Happy Valentine’s Day, everyone! I hope that lots of love finds you today, wherever you may be. I thought I’d add a little sparkle and romance to your holiday with a glimpse of a rather appropriate aristocratic jewel: the diamond heart brooch given by the 11th Duke of Devonshire to his Duchess.
How do you celebrate sixty years of marriage, especially when you’re part of one of the great aristocratic families in England? An appropriately romantic piece of jewelry, of course. In 2001, Andrew Cavendish, the 11th Duke of Devonshire, and his Duchess, Deborah Mitford Cavendish, celebrated the 60th anniversary of their wedding day. To mark the special milestone, Andrew commissioned a diamond brooch in the shape of a heart as a gift for his wife.
The brooch, which features pavé-set diamonds across the surface of its heart shape, has a single heart-shaped diamond set as its centerpiece. It is pierced through with a diamond-encrusted arrow. It was made for the Duke by Armour Winston, one of the oldest established shops in the Burlington Arcade, just off Old Bond Street in London. The firm is best known for selling luxury watches, but they deal in other luxury jewelry pieces as well.
When Andrew and Deborah were married in 1941, they weren’t destined to become the Duke and Duchess of anything. Lord Andrew Cavendish was the younger son of the 10th Duke of Devonshire. He had been commissioned as a second lieutenant in the Coldstream Guards less than a year before the wedding. The Hon. Deborah Mitford, daughter of Lord and Lady Redesdale, was the youngest of the seven Mitfords—six sisters and a brother—many of whom would become famous (or notorious) for various reasons.
London was in the grip of war when the couple decided to be married at St Bartholomew-the-Great in Smithfield. In one of her memoirs, Wait for Me!, Deborah wrote that they “loved the ancient church, and perhaps subconsciously, craved the feeling of permanence that it gave in the upside-down world of war and bombs when everything we knew was changing.” Just two nights before the wedding, London suffered one of the most devastating bombing raids of the war. “Miraculously,” Deborah notes, the church “survived the Blitz,” allowing the couple to marry there on April 19, 1941. Deborah wore a gown of white tulle, made just before clothing rationing went into effect. The bride and groom were both just 21 years old.
Four years later, the couple’s world was changed entirely when Andrew’s elder brother, the Marquess of Hartington, was killed by a sniper in combat in Belgium. Suddenly, Andrew, who was fighting in Italy, became the heir to the Devonshire dukedom and the responsibilities of running the grand estate. When Andrew’s father died in 1950, he and Deborah became the Duke and Duchess. For the next half century, they were at the head of the family, running Chatsworth. Their marriage wasn’t an easy one. Three of their children died in infancy, and Andrew was publicly unfaithful. The success of the estate was largely credited to Deborah’s ingenuity and tenacity. The longevity of their marriage was surely thanks to those qualities in Debo as well.
Andrew presented the heart-shaped brooch to Deborah as a 60th wedding gift on April 19, 2001. In their write-up on the jewel, Sotheby’s notes, “Later that year the Duke and Duchess held a ‘World War II’ themed tea party for several hundred couples from Derbyshire who shared their wedding year. This unique brooch adorned the Duchess’s dress coat that day, worn on the shoulder as was very much her style.”
Andrew passed away three years later, at the age of 84, in May 2004. Deborah outlived him by another decade. After her death in September 2014, the brooch was inherited by her descendants. In 2016, they decided to sell the jewel, along with many other items from her estate, at Sotheby’s in London.
The brooch was exhibited in February 2016 ahead of the sale, and sold at auction in London on March 2, 2016. It’s wonderful to think of the piece fifteen years earlier, sparkling on the Duchess’s shoulder in 2001 as she and her guests enjoyed the special diamond wedding anniversary tea party. In her memoirs, she remembered, “The New Squadronaires Orchestra, inspired by the original RAF Dance Band, played songs made famous by Vera Lynn: ‘We’ll Meet Again,’ ‘There’ll be Blue Birds over the White Cliffs of Dover’ and ‘I’ll be Seeing You.’ Our ancient guests joined in the singing with gusto and 1941 seemed like yesterday.”