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 an unparalleled passion for exquisite jewellery. Her dazzling collection featured an extensive array of breathtaking Rubies, mesmerising Emeralds, and an impressive collection of bejewelled animals.
One such creature was a multi gemmed flamingo brooch which has become something of a trademark, despite her only being photographed wearing it four times.
Having been his mistress for a number of years, upon his ascension to the throne in January, Wallis Simpson believed that her relationship with the new King Edward VIII would come to an end. However, his love for her only grew stronger, eventually reaching a level of obsession.
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 but despite marrying a former king, Wallis was denied the title HRH (Her Royal Highness).
Despite this, Edward continued buying Wallis jewels fit for a Queen.
Just as he would do with several of her pieces – The Duke visited Cartier with a collection of loose stones he owned and four bracelets with a necklace from Wallis’ collection.
The immaculately kept Cartier ledger shows that the jewellers were able to unset and reuse 42 calibré-cut Rubies, 42 Sapphires, 42 Emeralds and 102 Diamonds.
Together with the famed jewellery designer Peter Lemarchand, Edward was heavily involved in the construction of this new brooch. He insisted the diamond leg of the Flamingo be moveable as he did not want it to dig into Wallis’ chest if she were to bend down.
Hans Nadelhoffer in his book ‘Cartier, Jewellers Extraordinaire’ described the Brooch as:
“Lemarchand’s animal figures have vigour, plasticity and an inimitable sense of movement – thanks it must be said, to the virtuoso technique of the Cartier craftsmen who executed the designs and who could capture the articulate litheness of a great cat or emphasise the tail of a bird of paradise with a flexible platinum setting….“
Sotheby’s would go on to catalogue the Brooch as:
“Designed as a flamingo in a characteristic pose, the plumage set with calibré-cut emeralds, rubies and sapphires, the beak set with a cabochon citrine and sapphire, the eye set with a similarly cut sapphire, the head, neck, body and hinged legs pavé-set with circular-, brilliant- and single-cut diamonds, measuring approximately 95mm x 65mm x 22mm, signed to the clasp MONTURE Cartier and indistinctly numbered, French assay and maker’s marks.”
Wallis was first pictured wearing the brooch at the Ritz Hotel, Madrid, on Edward’s forty-sixth birthday, 23rd June 1940
But in light of the War and the Duke’s political leanings, a decision was made that he would find a more suitable environment as Governor of the Bahamas. On her arrival on the island, Wallis chose to wear the Flamingo for their first press call.
The proximity of the Bahamas to Wallis’ native America meant the couple would sometimes make trips to Miami, Florida. On one such occasion in 1940, the Duke and Duchess were greeted by a large crowd and the American Press, with Wallis wearing the Flamingo Brooch on her lapel.
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 social events. However, it appears that this brooch was either not a favourite or was only worn discreetly as Wallis was rarely photographed wearing it.
The last known photograph of the brooch was from 1970, sent to their secretary Suzanne Blum from their suite at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel.
Like her Engagement Ring and her many other bejewelled possesions, the Rubies were sold at auction at Sotheby’s after the Duchess’ death in 1987. The proceeds from the sale were donated to Pasteur Institute in Paris.
The Flamingo Brooch would reappear at Sotheby’s in 2010 and is now believed to be owned by the Cartier Heritage Foundation.