Auction of Duchess of Windsor’s Jewels Quadruples Record
GENEVA (AP) _ Buyers bid a record $30 million Thursday for the late Dutchess of Windsor’s jewels, most of which were gifts from the king who gave up his throne to marry her 50 years ago.
A 10 percent buyer’s fee brought the total to $33.5 million, more than quadrupling the highest sum previously paid at an auction for a single set of jewelry - $8.09 million for the collection of Florence Gould, widow of railway magnate Frank Gould.
Buyers in the four-hour first session of the two-day sale included actress Elizabeth Taylor, on the phone from Los Angeles, and California divorce lawyer Marvin Mitchelson, who was part of the well-heeled crowd attending the auction in a tent on the shore of Lake Geneva. All paid a 10 percent buyer’s fee.
In addition to the tent crowd, bids were phoned in from people gathered in the Beau-Rivage hotel and at Sotheby’s in New York. More than 1,000 written bids were received before the sale, Sotheby’s said.
″I knew it was going to be a bloodbath,″ said Alexander Acevedo, owner of the Alexander Gallery and one of the busiest New York bidders. ″I brought a big box of Band-Aids.″
The top prize, the 31-carat ″McLean″ diamond ring, went for $2.9 million to Japanese diamond dealer Tsuneo Takagi, who outbid an anonymous phone caller in a seven-minute duel. He said he would keep the ring and display it.
Proceeds from the auction will go to the Pasteur Institute in Paris, in accordance with the will of the Duchess, who died last April. Auctioneer Nicholas Rayner said the money would be used to construct a building containing laboratories for research in retroviruses, cancer and AIDS.
King Edward VIII abdicated the British throne in December 1936 to marry Wallis Warfield Simpson, a twice-divorced American commoner. They became the Duke and Duchess of Windsor and lived in Paris. The Duke died in l972.
The duke showered his wife with treasures ranging from spectacular jewelry to sentimental trinkets, many of them engraved with intimate messages that trace their celebrated romance.
Miss Taylor, who with her former husband Richard Burton had been friends of the couple, bought a diamond brooch designed as the plumes and crown of the Prince of Wales for $570,000.
″This is the first important jewel she ever bought for herself,″ Sotheby’s official John Block told reporters after the auction.
Mitchelson bought a colorful amethyst, turquoise and diamond bib necklace for $550,000 and a sapphire and diamond pendant for $340,000.
Most of the top-priced items went to anonymous bidders. The ruby and diamond necklace the king had given Mrs. Simpson on her 40th birthday, a year before they were married, fetched $2.4 million.
The inscription on the clasp reads, ″My Wallis from her David 19.VI.36.″ The king was known privately as David, the last of his seven Christian names.
London jeweler Laurence Graff bought a pair of yellow diamond lapel clips with stones weighing 40 and 52 carats for $2.1 million and a 19-carat emerald engagement ring for $1.9 million.
In early bidding, a group of 10 small diamond-inlaid pieces, some of them engraved, went for 50 times the estimated price.
The pin-on bars and buttons and pair of cuff links finally went for $400,000 after a bargaining battle that pitted telephone bids from New York against an unidentified bidder in Geneva, who won out.
The jewels were displayed on velvet cushions to a crowd of about 1,200 potential buyers and nearly 300 journalists. The auction was held in a red- and-white striped tent across the street from the Beau-Rivage hotel.
Bidders sat on white plastic folding chairs facing the stage where the auctioneer stood, calling out bids and prodding potential buyers in English, French and occasionally Italian.
Two large electronic screens kept track of the bidding in six currencies.