How the Duke of Windsor wooed Wallis with £100million of jewellery

How the Duke of Windsor wooed Wallis with a staggering collection of jewellery worth £100 million – gems fit for the queen she would never become

  • Edward was known for showering mistresses with jewellery
  • With the Simpsons’ business failing Wallis, needed both the jewels – and cash
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Unsurpassed in their extravagance, Wallis Simpson’s jewels drew immediate and rather bemused attention when she appeared in the company of Edward, Prince of Wales.

Described as ‘garish’ by some, particularly on a woman otherwise so elegant, the sheer size of her gemstones caused astonishment.

A noted diarist at the time, Marie Belloc Lowndes, declared that Mrs Simpson must be wearing ‘dressmakers jewels’ – at which those around her laughed and put her straight: they were presents from the Prince of Wales.  

So bewitched was Edward by the twice-divorced American that he not only gave her every jewel imaginable,  he gave up his right to his throne (not to mention the Crown Jewels themselves, the multi-billion pound birth right of every monarch). 

As Prince of Wales, Edward bombarded Mrs Simpson with expensive jewellery, including a bracelet of Cartier crosses, seen on her left wrist as they play golf on holiday in Trogir in Dalmatia, 1936

The diamond bracelet owned by the Duchess of Windsor was made by Cartier in 1935. The Duke and Duchess had matching Latin crosses, his on a necklace. The true nature of their growing relationship was clear when they were spotted both wearing the crosses while taking a holiday on the Dalmatian Coast. Wallis wore her bracelet on her wedding day

A spectacular Prince of Wales brooch commissioned and given by the then Prince of Wales to Mrs Simpson in 1935. It was purchased by Elizabeth Taylor in 1987 

When, in 1987, it was auctioned at Sotheby’s in Geneva, the collection achieved an eye-opening £37 million, seven times the estimate. That sum would be more than £100 million today.

Edward’s  mother, Queen Mary, and his grandmother, Queen Alexandra, were famous for their gems – and jewellery ran, as it were, in the family.

By the time he met Wallis Simpson, he was already well-known for having lavished earlier mistresses with jewels,

Nevertheless over the years, countless questions have been asked: why did he spend quite so much money on Wallis?

Was it a testament simply to the depth of his love or, also, to the extraordinary hold she had over him? 

Did he believe that Wallis would one day be his Queen Consort and was therefore entitled to the most magnificent collection imaginable?

Were all the gifts entirely proper – did the future Duke of Windsor give her jewels that he had inherited as Prince of Wales, but should probably have given up on his abdication?

The Prince of Wales met Mr and Mrs Simpson at a weekend house party in early 1931. The prince was there with his current mistress, Thelma (Viscountess) Furness.

It wasn’t until a year later in early 1932 that the Simpsons first entertained Prince Edward at their apartment at Bryanston Court in Marylebone.

Edward’s visits soon became more frequent. He would stay up until the early hours chatting with Wallis while Ernest went back to his papers and then to bed.

In her biography, The American Duchess, Anna Pasternak suggests that the prince couldn’t stand the ‘stuffy court life’ and found the conversation at the Simpson’s flat ‘witty and crackling with new ideas’.

An emerald and diamond bracelet presented to Mrs Simpson, as she then was, by Edward, the Prince of Wales. As his infatuation grew – and she pulled back – the jewels became more lavish

A portrait of Mrs Simpson wearing the emerald and diamond bracelet

His first present was not a jewel but an orchid, given during a surprise party for her 37th birthday party in June 1933.

But by Easter 1934, the prince had ended his relationship with another American, Thelma Furness (sister of Gloria Vanderbilt), and Wallis had started to receive jewellery and money to buy luxuries and clothes. 

She would have been grateful. Wallis was struggling to keep up appearances (so necessary to stay socially acceptable) as shipping business was still suffering after the  depression of the 1920s. Money was becoming a major worry.

In July 1934, Edward (known as David to his family) invited Wallis and her aunt to Biarritz, along with several other friends.

Ernest was unable to go and the prince was seen to have followed Wallis around like a puppy.

And it was just after this trip that the first significant gift appears, as Wallis describes it to her aunt: ‘a tiny velvet pouch from Cartier…’ a diamond and emerald charm for a bracelet’.

Edward frequently gave charms as presents, more often than not inscribed with the date alongside an intimate message.

One particularly recognisable piece of jewellery is the Cartier bracelet carrying nine of such charms which came up for auction in 1987 – the first time that the inscriptions could be examined in public.

The bracelet, with the first charm given to her in November 1934, is inscribed: ‘WE are too’ 25-XI-34.

The 1987 catalogue also listed a slim chain necklace with three crosses suspended, matching the bracelet which recently came up again for auction at Sotheby’s 2010. This had belonged to the Prince.

In August 1936, while Edward and Wallis  were on the Dalmatian Coast – more than six months after his accession – photographs appeared in the International press of the couple wearing their Latin cross jewels, indicating to the world the depth of their relationship.

At the time there were six crosses, the seventh, set with sapphires, diamonds and emeralds, marked their wedding a year later in June 1937, while two others were given in 1944.

Daily Telegraph reported that in early 1935,  George V heard from his courtiers that his son had recently spent £110,000 on jewellery for a mystery woman.

This was only six weeks after the Simpsons attended a sumptuous state reception at Buckingham Palace for the wedding of Edward’s favourite brother Prince George (the Duke of Kent, who would die in a plane crash in 1942) to Princess Marina of Greece at which Wallis borrowed a tiara from Cartier and wore jewels given to her by the Prince of Wales .

George V immediately requested that his prime minister, Stanley Baldwin, discover who this woman was. 

He was worried that his son was being blackmailed – and, thanks to the secret services, a spying operation commenced.

It seems extraordinary to me that King George needed to go this far – after all, ‘everyone’ seemed to know that the Prince of Wales had spent £50,000 on jewels for Wallis’s Christmas presents, and then another £60,000 for New Year.  

According to Vincent Meylan in his 2012 book, Treasures and Legends, Edward began purchasing fabulous jewels from Van Cleef & Arpels at Wallis’s suggestion, in early 1935.

In February, he bought two diamond and emerald dress clips.

Then in October of that year, he gave her a spectacular diamond and emerald two-strand riviére necklace.

It is generally accepted that, while Wallis loved the attention she was receiving from the most eligible man in the world, she was not in love with Edward – not in the early days, at least.

The Simpsons’ money problems grew, however Edwards gifts – including money – became not merely gratifying but necessary.

She wrote letters to her aunt, Bessie Merryman, that Edward’s attentions were becoming tiresome and more than once she disappeared to go shopping in Paris (with his money no doubt) to escape the pressure of being at his beck and call.

Wallis did not always appreciate his turning up unannounced at the Simpsons’ apartment for cocktails and dinner.

She was still married of course. Although, early on, Ernest was extraordinarily accepting of this affair (he was always reverential of the monarchy), by spring 1935 he was growing increasingly fed up of his role as cuckold.

And Wallis realised. They were staying at St Austell Bay Hotel over Easter 1935, when a box with a magnificent bracelet was delivered to the Simpson’s suite, along with a letter which, once again, declared the prince’s feelings.

Receiving such a gift while sitting with her husband was not at all comfortable and led Wallis to beg the prince for some consideration.

At the same time, she was sure that the infatuation would one day end and that  the prince would find a younger model.

Anne Sebba author of a biography entitled That Woman describes how, as Wallis pulled back from the relationship, he gave her more and more – both jewels and money.

According to Sebba’s biography, Sir Lionel Halsey (effectively the prince’s accountant) informed George V that his son was providing Mrs Simpson with a ‘handsome income’ as much as £6000, or some £500,000 in today’s money.

The letters to his mistress were becoming increasingly desperate: endlessly declaring his love for her, stressing how he loves her ‘more and more every minute’ and how her David will ‘look after you so long as he has breath in his … body.’

In 1935 came one of the boldest statements of his desire to marry her.

Prince Edward commissioned a platinum brooch designed as a plume of three ostrich feathers and a coronet, first drawn for Prince Edward the Black Prince. Since the 1700s, it had been the  heraldic symbol of the Prince of Wales.

The feathers of the brooch are covered in circular pavé-set diamonds, gathered together by an 18k diamond set crown, their quills accented with baguette-cut diamonds.

This piece of jewellery far outsized the piece in the Royal Collection called The Prince of Wales Feathers Brooch, made for his grandmother Princess Alexandra of Denmark when she married the Prince of Wales (later Edward VII) in 1863, and which has subsequently been worn by Diana and Kate.

The Prince Edward piece was bought by Elizabeth Taylor in the 1987 auction.

Christmas 1935 was Edward’s last as Prince of Wales.

The Duchess of Windsor’s Prince of Wales Feathers brooch was significantly bigger than  the version owned by the Royal Collection and worn by Kate, above, and Diana, below

Dian pictured in Australia wearing the Spencer Tiara, the Royal Family Order of the Queen, and the royal Prince of Wales Feathers – worn as a  necklace on this occasion

He gave Wallis an emerald and diamond bracelet, probably by Van Cleef and Arpels, as it almost matched the exquisite emerald and diamond necklace of October. On the clasp was engraved W- 25. XII. 35 – D

Less than a month later, his father, George V, died and Edward became King of the United Kingdom and the Dominions of the British Empire and Emperor of India.

It was a dramatic change of life for Edward and and also for Wallis.

And the jewels would change, too: the pieces he bought in the next 11 months were not merely expensive but magnificent, gems more suited to those belonging to a Queen – the Queen he so desperately wanted Wallis to be.

  • Josie Goodbody, is a jewellery historian and author of mystery novels

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