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Duchess of Windsor’s Jewels Sell for $12.5 Million

An onyx and diamond panther bracelet (1952) by Cartier sold for 4.5 million pounds at auction. It had been estimated to fetch between 1 million pounds and 1.5 million pounds at Sotheby's during a sale of jewels formerly owned by the Duchess of Windsor. Source: Sotheby's via Bloomberg
An onyx and diamond panther bracelet (1952) by Cartier sold for 4.5 million pounds at auction. It had been estimated to fetch between 1 million pounds and 1.5 million pounds at Sotheby's during a sale of jewels formerly owned by the Duchess of Windsor. Source: Sotheby's via Bloomberg

Nov. 30 (Bloomberg) -- Jewels that King Edward VIII gave the woman for whom he abdicated sold for 8 million pounds ($12.5 million) in London tonight, almost twice the presale estimate, as collectors battled for works by Cartier.

The King of England stepped down in 1936 to become the Duke of Windsor and marry U.S. divorcee Wallis Simpson. Sotheby’s was offering 20 pieces that previously belonged to her. The Windsors were enthusiastic jewelry collectors. They commissioned pieces from Cartier and other makers during their courtship in the U.K. and married life in the Bahamas and France.

Eleven Cartier pieces were included in the sale that was estimated to raise as much as 4.2 million pounds at hammer prices. Among these was an onyx-and-diamond bracelet designed, with the Duke’s encouragement, in the form of a panther by Jeanne Toussaint for Cartier in 1952. This fetched 4.5 million pounds with fees. It was estimated to sell for between 1 million pounds and 1.5 million pounds, as was a flamingo-shaped brooch by Toussaint that the Duchess bought in 1940. The brooch fetched 1.7 million pounds with fees.

“The inscriptions tell the story of perhaps the greatest love story of the 20th century,” said David Bennett, Chairman of Sotheby’s Jewelry in Europe and the Middle East.

An unidentified owner was selling the items, which were acquired at Sotheby’s record “Jewels of the Duchess of Windsor” sale in Geneva in April 1987, the year after her death. At that auction, the panther bracelet and flamingo brooch sold for the equivalent of 860,082 pounds and 497,942 pounds, said Sotheby’s.

Charm Bracelet

The Duchess’s Cartier diamond charm bracelet today sold for 601,250 pounds against a low estimate of 350,000 pounds. The piece featured nine gem-set Latin crosses that commemorate moments of personal significance to the couple, including an assassination attempt on the King.

An 18-carat gold and gem-set cigarette case by Cartier inscribed with the words ``David from Wallis Christmas 1935'' and engraved with a map of holiday destinations they enjoyed together fetched 181,250 pounds. It was estimated to sell for at least 150,000 pounds.

All four lots went to telephone bidders. The flamingo was bought by the Collection Cartier and the panther was a record for a piece by Cartier, said Sotheby's. The panther was also the most expensive bracelet sold at auction.

Sotheby’s 1987 Duchess of Windsor sale in Geneva fetched 75.4 million Swiss francs ($71.7 million), which remains an auction record for a single-owner collection of jewelry.

Today’s 20-lot sale carried an official low estimate of 2.9 million pounds, based on hammer prices. All the lots sold.

(Scott Reyburn writes about the art market for Muse, the arts and culture section of Bloomberg News. Opinions expressed are his own.)

To contact the writer on the story: Scott Reyburn in London at sreyburn@hotmail.com.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Mark Beech at mbeech@bloomberg.net.

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