The story of how King Edward the VIII gave up his throne for the woman he loved was one of the most inspiring romances of the 20th century. It was with jewels that the Duke of Windsor decided to prove his eternal love to his Duchess following in the footsteps of no other than Anthony infatuated by the ravishing Cleopatra, 'I'll set thee in shower of gold, and hail rich pearls upon thee' ( William Shakespeare, Anthony and Cleopatra, Act II, scene 5).
Born in Pennsylvania, Bessie Wallis Warfield put a spell on a King. She was the epitome of elegance, a woman of noted style and true grace. She had an innate sense of fashion and was known to be an avid avant-guarde cognoscente. As a Client of Balenciaga, Chanel, Poiret and Schiaparelli her own philosophy of fashion was inspirational to the trends of the times. She was famously known to have said 'I'm nothing to look at, so the only thing I can do is dress better than anyone else'.
Along with a unique sense of style, the Duchess had a sharp eye for quality; her clothes were only the canvases of her true passion, jewellery.
It was a passion that she shared with her husband. Indeed the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, in addition to being loyal clients of the Maison Cartier, collaborated with its famous designer, Jeanne Toussaint. They inspired new and personal designs which not only paved the way for the style of the mid 20th century, but which were also to enter history in their own right, such as her famous Flamingo brooch.
Her eye for quality extended from design and craftsmanship to the finest gemstones.
The Duchess had an innate passion for natural pearls. She assembled a large collection of fine pieces from which she would skillfully mix and interchange, sometimes wearing a white pearl on one ear, and a black one on the other. It was a daring fashion statement and a precursor to a long lasting trend which still continues today.
One of the finest pearls in her collection is undoubtedly the natural pearl mounted as a ring by Cartier and offered for sale here. The pearl is outstanding for several reasons: its size, its shape, its quality. With diameters of 17.95 and of 18.25 mm, it is a rare example of a perfectly round natural pearl, particularly for such a large gem. Furthermore, it has a bright and radiant luster combined with a perfect skin. Even without its royal provenance, the intrinsic value of such a pearl would be enough to catch the eye of a collector.
The elaborate intertwined bombé setting of the pearl, holding the gem high off the finger was, at the time it was created, considered a bold new trend. Furthermore, the Duchess herself was credited for reintroducing yellow gold into the mainstream of fashion; a trend that has been suitably revived in the last few years.
This ring first appeared at auction exactly 20 years ago. Today, Christie's is delighted to be offering such a wonderful jewel which such a fascinating provenance, side by side to beautiful royal jewels.