The Duchess of Windsor photographed by Cecil Beaton at the Proust Ball in December 1971. Courtesy of the Cecil Beaton Studio Archives at Sotheby’s.
NEW YORK - The rediscovery of an important jewel is always an exciting event in my world. Even more so when the story involves such legendary women as the Duchess of Windsor and Estée Lauder. Having met aboard the SS United States, the Duchess and Estée became great friends and they socialized together with their husbands in Palm Beach, New York and Paris. I imagine over the years Estée Lauder saw first-hand the dazzling array of jewels that the Duchess loved to wear. Some of her favorite pieces were her “canary” diamonds and her heart-shaped jewels. The Duke and Duchess of Windsor had purchased a pair of 93-carat pear-shaped yellow diamonds from Harry Winston in 1948 that she had mounted as lapel pins. Never one to shy away from leading with her jewels, the Duchess then bought a 47-carat heart-shaped yellow diamond ring from Winston in 1951 to go with her pins.
The Duke of Windsor, Joseph Lauder, The Duchess of Windsor, Estée Lauder. Courtesy Private Collection.
Two decades later, in 1971, the Duchess was a guest at the Proust Ball, held by Baron and Baroness Guy de Rothschild. As the Rothschild colors were blue and gold, the Duchess of Windsor attended appropriately attired in a blue gown offset by her spectacular suite of canary diamonds, which by that time also included a pair of yellow diamond earclips mounted by Cartier. Sometime after wearing her heart-shaped yellow diamond ring to the Proust Ball the ring disappeared from the Duchess’s collection. We knew this because over Christmas in 1986 Sotheby’s was called in to organize a sale of the Duchess of Windsor’s jewels and, while we had a copy of an insurance document from Harry Winston which listed the 47-carat yellow diamond ring, it was not there when we inventoried the collection for sale. We didn’t think much of this at the time because the Duchess was known to have sold some of her pieces through her lawyer Maître Suzanne Blum after the Duke’s death in 1972. The landmark sale of the Windsor jewels took place a few months later in April 1987 (I was there) and those amazing yellow diamond lapel pins sold for almost $2.3 million. Laurence Krashes wrote about them in the 1988 edition of Harry Winston: The Ulitmate Jeweler, and in the same passage he mentioned the disappearance of the Duchess’s heart-shaped yellow diamond ring, so well known to the firm.
“The Windsor Heart” Fancy Intense Yellow Diamond Pendant, 47.14 carats.
Fast forward to a few months ago. Leonard Lauder asked Sotheby’s to organize the sale of some wonderful jewels that had belonged to his mother Estée, and his wife Evelyn. As the Acting Chairman of The Breast Cancer Research Foundation, an organization founded and championed by his late wife, he had decided to offer these jewels for sale for the benefit of the Foundation. Among the jewels was a beautiful diamond necklace suspending a large heart-shaped yellow diamond pendant. Mr. Lauder told us that his mother had always said that the diamond in the pendant once belonged to the Duchess of Windsor and asked if we would look into that story. Knowing that the necklace was made by Van Cleef & Arpels in New York in 1978, our first call was over to Nicolas Luchsinger at VCA. Unfortunately, he told us that their records did not reveal any provenance other than that of Estée Lauder. She supplied them with the diamond and its conversion to a pendant and the necklace from which it hung were created by special order for her.
We hit a bit of a wall at that point until we mentioned the stone to jewelry historian, Stefano Papi, who co-authored Famous Jewelry Collectors in 1999, with my Sotheby’s colleague Alexandra Rhodes. Stefano and Alex are now working on their newest book 20th Century Jewellery and Icons of Style, to be published next fall and as luck would have it, Stefano was updating the chapter on the Duchess of Windsor’s jewelry. The moment he heard us asking about a mysterious 47-carat heart-shaped yellow diamond, he recalled that inventory listing from Harry Winston and he said to go look for the photographs Cecil Beaton had taken at the Proust Ball. Again, we got lucky. Sotheby’s owns a portion of the Cecil Beaton archives, and within minutes, I had in my hands all of the photographs Beaton took of the Duchess bedecked in her suite of canary yellow diamond jewels. Right there on her finger was a large heart-shaped diamond ring. Beaton’s photographs however were in black and white. Digging a little deeper, we discovered that the Duchess also sat for portrait photographer Yousuf Karsh in 1971. Karsh used color film and on the hand of the Duchess of Windsor was the same heart-shaped diamond ring as in Beaton’s photographs – and it was blazing yellow. By this time, we also received the gemological report back from the GIA and the weight of Estée Lauder’s Fancy Intense Yellow diamond was 47.14 carats, which confirmed that it was the Duchess’s “lost” diamond – rediscovered.
“The Windsor Heart” Fancy Intense Yellow Diamond Pendant, 47.14 carats
It was particularly satisfying to be able to confirm these facts for Mr. Lauder. The truth is that sometime between 1972 and 1978, his mother had acquired privately the Duchess’s heart-shaped yellow diamond. While the sale of the Windsor jewels raised $50 million for The Pasteur Institute in 1987, this very special diamond will now be sold on December 5, 2012 in the New York sale of Magnificent Jewels for the benefit of The Breast Cancer Research Foundation. All of us at Sotheby’s could not be happier to tell the story of the unique jewel we now call “The Windsor Heart” knowing it will contribute greatly to the Lauder family’s mission to help women around the world so that one day breast cancer will be a thing of the past.