Cartier has always had a close association with royalty, but none of their clients were more famous than the Duke and Duchess of Windsor who ordered pieces that still influence the French jeweller’s aesthetic today.

[dropcap size=small]E[/dropcap]dward Windsor began 1936 as King Edward VIII of England, but by the time autumn had turned to winter he had abdicated from the throne so he could marry Wallis Simpson, an American woman who bewitched him despite being rather unsuitable for the role of king’s consort (she had been divorced twice).Rather than risk the constitutional crisis that would have ensued if he insisted on marrying Wallis, Edward chose love over duty and thereby the couple became two of the most romantic – and controversial – figures of the 20th century, with Wallis being both admired and scorned.
Panther brooch, Cartier Paris, 1949 Platinum, white gold, single-cut diamonds, two pear-shaped yellow diamonds (eyes), one 152.35 carat Kashmir sapphire cabochon, sapphire cabochons (spots)
“She is the height of elegance,” Cecil Beaton, one of the great photographers of the time, wrote of the future Duchess of Windsor in 1936. “All London is intrigued by her because she is the mistress and perhaps future wife of the king. She is no doubt the most fascinating public personageright now.”One year later, on 3 June 1937, The Château de Candé in Monts hosted the wedding of Edward and Wallis and they became thereafter the Duke and Duchess of Windsor. At the wedding the couple exchanged platinum wedding bands from Cartier. That same year, the Duke contacted Cartier to order two pairs of earrings in coral, fine pearls and brilliants and a rigid bracelet with two ruby heads paved with round brilliants. The couple’s love affair with Cartier and with each other lasted until Edward’s death in 1972.In the year they were married Edward designed a “WE” brooch, for which he wrote a handwritten letter, now in the Cartier archives, describing exactly how he wanted the brooch to be made. The repetition of the initials “WE” is a play on words signifying both the pronoun ‘we’ and the first letters of their first names: Wallis and Edward, which the Duke liked to see intertwined.After their marriage Wallis became a true fashion icon and she and Edward were one of the most visible couples in “café society”, launching fashion trends that everyone hastened to follow, the Duchess opting for fine, simple lines, the Duke resplendent in tartans and cashmeres.

The couple’s way of dressing became known as “Windsor style” and the Duchess was often seen in the latest designs from Valentino, Balenciaga, Dior, Givenchy, Saint Laurent or Pucci and she often matched her outfits with statement pieces of jewellery such the turquoise-and-amethyst draped necklace created by Cartier in 1947, which she wore to the Orangerie ball at the Château de Versailles in 1953.

In 1956, the Duchess had Cartier make a jointed tiger brooch paved with bright yellow brilliants and onyx on a yellow-gold mount. ‘This will be my last fancy,’ she said, ‘approved by Edward, who is so happy to give it to me.’

Wallis was a true jewellery enthusiast and her collection of famed Cartier animal brooches bear witness to this. Jeanne Toussaint was the mastermind behind many of the pieces made for the Duke and Duchess of Windsor.

In 1933, Louis Cartier gave Toussaint full responsibility for the Cartier Haute Joaillerie collection and she soon turned her attention to the Duchess, declaring that Wallis was the only woman who deserved to wear a panther brooch she had created that was mounted on a 152.35 carat sapphire cabochon.

Flamingo brooch, Cartier Paris, 1940 Platinum, gold, brilliant-cut diamonds, square-cut rubies, emeralds and sapphires, sapphire cabochons, one citrine

Other pieces of jewellery based on an animal theme were to follow and over the course of twenty years, Wallis enriched her collection with feline jewels and unusual bird brooches. This collection included a duck-head-profile blister pearl mounted on a pin and her famed flamingo brooch. The number of precious stones provided by the Duke for this brooch is recorded in Cartier archive documents.

After Edward’s death Wallis retired from society and was rarely seen until her death in 1986. It was as if all the love and effervesence that she had to give was spent upon Edward, who was undoubtedly the love of her life.

In many respects their love lived on in the pieces he had designed for her, acknowledging her love of the finest things. Before the couple met, in 1924, Wallis paid a visit to Shanghai and Hong Kong. It was said that the only words of Mandarin she took the trouble to learn were “Pass me the champagne.” With so much joie de vivre in her heart it’s no surprise that Edward was unable to resist her charms… Read more in Quintessentially Asia.