsession. Believing that she would be crowned by his side, he commissioned his favourite jeweller, Jacques Cartier to make a engagement ring for his future queen.
According to Cartier, the gemstone was one of two cut from a large emerald that once belonged to a Grand Mogul. Jacques had sent a salesman to Baghdad to purchase gemstones, but the sale had to be conducted in secrecy. When the salesman returned, he only had one small pouch but it contained an emerald the size of a bird’s egg. While Jacques marvelled at the chance to hold such a magnificent emerald, he was also dismayed as it had to be cut in two due to the difficulty of finding ultra wealthy buyers in the 1930s.
Judging by the original mount, the initial ring was a fairly simple design, typical of the Art Deco period.
Set in platinum, it featured baguette cut diamonds on either side of the main emerald.
According to documentation, this ring had been bought and paid for on 30th October 1936, two months before the abdication. As an important client of the firm, Cartier quoted a ‘special price’ of £10,000 (£500,000 in 2023).
However, despite Edward’s strong desire for Wallis to become his queen, the government and the Church of England would not accept a divorced woman as his consort. Moreover, there were underlying concerns about Edward’s suitability for the throne, which led to his eventual abdication in December 1936.
In his famous speech, Edward (now to be known as the Duke of Windsor) declared:
‘I have found it impossible to carry the heavy burden of responsibility and to discharge my duties as king as I would wish to do without the help and support of the woman I love.‘
Wallis and Edward would marry France in 1937 and the new Duchess of Windsor would kept the original design for many years, proudly showing it off during photoshoots.
In 1957, 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.
The new ring was set in 18ct Yellow Gold with the main Emerald now surrounded by Round Brilliant Cut diamonds in a floral design.
After her death, the ring & the original platinum mount (together with the rest of her jewellery collection) was sold at auction at Sotheby’s in 1987.
The proceeds from the sale were donated to Pasteur Institute in Paris