The Windsor Collection: The Magic of Brooches, Part Two

The Windsors

Today we conclude our two part series on six of the fabulous brooches owned the Duchess of Windsor. You can find Part One by clicking here. In the previous installment, we focused on three beautiful Cartier creations but Cartier wasn’t the only jeweler to provide Wallis with glitter. Her other favourite designer was of course, Van Cleef & Arpels and so today we begin with a staple of the Maison’s wares; the Hawaii Brooch. Then it’s straight back to Cartier as we explore the story behind the most sentimental jewel in Wallis’ collection, the Anniversary Brooch. We conclude with a gem that is steeped in the romance of a secret love and met a curious end; the Cartier Cypher Brooch.

The Hawaii Brooch

At the Exposition Internationale des Arts Décoratifs in 1925, designer Alfred van Cleef and his father in law Solomon Arpels presented a very special jewel to the people of Paris; a floral bracelet with red and white roses fashioned from rubies and diamonds. It wowed the crowds and impressed the judges who awarded the designers a grand prize. This set in motion a recurring motif for the Maison and ever since, Van Cleef & Arpels have delighted with their floral collections including Folie des Prés and Frivole. Most recently, pieces from their clover-inspired Alhambra collection have been worn by the Duchess of Cambridge and the Duchess of Cornwall, a clear sign that classic designs never fall out of style.

Wallis wears the Hawaii brooch in the Bahamas in 1941.

In the late 1930s, Van Cleef & Arpels introduced a new floral range for it’s clients; the Hawaii Collection. Instantly identifiable by it’s red, blue and gold colour palette, the Hawaii Collection was first patented in 1938 with each piece (whether it be a brooch, necklace or earrings) following the same strict design elements. The brooches from the Hawaii Collection form bouquets of flowers with 18 karat gold stems and leaves with the flowers themselves formed of rubies and sapphires. The Hawaii Collection was first introduced to Paris in the Autumn of 1938; by November, the Duke of Windsor had visited Van Cleef & Arpels to commission a piece for Wallis.

Wallis’ brooch is the largest example of the Hawaii signature Van Cleef & Arpels ever produced. It was a staggering 8″ tall and 5″ wide which also made it the largest brooch in Wallis’ collection. The Duke commissioned the brooch on the 15th November 1938 and presented it to Wallis on Christmas Day. Wallis’ brooch was not only bigger but it’s design was unique with much larger leaves and stems. The outer leaf on the right hand side of the brooch was designed to point downward at an angle; towards Wallis’ heart. As well as ruby and sapphire leaves, there were citrines offering a contrast between blue petals and red centres. A matching pair of earrings in yellow citrines and rubies joined the brooch on New Year’s Eve.

The brooch’s most famous outing came in 1939 when the Duke of Windsor commissioned the artist Gerald Brockhurst to paint a portrait of the Duchess which would later hang in Government House in Nassau before returning to the petit-salon at the Windsor villa in the Bois de Boulogne. The Brockhurst portrait offers us the best glimpse of Wallis’ Hawaii creation and bizarrely, it was only ever seen twice in public; both times in the Bahamas and only then within the first two years of their arrival in Nassau. In The Windsor Style by Suzy Menkes, Ofélia Sanègre, the wife of the Windsors’ butler Georges was equally puzzled by it’s disappearance; “I never saw that brooch”, she said, “I often used to stand in the petit-salon looking at the portrait and wondering what became of the clip”.

Brockhurst’s portrait of the Duchess.

In 1946, the Windsors were staying with the Earl and Countess of Dudley at their estate in Surrey, Ednam Lodge, when they became the victims of a cat burglar. The thief made off with every item of jewellery the Duchess had packed for her trip to England. Perhaps the Hawaii brooch was among the loot? In reports from the time, only one brooch was on the list published by the police during their investigation. According to the Daily Telegraph, the brooch was “gold set with rubies” whilst the list published by Scotland Yard refers only to a gold brooch set with diamonds and aquamarines. None of the brooches produced by Van Cleef & Arpels for it’s Hawaii range contained diamonds, nor aquamarines, the style being so easily identifiable by the deep red rubies and strong blue sapphires against a background of gold. But if the brooch wasn’t stolen in 1946, what happened to it?

At the Sotheby’s auction of the Duchess of Windsor’s jewels in 1987 there was no trace of the large Hawaii brooch, therefore the brooch must have left Wallis’ collection before her death. It is entirely possible that it was broken up so that the gems could be used in another piece, a frequent fate for jewels Wallis tired of. Perhaps the Hawaii fashion proved too popular and Wallis didn’t wish to be seen to chase a trend? Or perhaps it was the gold and ruby brooch spirited away by a cat burglar? Whatever it’s fate, it must have truly wowed those lucky enough to see it.

The Anniversary Brooch

In 1957, the Duke and Duchess of Windsor celebrated their 20th wedding anniversary. It was more than a private celebration of a lasting romance, rather, the Duke felt it was “one in the eye for our foes”. He was perhaps referring to Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother who had (wrongly) predicted that Wallis would leave David and move onto husband #4 soon after their marriage. It is said that this was one of the defining reasons King George VI gave when he denied Wallis the use of the HRH in 1937. Twenty years married was therefore a hugely important milestone for the Windsors and the Duke wished to demonstrate the strength of their love with a very special gift. Once again, the Duke called in Cartier to help.

The Windsors at a dance in Paris in 1957, the year of their 20th wedding anniversary.

The Anniversary brooch is a festival of glitter, a 3.4cm by 3.8cm heart studded with brilliant and single cut diamonds topped with an 18 karat gold coronet. The red velvet cap of the coronet is fashioned from rubies. In the centre of the heart is a monogram of the initials W and E set with calibré-cut emeralds and below this monogram, the Roman numeral XX (20) again set with rubies. According to Cartier’s records, all of the gemstones in the brooch came from gems which the Duke and Duchess had removed from existing pieces – perhaps the rubies came from the Van Cleef & Arpels Hawaii brooch?


Sadly there are no photographs which depict Wallis wearing the Anniversary Brooch but it clearly held a very special meaning for her. When the Duke died in 1972, many of her most famous pieces were locked away and she restricted herself to the use of a set of pearls given to her by the Duke and inexpensive costume jewellery. When her own illness took hold and she found herself confined to her villa, she wore only one piece of jewellery – the Anniversary Brooch. Pinned just above her own heart, she wore it almost every day until her death in 1986 and referred to it always as “the Duke’s heart”.

In 1987, the Anniversary Brooch was sold by Sotheby’s for £19,918. In 2010, the brooch once again came up for sale reaching £205,250. One interested buyer was none other than Madonna who was directing the movie W.E which was released the following year. Cartier had made a copy of the brooch for the film but as with other pieces they replicated for the filming, the copy was destroyed when the movie finished shooting. Sotheby’s refused to confirm the identity of the new owner of the brooch but according to press reports at the time, Madonna visited Sotheby’s to try on several pieces; one was the Anniversary brooch. Has the Duke’s heart found it’s new home with Madame X?

The Cartier Cypher Brooch

By 1935, the relationship between David and Wallis had become so intense that it was clear to all that unlike Freda Dudley Ward or Thelma Furness, Wallis was here to stay. The first brooch gifted to Wallis by the then Prince of Wales featured the Prince of Wales Feathers, an official symbol which conferred upon Wallis the undeniable position of ‘The Prince’s Girl’. But later that year, David asked Cartier to produce another brooch for Wallis, this time with a far more intimate and personal design.

The Windsors’ Cypher, c. 1935

From January 1935, Wallis and David began to mark their correspondence to each other with the initials W.E in the bottom right hand corner accompanied by a date. W.E was used frequently in their private letters to refer to themselves in the third person (“And W.E shall be so happy my darling one”). A version of the cypher began to appear engraved on gifts sent to the Prince by Wallis. These engravings were copies of the W.E initials in Wallis’ handwriting and David returned the use of the initials in gifts by way of return. But in 1935, the cypher was transformed into a design that proved the inspiration for yet another gift of jewellery from the Prince.

Legend has it that the Prince designed the art-deco cypher personally, other sources suggest Cartier, Cecil Beaton or even his brother, the Duke of Kent (this is most unlikely!). Whatever it’s origins, the cypher proved a huge inspiration to David and Wallis and W.E charms were produced for both, by both, most notably in simple gold or silver to affix to existing bracelets or necklaces the couple had already exchanged. These were smaller gifts easily hidden beneath a cuff or a collar and so the cypher appears as originally designed but when it came to producing a brooch inspired by the cypher, there was a greater need for discretion. The cypher brooch Cartier produced therefore skews the cypher slightly so that the union of the initials ‘W.E’ are not so obvious. Only those looking very carefully at the brooch could have made out the W, though the E is more prominent.

The brooch is made of platinum and is set with calibré-cut sapphires and rubies. Much like the Anniversary Brooch, Wallis does not appear to have allowed herself to be photographed wearing it in public, either before or after the Abdication, which suggests that there were pieces she kept purely for the Duke’s eyes only. Following the Abdication, the cypher was used by the Windsors on their personal stationery and even appeared on pieces of furniture they commissioned, this time topped with a coronet. The 1930s cypher was later replaced with a more elaborate design and the Windsors finally stopped using the W.E monogram in 1955.

The cypher brooch had a curious fate. In 1975, Wallis gave it to Maitre Blum, her laywer, as a gift but in 1987, it appeared among the lots offered for sale at Sotheby’s. It was purchased by Lord Rothermere, the owner of the Daily Mail newspaper, for £20,000. Lord Rothermere snapped up several Windsor pieces, his interest apparently not shared by his columnists who spent the duration of the sale publishing vicious gossipy articles about the Duchess. Later that year, the Daily Mail offered the brooch as a prize in a poetry writing contest which was won by retired couple Percy and Vera Brindley. With the brooch safely delivered to the Brindleys and duly photographed on Vera’s lapel, it remained with the couple until 2000 when it was put up for auction at Bonhams. It sold for £36,000 to a private bidder.

Of the six brooches in this series, each offers it’s own snapshot of the Duke and Duchess of Windsor’s relationship. Whether it be from the early years of their romance when the odds seem stacked against them, whether it be during their glamorous jet-set years or whether it be in the later years of their marriage, one thing is clear; the Duke never tired of showing his love and affection for his Duchess through fine jewellery. The Duchess’ collection may have now scattered but as with everything connected to the Windsors, it seems our fascination for all things Wallis remains very much in tact.

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