Monday, December 12, 2011

Prince of Wales Plume Brooch at Auction

Now I was on the fence about this post for the past few weeks for a multitude of reasons. The brooch comes from the collection of Elizabeth Taylor and is one the centerpieces of tomorrow's sale at Christie's. Primarily the exposure was giving me pause, but it was more the fact that I could not find a period image of the Duchess of Windsor wearing it that stopped me in my tracks...selfish? Perhaps, but it always adds to the mystique of an object and makes these posts so much fun to write, but I digress... For those who missed it, the brooch was created in 1935 and was a gift from Edward, Prince of Wales to his paramour Wallis Simpson making it one of those talismanic objects that in itself symbolizes one of the greatest romances of the 20th century.
The three joined plumes are a symbol of the Prince of Wales, the heir apparent, thus this gift in a sense demonstrated the Prince's intention to make the twice divorced Wallis Simpson his queen. It is the stuff of legend but it is a bit clouded as I have heard that it was given to Wallis in 1935 and conversely in 1955. Either way it is still a romantic notion. As the story goes, Elizabeth Taylor and the then Duke and Duchess of Windsor moved in the same circles and Elizabeth admired the brooch to the extent that Richard Burton asked the Duchess if he could copy it for Liz....the stylish Duchess agreed. However, a copy was never made.
After the Duchess died in 1986 her legendary jewelry collection was sold at Sotheby's Geneva the following year to benefit the Pasteur Institute. The legend goes that Prince Charles was part of the bidding war for the piece which was ultimately won by Taylor, bidding via telephone poolside from her home in Los Angeles...naturally. At the time she paid $449,625, so it seems a bargain at the present estimate of $400,000-600,000. I am guessing that it will break the million dollar mark given the success of the Duchess' other pieces that resurfaced last year. The piece now operates on many levels from Hollywood glamour to the centerpiece of legendary if not ill fated romances. I say that not to be melodramatic but I have always been haunted by this image of the bereft Wallis peering out of a window at Buckingham Palace after the Duke's funeral.
To add insult to injury the rest of the royal family decamped to Balmoral and left the Duchess to her own devices. The lost look in her eyes brings home her most famous quote "you have no idea how hard it is to live out a great romance..." Hopefully the brooch will find its way to the epicenter of another great romance... Until then we wait...AR

Well, the important jewels session one just concluded. It took four and a half hours to sell a mere 80 lots in an industry that usually sells between 80-100 lots in an hour. This is a testament to the interest in the sale. The Prince of Wales Brooch performed as I suspected breaking just over a million dollars achieving $1.3M with buyers premium. The press release has yet to be issued so there is no telling what disclosures can and will be made. But this I do know, the brooch sold via telephone with an Asian Christie's representative named "Mei-Mei". So the brooch may be heading East. Hopefully we will know more soon. --AR
Thanks to Interior Design Hound a period image has finally surfaced online...whew!


  1. I may be wrong, but I don't think Liz wanted a copy. She wanted the real thing. And eventually she got it. I suppose the reason there are so few pictures of the duchess wearing it is because it is such an icon of the Prince of Wales, and it was therefore such a provocative piece, especially considering what followed after Edward succeeded as King.

  2. I thought it sounded a bit odd too but Taylor was quoted by Harper's Bazar in February 2009:

    KK: "What has been your greatest jewelry adventure?"

    ET: "I have had many. I was especially thrilled to buy the Prince of Wales plume pin at the 1987 auction of the jewelry of the Duchess of Windsor. Richard and I had once admired it, so much so that he asked the duchess if he could copy it for me. She very graciously agreed, but we both felt weird about it, so we didn't. And then when it finally came up for auction, I really felt I wanted to have it in my collection—because I admired her great style so much, because Richard had wanted me to have the brooch, and, frankly, because the money from the sale went to support AIDS research. I bid from my house in L.A., and when they told me I had won it, I thought, Yes, this was really meant to be in my care, at least for a while."

    I had similar thoughts about what the brooch symbolized to Wallis....perhaps a bit painful as she was never to be Princess of Wales and subsequently Queen...Morganatic or otherwise...

  3. I had never seen that picture. Looks as though it was much later on in her life too. I suppose the brouhaha had died down by then, and there was a sense of "who cares" what they think now?

  4. I agree, your insights got me thinking. I think later in life she did care less and with all the time spent in gilded exile she made statements with her jewels. As seen in the "bereft" image above, she wore Queen Mary's pearls in front of the BRF at the Duke's funeral. Those chokers and rare large pearl drop were a huge bone of contention for leaving the core collection and ending up with Wallis. It was a very "in your face" move for the Duchess. I am sure she had her armor up on that day and launched a visual attack with that particular jewelry choice. Good on her I say...

  5. That photo of Wallis is so lonely , with just a little bird outside her window for company now.

  6. What a fun post dahhling! I agree with you it is far more romantic when an object is attached to an impossilby dramatic love affair!