Cartier, the Duke and Duchess of Windsor: a 40-year love story told with jewellery
Cartier charted the story of this legendary couple with superbly refined jewels. Unique designs and specially commissioned pieces told a love story of passion and elegance, and defined a signature style. For her, Edward VIII renounced the English throne in 1936. For her, he was restyled Duke of Windsor. She was Bessie Wallis née Warfield, a divorcee previously married to Winfield Spencer and Ernest Aldrich Simpson. Edward’s marriage to her was hailed as the most romantic act of the century.
Throughout their relationship, jewels and precious objects, from the most spectacular to the most personal, revealed a thoughtful, tender intimacy, nurtured the loving gestures the couple lavished upon one other.
Cartier from the very beginning
“David from Wallis. Christmas 1935”, reads the inscription on the rose gold cigarette case by Cartier, a Christmas gift from Wallis Simpson to the Prince of Wales. The one-of-a-kind piece was engraved with a map of their travels across Europe, each capital city plotted with a different gemstone, and the destinations joined by enamelled wire. This keepsake, which pre-dated their engagement, was the first in a long line of Cartier gifts exchanged by the couple.
During his fleeting reign in 1936, the King dedicated to Wallis two signed copies of his official portrait, presented in a gold double frame made by Cartier. Photographed tieless, he faces left, as his father had done, in contravention of the tradition requiring that each monarch face in the opposite direction to his predecessor.
It was said that he was eccentric. “All my life I have rebelled against the rules of dress reflecting the rigid social conventions that governed my family world.” It was said that she was elegant. “She has become the epitome of elegance. All of London is drawn to her as the mistress and perhaps future wife of the king… She is without a doubt the most fascinating public persona of the moment.”
Like his grandfather, who coined the phrase “king of jewellers and jeweller of kings”, Edward VIII became an eminent client of Cartier, official jeweller to the crown since 1904.
In December 1936, shortly after his abdication, the Duke of Windsor presented Wallis Simpson with an engagement ring set with a 20.33-carat cushion-cut emerald from Cartier’s London studio. The following year, on 3 June 1937, the couple were married in Château de Candé in Tours, France. Their union was lauded as a triumph of love over staunch conventions. They exchanged platinum wedding rings by Cartier.
Anniversaries, secrets, symbols and engraved messages: the language of love, powerfully communicated by Cartier jewellery
The couple commissioned sentimentally-charged pieces from Cartier: made-to-measure jewels whose secret significance was known only to them.
The initials “WE” were a favourite motif. In 1937, the Duke wrote to Cartier with his precise indications for the design of the monogram, which was to feature on an engraved brooch.
The “WE” monogram incorporated a pun on the couple’s names, Wallis and Edward. The Duke wished to see their initials intertwined.
This taste for highly personal tokens of affection comes into its own in one of the most iconic tributes to their love, a gem-set cross bracelet. The Duchess affixed to the bracelet nine Latin crosses given to her by the Duke between 1934 and 1944 to commemorate certain events in their lives, be they major or trivial.
Nine platinum crosses set with baguette-cut diamonds and calibré-cut coloured stones: aquamarines, emeralds, rubies, yellow sapphires and amethysts. The crosses are dated on the back, and bear cryptic personal inscriptions such as “Our Marriage Cross Wallis 3-VI-37”. The “Appendectomy Cross” commemorates the Duchess’ admission to Roosevelt Hospital, New York, in summer 1944. Another inscription, “WE are too”, inaugurated the secret language that bound the Duke and Duchess to one another throughout their lives together.
From Paris to Cannes: Cartier charts a sumptuous itinerary
Endorsing his wife’s status of “best-dressed woman in the world”, the Duke lavished her with exquisite accessories: an emerald and ruby bib necklace; a sapphire cabochon necklace; a sapphire brooch; coral, emerald and ruby sets of jewels; evening clutches and lorgnettes.
After the war, relieved of their official obligations, the Windsors settled in Paris at the invitation of the French state. The couple frequented high society and brought their six dogs and hundreds of suitcases on travels between Paris, Deauville, Cannes, Palm Beach and Saint-Moritz. With extensive media coverage generated by a flurry of adoring reporters and photographers, the most high-profile café society couple of the day had arrived.
Defining Windsor style
The trendsetting couple defined their own signature style. The Duchess dressed demurely in clean, crisp lines, tailored suits, dainty brocade coats and knife-pleated dresses, accessorised with jewels, pearl necklaces, lockets, brooches and bangles. The Duke favoured comfort, mobility and colour, tartan and cashmere, soft collars, belts, plaid and tuxedo jackets. She was considered the best-dressed woman in the world. He is still seen as the most elegant man of the 20th century.
Jewels and haute couture: signature of the Duchess
A devotee of Schiaparelli, Valentino, Balenciaga, Dior, Givenchy, Saint Laurent, Jacques Fath and Pucci, her distinctive style was fawned over by the cream of Parisian society at her every public appearance with the Duke. She was pictured at the bal de l’Orangerie in the Château of Versailles in 1953 wearing a turquoise and amethyst bib necklace made by Cartier in 1947.
Enter the panther
On the expert recommendation of Jeanne Toussaint, director of Cartier Fine Jewellery, in 1948 the Duchess acquired the first three-dimensional incarnation of the panther, rendered in gold and black enamel, crouching atop a 90-carat cabochon emerald and mounted on a brooch pin.
This was to be the first of her panthers.
A year later, the Duchess acquired a platinum panther brooch; this big cat was perched atop on a 152.35-carat cabochon sapphire. At the time, Toussaint had a private first-floor showroom within the Cartier boutique at rue de la Paix in Paris. Her original take on style was known as the goût Toussaint, and the glitterati would sweep in to seek her esteemed opinion. The Duke and Duchess of Windsor belonged to the illustrious elite received by Toussaint in her stunning Place d’Iéna apartment, whose decor won the admiration of Sir Cecil Beaton: “An artistic sensibility and a collector’s passion come together to produce a highly intellectual result.”
Quickly embracing the Cartier bestiary, Wallis later commissioned from Cartier a brooch featuring a pug’s head in gold, enamel and citrine, in tribute to the couple’s beloved dogs.
Over two decades, Wallis cultivated a collection of animal-themed brooches, bracelets, necklaces, and lorgnettes, as well as jewels with feline motifs and ravishing bird brooches. A blister pearl was transformed into a duck’s head mounted on a brooch pin. Jeanne Toussaint’s iconic flamingo brooch was created for the Duchess.
In 1956, the Duchess commissioned from Cartier an articulated tiger brooch, set with onyx and brilliant-cut jonquil stones, and mounted on yellow gold. “It shall be my last whim approved by Edward, who is so happy to give me this gift,” she remarked.
After the Duke passed away on 28 May 1972, Wallis lost all interest in what she liked to term – in wry French with a neat play on the common roots of the words – "l’art de la parure, sinon l’art de paraître" (the art of jewellery, or the art of being seen).
Wallis followed her husband in 1986. Her vast jewellery collection was auctioned by Sotheby’s in 1987. As her biographer Charles Higham observed, they would be her “monument”.
Cartier recovered some of the iconic jewels at the historic auction, 50 years after they were created. These pieces are an unparalleled testament to the Windsor style and to a boldly creative time in jewellery making. They are the legacy of the prolific partnership Cartier enjoyed with the legendary couple.
These fine jewellery pieces today belong among the most striking sets in the Cartier collection. The more celebrated items have been exhibited in the greatest museums in the world. The most recent addition, the flamingo brooch, was acquired by Cartier in London in 2010. Designed by Jeanne Toussaint, the flamingo stands resting with one leg folded, and is illuminated with a plumage of sapphires, rubies, and calibré-cut emeralds. This bold chromatic rendering of the pink flamingo was determined by the selection of stones furnished by the couple.
Resonating with vigour and movement, the curve of the plumage and the incredible malleable effect of the piece proclaim the virtuosity of Cartier’s master craftsmen, who expertly rendered in 3D the subtle nuances of Cartier design created at the time by the legendary Peter Lemarchand.