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Image: Wallis Simpson, the Duchess of Windsor, and a piece of her jewelry
Courtesy of Sotheby's
Jewelry formerly owned by Wallis Simpson, the Duchess of Windsor — the American socialite whom Edward VIII famously gave up the throne of England to marry in 1937 — sold big in London late Tuesday.
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updated 11/30/2010 8:59:50 PM ET 2010-12-01T01:59:50

A set of jewels once owned by American socialite Wallis Simpson — the woman who wooed King Edward VIII from the British throne and became the Duchess of Windsor — fetched nearly $12.5 million at auction late Tuesday.

Sotheby's said it sold the entire complement of 20 brooches, bracelets and other gems, highlights of which included an onyx and diamond Cartier bracelet in the shape of a panther; a jewel-encrusted flamingo clip and a heart-shaped brooch with the initials W.E. — Wallis and Edward — commissioned for the couple's 20th wedding anniversary.

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The dramatic, emerald-eyed panther bracelet was the star of the sale, despite a few missing stones. Sotheby's said it sold for $7 million, the highest price it had ever received for a bracelet at auction.

All the jewels once belonged to Simpson and Edward, who abdicated to marry the twice-divorced 40-year-old in 1937.

Slideshow: Duchess of Windsor's dazzling jewels sold at auction (on this page)

Their relationship caused a scandal that culminated when the king made an abdication broadcast to the nation in December 1936, declaring "I have found it impossible ... to discharge my duties as king as I would wish to do without the help and support of the woman I love." The British government opposed the king's marriage to Simpson, leaving him little choice if he wanted to marry her.

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David Bennett, head of Sotheby's jewelry for Europe and the Middle East, said last month that the gems represented "the most important jewelry collection put together in the 20th century."

The items were last sold in 1987, as part of a Sotheby's auction that fetched $50 million, still a record for a jewelry collection. Sotheby's would not disclose the identity of the current seller.

The story of Edward and Mrs. Simpson continues to fascinate, and is currently being turned into a movie, "W.E.," directed by Madonna.

The identity of the jewels' purchaser wasn't made public.

Copyright 2010 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Photos: Duchess of Windsor's dazzling jewels sold at auction

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  1. Duchess of Windsor's jewels sold at auction

    Jewelry formerly owned by Wallis Simpson, the Duchess of Windsor -- the American socialite whom Edward VIII famously gave up the throne of England to marry in 1937 -- was auctioned by Sotheby's in London on Nov. 30. The collection sold for nearly $12.5 million.

    In this portrait by Cecil Beaton, Wallis wears on her left arm one of the pieces that will go on the block, a cross bracelet by Cartier. (Courtesy of Sotheby's) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. Cross bracelet

    This Cartier chain bracelet set with diamonds links nine Latin crosses set with saphhires, emeralds, rubies and diamonds. Each of the crosses is inscribed and dated to mark a different occasion or sentiment, including Wallis' marriage to Edward. (Jasper "Yogi" Gough) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. Gold and diamond necessaire du soir

    This evening case may have been a 10th wedding anniversary gift from the Duke of Windsor to his Duchess, given the dated inscription. There are photographs of the Duchess holding this evening bag at a reception she and the Duke attended at the White House at the invitation of President Nixon in April 1970. (Jasper "Yogi" Gough) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. Flamingo clip

    Mounted by Cartier in Paris in 1940, this clip was designed as a flamingo posed on one leg. Its plumage is set with emeralds, rubies and sapphires; the beak and eye contain more sapphires, and the head, neck and body are pave-set with diamonds. (Jasper "Yogi" Gough) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. 20th anniversary brooch

    This brooch was created in May 1957 by Cartier to commemorate the Duke and Duchess of Windsor's 20th wedding anniversary. The initials W and E (for Wallis and Edward) are set with emeralds above the Roman numeral XX in the center of a heart-shaped field of diamonds. (Jasper "Yogi" Gough) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. Watch, compass and sundial

    Inscribed beneath the dial of this gold watch with built-in compass and sundial is the message: "No excuse for going in the wrong direction Easter 1939." That was the year that the Duke and Duchess settled in a house in Paris. (Jasper "Yogi" Gough) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. Panther bracelet

    This onyx and diamond bracelet in the form of a panther is articulated so that it will encircle the wrist and assume a stalking pose. The eyes are emeralds. Designed by Cartier in 1952, the dramatic bracelet was the star of the sale, despite a few missing stones. Sotheby's said it sold for $7 million, the highest price it had ever received for a bracelet at auction. (Bogey) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. Gold cigarette case

    This rectangular case is decorated with a map of Europe, inscribed with the names of various locations, each represented by a gem. The enameled routes refer to holiday trips enjoyed by Edward and his guests, including Wallis, during 1934,1935 and 1936. (Jasper "Yogi" Gough) Back to slideshow navigation
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