31 July 2019

The Windsor Anniversary Heart Brooch

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Our month-long focus on royal rubies wraps up today with a look at a piece that used rubies to emphasize the "royal" part of a milestone wedding anniversary. Here's a closer look at the Windsor Anniversary Heart Brooch.


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The Duke of Windsor commissioned Cartier to create a brooch for his wife, Wallis, as a twentieth wedding anniversary gift in May 1957. He provided them with gemstones taken from existing jewels that already belonged to him to create the new piece.


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The brooch, made in Paris, is perhaps more symbolic than beautiful. Pave-set diamonds cover a heart, which is topped by a royal duke's coronet made of gold and rubies. A joint monogram with the letters W and E, rendered in gold and emeralds, covers the center of the heart, with a pair of ruby Xs signifying the anniversary set below the cypher.


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Wallis and David had wed in less than royal circumstances in May 1937, following his abdication from the throne. Back then, the primary narrative about their relationship focused on the true love angle: the king who had been willing to give up literally everything, including one of the most powerful positions in the world, for the woman he loved. Today, though, the benefit of historical hindsight has given us a different perspective on the Windsors and their fabled romance. Their marriage may have been a pretext for his abdication, but his personal politics and alliances -- especially with the Germans -- meant that many in the British government felt relieved to swap him for his younger brother.


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HM King Edward VIII's demotion to HRH The Duke of Windsor meant that he kept his royal status, but, much to his continual anger, the same status was not granted to his wife. He essentially decided to "grant" her an HRH anyway, making their staff call Wallis "Her Royal Highness." A jewel like the anniversary brooch, with its very traditional royal monogram and coronet, seems like it must have been yet another way for David to tell the world that he wanted his wife to be royal, regardless of the establishment's decision about her title and status.


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After Wallis's death in 1986, her will directed that her jewels should be auctioned off to raise funds for the Pasteur Institute in Paris. The heart brooch was one of the many items sold at Sotheby's in Geneva in April 1987. More recently, the brooch was offered again for auction, this time at Sotheby's in London. The estimate for the piece was set between 100,000 and 150,000 pounds, but when the hammer fell in November 2010, it sold for more than 200,000 pounds.


Image: The Court Jeweller/WhatLaurenRead

As an aside, this post was inspired by my recent Book of the Month pick, Beatriz Williams's The Golden Hour. The novel is set in the Bahamas during World War II, and the Duke and Duchess of Windsors are minor (but pivotal) characters in the book. If you'd like to read more of my thoughts on the book (and the other books I read this month!), head over to my personal blog for more!