Remember this necklace? Well I wanted to give you the rest of the story. If you missed the first two chapters on the Duchess, please go back and read about her here and here. There is a post script to the iconic Queen Mary Pearl strand.
These two pearl necklaces were as we know, two of the Duchess of Windsor’s favorite jewels. Both were beloved and worn frequently throughout her lifetime. She owned and wore both the necklaces for almost four decades. Combined with the earrings, these were signature pieces, the duchess was photographed wearing them many times.
The shorter pearl necklace, the pendant and the earrings are the pieces we are talking about today. The shorter necklace is a single strand natural pearl and diamond necklace designed and executed by Cartier, for Queen Mary of Teck, during the reign of her husband King George V, from 1910 to 1936. The necklace is composed of 28 natural pearls ranging in size from approximately 9.2 mm to 16.8 mm. The length of the necklace is 14 inches, which makes it a “choker.” Queen Mary, who became famous for superbly bejeweling herself for formal occasions, and had a great passion for collecting jewels and jewelry, gifted the single-strand pearl and diamond necklace to her son, the Duke of Windsor, who in turn gifted it to his beloved paramour, the twice-divorced American Wallis Simpson, after his marriage to her in 1937 following his abdication as King of the United Kingdom. This is believed to be the only piece of jewelry Queen Mary gave to her son, the rest of the collection they built on their own. It was supposed to be a “gift of an apology” of sorts from his mother, Queen Mary.
The slightly longer necklace (composed of 29 pearls) with the pearl pendant attached, is a necklace King George V bought in May 1929 from the jewels of the Dowager Empress Maria Feodorovna of Russia. The Dowager was the Duke’s aunt who had died in exile in Denmark the previous year. The quality and size of the necklace are evidence of its imperial provenance. The necklace was restrung with a Van Cleef & Arpels diamond clasp. That necklace was sold separately at the 1987 auction. We are not talking about this necklace in this post.
The mismatched natural pearl earrings were from Van Cleef & Arpels, circa 1957 and were purchased for the the Duchess in 1958 to go with the necklaces and pendant. The earrings were quite fashion forward for their time. The earrings provide insight into the exquisite style of Wallis Simpson and her daring fashion choices in both haute couture and exquisite jewelry.
The Duchess of Windsor’s natural pearl earrings by Van Cleef & Arpels, New York, circa 1957, are comprised of a natural black pearl, measuring 18.2mm, and a natural white pearl, measuring 18.1mm, each set in a border of pear-shaped and circular-cut diamonds. The diamond weight combined is approximately 9.25 carats.
Photo courtesy of Sotheby’s
In 1987, at the original Sotheby’s auction for the Duchess of Windsor’s jewelry, Calvin Klein purchased the natural pearl necklace, pendant and diamond earclips for his wife, Kelly, at Sotheby’s ‘The Jewels of the Duchess of Windsor’ auction in Geneva. The necklace originally sold for $733,333 and natural pearl pendant fetched $300,667 and the earrings sold for $154,000.
The Kleins divorced in 2006 and in 2007, they auctioned off the three pieces they had purchased separately. The value of the jewels had increased exponentially. The jewels were sold in three separate lots. The natural pearl necklace sold for $4,625,00 and the accompanying pendant sold for $505,000 and the matching natural black and white pearl earclips by Van Cleef & Arpels sold for $690,600 for a combined total of $4,820,600.
The Duchess of Windsor’s natural pearl pendant sold by Olga Tritt of New York and remounted by Cartier Paris in 1950.
Photo courtesy of Sotheby’s.
The removable drop pendant was purchased from Olga Tritt, a New York-based jeweler who was known to have dealt in antique Russian jewelry and pearls, in 1948 by the Duke and Duchess. In a letter addressed to the Duchess of Windsor from Olga Tritt Precious Jewels on Madison Avenue, it is noted that the Duchess received a ‘special export price of $5,000 for the pearl and…a diamond and platinum connection…so that it may be correctly hung from a pearl necklace.’
The necklaces were restrung by Cartier in the 1950’s and the pearl pendant was remounted and eventually strung back on the Queen Mary strand of pearls.
Kelly Klein wearing the Duchess of Windsor’s natural pearl necklace and pendant.
“These pearls hold a very special place in my heart,” Kelly Klein said. “They were a present from Calvin early on in our relationship. They represent passion, tenderness and a promise about the future. Pearls, in my mind, are different from diamonds or gold. They are warm, mysterious, a small miracle created by nature. They should be worn close to the skin, imbued with the essence of the wearer. It is my hope they will be given again, as they have been in the past, as a gesture of love and worn often and proudly.” Ms. Klein also said anytime she wore the pearls they created a buzz, a stir in every room she walked into. People always asked her about them.
One more thing, one of my very attentive readers asked about the earrings seen in the photo below, they are another pair of earrings the Duchess was frequently photographed wearing. They are Seaman Schepps “bubble earrings”.
The Duchess of Windsor’s Bubble Earrings, 1940, and Bluebird of Happiness Pink, 1940.
On April 2, 1987, the personal jewelry collection of the late Duchess of Windsor, comprising magnificent examples of Cartier, Van Cleef & Arpels, and Harry Winston jewels, was sold for $50.3 million, seven times the presale estimate and the second standing world record for any single owner jewelry sale. The first world record is now held by Christie’s New York sale of Elizabeth Taylor’s collection of Legendary Jewels in December 2011 which went for $137,235,575. An interesting note, Liz Taylor bought a diamond clip designed as the plumes and crown of the Prince of Wales at the 1987 sale because she knew the the Duke and Duchess and had always admired the pin when the Duchess wore it. She bought it for $623,327 (in 1987) and the clip sold again for $1,314,500 at the Christie’s sale of her own (Taylor’s) jewelry in December 2011. The third highest world record sale goes to Christie’s Lily Safra’s, Jewels for Hope for $37,924,551 in May 2012.