We are past the World War II era, but we’re still talking about beautiful bird pins that tell a story. Today, I’ll tell you about a stunning Cartier flamingo pin that belonged to the Duchess of Windsor. The Duchess, Wallis Simpson, was an amazing collector of many beautiful jewelry pieces.
Who is Wallis?
Now, perhaps you don’t know about the Duchess of Windsor. To this day, she’s something of a controversial figure in Britain. She had a torrid love affair in the 1930’s with Edward, the Prince of Wales. Unfortunately, she didn’t get a lot of love from the folks across the pond. To be fair, she had a few strikes against her. First off, her first name was was Wallis. Ugh. Second, she was an American. Third, she was divorced. Not just once, but twice. As you can imagine, the British weren’t too excited about the potential of an American divorcee becoming royalty through marriage.
The affair went on for longer than anyone anticipated, much to the royal family’s embarrassment and disdain. To make things worse, it was still going on when the Prince became King of England.
<img class=" wp-image-1872 lazyload" src="https://valthegemgal.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/04/Wallis_Simpson_-1936.jpg" alt="Wallis Simpson, in 1936" width="395" height="500" srcset="https://valthegemgal.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/04/Wallis_Simpson_-1936.jpg 471w, https://valthegemgal.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/04/Wallis_Simpson_-1936-237x300.jpg 237w" sizes="(max-width: 395px) 100vw, 395px" /> Wallis Simpson, in 1936
A crisis & a resolution
When the Prince’s father died, he became King. He horrified everyone around him by not just continuing his affair with Wallis, but insisting he wanted to marry her! Besides the new King, literally no one thought Wallis would make an acceptable queen. Apparently, it was a big deal that her two ex-husabands were still living. I guess, back then, if you were divorced, but your ex subsequently passed away, that was marginally more acceptable.
The Church of England, besides not being a fan of divorce, viewed adultery as the only acceptable grounds for divorce. If that was not the situation, your subsequent marriage was not recognized as valid. Wallis’ first marriage ended in divorce due to adultery, but not her second. It was the British equivalent of “irreconcilable differences.” So they could marry in theory. But it wouldn’t be recognized by the Church of England. Problems, problems…..
After less than a year as King, Edward shocked everyone by abdicating his throne. In a radio broadcast, he said,
“I have found it impossible to carry the heavy burden of responsibility, and to discharge my duties as King as I would wish to do, without the help and support of the woman I love.”
Less than six months later, Edward and Wallis married in France. Pretty romantic, right?
<img class=" wp-image-1885 lazyload" src="https://valthegemgal.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/04/878fea0302fbd81f1490d9b7110a0b40.jpg" alt="Edward & Wallis on their wedding day, 1937" width="260" height="501" srcset="https://valthegemgal.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/04/878fea0302fbd81f1490d9b7110a0b40.jpg 560w, https://valthegemgal.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/04/878fea0302fbd81f1490d9b7110a0b40-156x300.jpg 156w, https://valthegemgal.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/04/878fea0302fbd81f1490d9b7110a0b40-532x1024.jpg 532w" sizes="(max-width: 260px) 100vw, 260px" /> Edward & Wallis on their wedding day, 1937
Exiled to France
Although the former King had made a very dramatic and public gesture, he seemed surprised by the fallout. The royal family had expected him to give up Wallis and move on. That he didn’t created years of strained relationships. Although they were granted the titles of Duke and Duchess of Windsor, they were not allowed to be on British soil without an express invitation.
Where to go? Well, France, of course. In the years leading up to World War II, the Duke and Duchess of Windsor called France home.
Gifts of jewelry
Edward loved to shower Wallis with jewelry, and given his hefty royal allowance, he could afford to outfit her in style. He was a frequent customer of all the fine jewelry houses. But in France, during the war, you had to go with Cartier. Not only were they incredibly patriotic, they may have been the only jewelry house open, given the restriction of metals and other supplies for the war.
Recycling and reusing items was very common during the war, and encouraged by the government. In this spirit, Edward brought in a necklace and four little gemstone bracelets to Cartier. He asked Cartier’s premier jewelry designer, Jeanne Toussaint, to come up with something special for Wallis’ birthday.
Jeanne came up with something fabulous, of course. The platinum brooch featured a colorful flamingo perched on one leg, set with pave diamonds, sapphires, citrine, emeralds, and rubies.
<img class=" wp-image-1786 lazyload" src="https://valthegemgal.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/04/Van-Cleef-Arpels-Flamingo-Brooch-sketch.jpg" alt="Sketch of the flamingo brooch (image courtesy of Van Cleef & Arpels)" width="501" height="343" srcset="https://valthegemgal.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/04/Van-Cleef-Arpels-Flamingo-Brooch-sketch.jpg 964w, https://valthegemgal.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/04/Van-Cleef-Arpels-Flamingo-Brooch-sketch-300x205.jpg 300w, https://valthegemgal.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/04/Van-Cleef-Arpels-Flamingo-Brooch-sketch-768x525.jpg 768w, https://valthegemgal.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/04/Van-Cleef-Arpels-Flamingo-Brooch-sketch-130x90.jpg 130w" sizes="(max-width: 501px) 100vw, 501px" /> Sketch of the flamingo brooch (image courtesy of Cartier)
A lifetime of love
Unfortunately, Wallis and Edward had to leave France just a month after they received the brooch, when the Nazis invaded. But they took their little flamingo with them, and it become one of Wallis’ favorite pieces of jewelry.
<img class=" wp-image-1896 lazyload" src="https://valthegemgal.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/04/Wallisflamingo.jpg" alt="Wallis showing off her Cartier flamingo brooch" width="504" height="378" srcset="https://valthegemgal.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/04/Wallisflamingo.jpg 800w, https://valthegemgal.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/04/Wallisflamingo-300x225.jpg 300w, https://valthegemgal.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/04/Wallisflamingo-768x576.jpg 768w" sizes="(max-width: 504px) 100vw, 504px" /> Wallis showing off her Cartier flamingo brooch
During the war, Edward and Wallis lived in the Bahamas, where Edward was appointed Governor. After the war, they lived primarily in France. You’ll be happy to know that Wallis and Edward were together for the rest of their lives.
Wallis was an amazing jewelry collector, I’ll probably be talking about more of her pieces in future blog posts.
Given that divorce is now so common, I’m fascinated by this idea that Wallis was a social pariah and not suitable to be Queen.
What do you think? Do you love the little flamingo? Do you admire Edward for giving up the throne for the woman he loved?