On This Day in Royal History: Wallis Simpson's Historic Jewelry Collection Went on Sale

Over the course of their 55-year romance, the Duke of Windsor lavished hundreds of jewels on Wallis Simpson

Portrait of the Wallis, Duchess of Windsor (nee Simpson, born Bessie Wallis Warfield) (1896 - 1986), mid 20th century.
Photo: Bachrach/Getty

When Edward VIII (then the Prince of Wales) met Wallis Simpson back in 1931, it was the start of a royal romance that changed the course of history — it was also the beginning of a very impressive (and romantic) jewelry collection.

On April 3, 1987, those jewels made history, going under the hammer at Sotheby’s in Geneva, fetching over $50 million — a world record for a single-owner jewelry collection and six times the expected figure.

The vast collection, which included over 200 pieces of stunning jewelry, were gifts the Duke of Windsor had lavished on Simpson over the course of their lives together. The collection also included a 19-karat emerald and diamond ring commemorating their secret engagement in 1936, inscribed with the words “We Are Ours Now.” It sold for $1.98 million.

Sotheby's catalog from the auction of The Jewels of the Duchess of Windsor which took place on 2 and 3 April 1987 in Geneva, Switzerland.
Nate D. Sanders Auctions

The then-King Edward VIII gave up the throne to controversially marry Wallis, who hailed from Baltimore, Maryland, in the U.S. and was twice divorced, on June 3, 1937. Edward’s younger brother Prince Albert then became King George VI — ultimately paving the way for his daughter Princess Elizabeth to become Queen. Exiled to France, the Duke and Duchess of Windsor became known for their extravagant lifestyle.

Mariage Du Duc de Windsor Edward VIII Et De La Duchesse De Windsor Wallis Simpson
Wallis Simpson and Edward VIII. Keystone-FranceGamma-Rapho via Getty Images

In addition to their face value, the jewelry was also sentimental. A ruby and diamond bracelet bought for Simpson before her divorce and his abdication, had the words “Hold Tight” inscribed on the clasp, while a charm on another bracelet was inscribed with “God Save the King for Wallis.” A Cartier cigarette case mapped out their travels along the Mediterranean, with gems marking where their yacht had docked.

Duke and Duchess of Windsor, New York, USA
The Duke and Duchess of Winsdor. AP/REX/Shutterstock

The much-anticipated event, dubbed “the alternative Crown jewels,” saw over 1,000 bidders crowd into a tent next to Lake Geneva for the two-day sale, while in New York another 600 bidders took part. Elizabeth Taylor, a friend of the couple, phoned in from Los Angeles to bid on a diamond ostrich plume brooch, and British actress Joan Collins bought a sapphire pendant.

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As requested on her death in 1986 (the duke died in 1972), all proceeds were left to the Pasteur Institute in Paris, a medical research foundation which specializing in AIDS and cancer research.

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