The Duke and Duchess of Windsor's story is well known - he was the King who gave his throne in 1936 to marry the woman he loved. Was it really a fairy tale romance? No, but there was lots of jewelry involved.

Photograph of the Duke of Windsor outside the ...
Duke of Windsor (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Duke of Windsor, later King Edward VIII (1894-1972) was born into a life of utter privilege so much so he couldn't even take his own bath or dress without a valet to help him! American born Wallis Simpson (1895 - 1986), nee Bessie Wallis Warfield, on the other hand, started life illegitimate and genteelly poor. How the heir to the British throne and a twice-divorced American came to meet has been recounted in many books.

Portrait of Wallis Simpson, 1936
Portrait of Wallis Simpson, 1936 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It took Wallis three years to get from the fringes of English society to reach the very pinnacle where she eventually caught the then Prince of Wales' attention. She once said, " Nobody ever called me beautiful, or even pretty." What Wallis lacked in looks, she made up in other ways. She was definitely a woman of style and knew how to dress to suit her slim boyish figure. She was always turned out with fanatical neatness but was never, ever casual. In 1935, she made it into the Paris Couture's best dressed list and remained there for the next forty years! She was also attentive and clever at making the awkward Prince feel witty and wanted.

He was soon hooked. He began lavishing Wallis with jewelry, great big pieces that some people mistook for costume jewelry! One Christmas and New Year, he spent $100,000 and $120,000 (estimated at $400,000 and $440,000 in today's money) on jewelry for her. The highly strung prince could not express his love otherwise - his letters were totally banal and childish. One note which accompanied an expensive gift read, " A boy loves a girl more and more and more." "WE" for Wallis and Edward also became an inscription for many of the jewelry pieces he gave her later.

Descriptions of Wallis during this period usually included terms like "dripping with jewels". Her legendary sense of style saw her picking simple well tailored clothes, all the better for showing off the magnificent pieces. The only gap in her jewelry collection was rings for Wallis thought she had large, ugly hands.

Wallis was content to remain mistress to a Prince of Wales or King for she got all the benefits without any strings attached. But when Edward became King, everything changed forever for her. Enthralled with Wallis, he turned from a dutiful king to one who neglected his duties. He insisted on marrying Wallis and was willing to trade in his crown and escape his responsibilities. All the attraction she had for him evaporated when he became the essentially purposeless Duke of Windsor.

Shown on the right is a picture from around 1936 showing her wearing her Cartier emerald engagement ring and a sapphire and diamond bracelet.

One witness at their wedding wrote how she couldn't warm up to Wallis as she saw no sign of affection for the Duke. She said, "..her attitude is so correct and hard, the effect is of an older woman moved by the infatuated love of a much younger man." It was an astute observation for the Duke had an attention span of about 2 1/2 minutes and Wallis knew she had her work cut out for her to keep the former king entertained. She was later to tell a friend, " No one will ever know how hard I work to try and make the little man feel busy!" (He was only 5' 7")

The Duke and Duchess were forced to live abroad in France for the rest of their lives. The Duke was also an embarrasment to his fellow countrymen and the despair of his family as he was a Nazi sympathiser and said some pretty treasonous things. He was packed off to be the Governor of the Bahamas during the Second World War to keep him out of the way. That didn't thrill Wallis at all. Her charm bracelet bearing a variety of gemstone crosses shown here was a gift which she made him pay for her hated exile.

The Duke constantly pleaded poverty and he was stingy to others. His staff were poorly paid and long suffering hosts and hostesses were expected to foot the cost of extra servants and all his incidental expenses including the $1600 (more than $48,000 in today's money) phone bill during the three months when they were apart after the abdication. He expected discounts for clothing, accommodation and travel costs. He never paid a single restaurant bill even if he did the inviting! But he spared nothing for his beloved Wallis. In 1938, he ordered a 22K gold bath for her! Not 14K or even 18K was good enough.

Wallis developed an obsession with gemstones and filled her empty life by spending on clothes and getting the Duke to buy her jewelry piece after jewelry piece. Their married life together was really sad, eventually becoming as their butler said, " just two lonely old people." The Duke died of throat cancer at 78 whilst Wallis lingered on until she was 91.

Upon her death, she who never gave to charity in her lifetime, would have been shocked if she had known that her loyal lawyer arranged for the proceeds of one of the greatest jewelry auctions ever to go to the Pasteur Institute in France.

Wallis once famously said, "You have no idea how hard it is to live out a great romance." Despite the sham, plenty of people still bought the story of a great love affair. The jewelry auction fetched almost 10 times the expected sum - $51 million!! Her huge 19.77 carat emerald engagement ring - the gem once belonged to a Mogul emperor - alone fetched $1.98 million.

Kelly Klein, the wife of American designer, Calvin Klein bought the large natural pearl choker (above) with its huge pearl pendant to wear with jeans! It was eventually resold for $4.82 million, far above the estimate of $3.1 million. A tidy profit on a jewelry investment. It goes to show that the belief in great romances is still alive and well.

Marian Fowler (1996). The Way She Looks Tonight : Five Women of Style. Random House.
Michael Bloch (1996). The Duchess of Windsor. Weidenfeld & Nicolson.
Anne de Courcy (2003). The Viceroy's Daughters. Phoenix Press
Gordon Winter and Wendy Kochman (1990). Secrets of the Royals. St. Martin's Press Ltd.
Sotheby's 1987 Magnificient Jewelry Auction, Geneva.
Pearl Choker Picture source

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