Wallis Simpson, née Bessie Wallis Warfield, was born in 1896 to American parents in Baltimore. After the death of her father, she and her mother relied on the financial support of relatives. Her first marriage to a navy pilot, Earl Spencer Jr., in the late 1920s ended in divorce.
Wallis remarried a few years later to a British-American businessman, Ernest Simpson, and entered the British social circles. While she was married to Simpson, she was introduced to Edward, Prince of Wales through his mistress, Lady Thelma Furness. It is believed that by 1935, Wallis and Edward's love was in full bloom. Wallis sought a divorce from Simpson in 1936, the same year that Edward became King of England. However, as King, and therefore, head of the Church of England, Edward's marriage to a twice-divorced American woman would have proved unsettling for the British public. When he abdicated on 11 December 1936, many viewed his sacrifice as a hopelessly romantic gesture. Edward, now known as HRH Prince Edward, Duke of Windsor, and Wallis Simpson were married one year later.
The couple moved to Neuilly, France where they hosted parties, visited with friends and lived a life of leisure. The Duchess became known for her chic sense of style and fabulous jewelry collection, and was on the best-dressed list for over ten years. Although not a traditional beauty, the Duchess wore her clothes and jewels in a way that reflected her charismatic personality. The Duke died in 1972 just a few days shy of their thirty-fifth wedding anniversary. The Duchess died in France in 1986.
The jewelry collection of the Duchess of Windsor was notorious in quality and extent. However, the blue chalcedony suite, created by Suzanne Belperron in 1938, is one of the most striking and original. The carved chalcedony necklace, cuff bracelets and ear clips are excellent examples of the innovation and artistry of Madame Belperron. The soft powdery blue of the stained chalcedony, a favorite color of the Duchess, contrasts with the bold design. Interestingly, but not unusual, the pieces are not signed by Belperron, but can be matched with original drawings from her workshop.
Belperron began her career as a designer for René Boivin. After spending several years as a top designer creating jewelry for Elsie de Wolfe, Mona Bismarck and Ganna Walska, Belperron joined a business partnership with Jean Hertz. Her designs are recognizable and distinct. She often created jewels out of rock crystal, agate or blue chalcedony accenting them with cabochon stones.
It is not surprising that such a strong-willed and compelling woman such as the Duchess of Windsor would enjoy the designs of Madame Belperron. Both women, independent and daring were style innovators.
Christie's extends gratitude to Ward Landrigan, owner of Verdura and his son Nico Landrigan. Today, Landrigan continues the Belperron tradition by producing pieces to the same exacting standards and according to her original designs, to which he owns the exclusive rights.
AN IMPORTANT PAIR OF BLUE CHALCEDONY, SAPPHIRE AND DIAMOND BANGLE BRACELETS, BY SUZANNE BELPERRON
Each carved blue chalcedony cuff, enhanced by old European-cut diamond trim, extending a row of blue chalcedony boules, each surmounted by a cabochon sapphire, (repair evident), circa 1935, 2 1/8 ins. diameter (2)
The Duchess of Windsor
Sold Geneva, "The Jewels of the Duchess of Windsor", April 2, 1987, lot 103, $146,000