TODAY   |  October 28, 2010

Duchess of Windsor’s jewels on the block

Twenty pieces from the Duchess of Windsor’s lavish jewelry collection will be auctioned, including two massive diamond rings and the very first Cartier panther bracelet, a glittering legacy of what some call the greatest love story of the 20th century. TODAY takes a look.

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This content comes from a Full-Text Transcript of the program.

MATT LAUER, co-host: We're back now at 7:44 with the legendary jewelry collection once owned by the Duchess of Windsor . We're going to check out some remarkable pieces in a moment. But first, the epic love story behind these fabulous jewels. The Duke and Duchess of Windsor . Theirs has been called the greatest love story of the 20th century , though it was not without controversy that would eventually change the course of British history . In the mid- 1930s , the Prince of Wales became enamored with an American woman named Wallis Warfield Simpson , a two-time divorcee, much to the disapproval of the king and queen of England . The prince later ascended to the throne as King Edward VIII . But less than a year into his reign, he gave it all up to marry Miss Simpson , who could not become his queen because of her previous marriages.

Duke of Windsor: I have found it impossible to carry the heavy burden of responsibility without the help and support of the woman I love .

LAUER: In 1937 , the woman he loved, now with the title of Duchess of Windsor , became Time magazine 's Woman of the Year , though she was not loved by all.

Mr. HUGO VICKERS (Biographer): No man ever gave up so much for one woman. He gave up his throne and reigning basically over two-thirds of the world's population for her.

LAUER: They lived in voluntary exile in France , leading a lavish lifestyle, and remained married until his death in 1972 . And perhaps to make up for the title she was denied, he showered the duchess with priceless jewels throughout

their life together: a 19 -karat emerald engagement ring, a 31-karat diamond ring , the very first Cartier panther bracelet made just for her.

Unidentified Man: Three hundred and eighty thousand...

LAUER: A collection of her jewels was first auctioned off by Sotheby's in 1987 . In New York , people waited three hours just to get a close-up glimpse. In the end, they brought in $50 million, still the most valuable single-owner jewelry collection ever sold, and a glittering legacy left behind. Sotheby 's will auction off 20 pieces from the Duchess of Windsor 's collection next month in London . They're on display here in New York through Tuesday. Lisa Hubbard is with Sotheby's . Lisa , good morning.

Ms. LISA HUBBARD (Sotheby's): Good morning, Matt.

LAUER: We're going to look at some of these just amazing pieces of jewelry. But really, what we're looking at is the chronicling of a love affair .

Ms. HUBBARD: You are. You are. It was the first celebrity sale, and each of these pieces holds a place within their relationship; particularly three pieces that are mementos of their relationship.

MEREDITH VIEIRA, co-host: Well, this is a Cartier cigarette case, and this really sets up their relationship.

Ms. HUBBARD: It does. It is their summer travels between 1934 and 1936 . And so the relationship takes hold in 1934 , and then comes the deepening and the constitutional crisis and the abdication and the throne, all in their travels. You can imagine the discussions over their summer.

VIEIRA: And there's an inscription inside, right?

Ms. HUBBARD: There is. It's " David from Wallis , Christmas 1935 ."

VIEIRA: Hm.

LAUER: Personal. Talk to me about this bracelet here, the cross bracelet. Each of the crosses has an inscription.

Ms. HUBBARD: Each of the crosses has an inscription. And again, they chronicle the relationship from 1934 to 1944 . There is the marriage cross for their marriage in 1937 . There is the appendectomy cross when she had an -- there is God Save the King cross, in a botched assassination attempt. So this was perhaps the least grandiose of her pieces , but the most personal.

VIEIRA: Yes.

Ms. HUBBARD: And she wore it with everything, including on her wrist on her wedding day.

VIEIRA: She loved brooches, too, she loved them, including this flamingo brooch. In fact, I understand that she picked the jewelry first and then had the clothing second.

Ms. HUBBARD: The -- actually, the clothing was the backdrop.

VIEIRA: Right.

Ms. HUBBARD: It reflect -- the canvas upon which she wore the painting. And this piece, actually, I'm going to...

VIEIRA: Oh, you're touching it.

Ms. HUBBARD: I am going to touch it because you can see...

VIEIRA: Wow.

LAUER: That's a big brooch.

Ms. HUBBARD: It is. And it's the brooch that changed the direction of jewelry design . And if you imagine that before this people would layer jewelry on. Here, it's like a painting by itself on a wall, calling in your vision. And here it is just by itself on a wonderful plain cloth. It's fantastic.

LAUER: We're -- are we being careful, we're not mentioning even thoughts of prices here? Is that for a reason?

Ms. HUBBARD: Oh, no, no, no, no. The -- we expect the 20 pieces that are in this small collection to fetch somewhere around $4 1/2 million. I suspect more. This piece and the leopard coming up are both estimated between a million and a half to 2.3 million.

VIEIRA: And that's one-of-a-kind, isn't it?

Ms. HUBBARD: And this is one -- this is one -- they're all one-of-a-kind.

VIEIRA: Oh, I'm sorry.

Ms. HUBBARD: Actually, this is a great thing. This is one-of-a-kind made from older stones. This is amazing.

VIEIRA: I love...

Ms. HUBBARD: This is the first cat bracelet that Cartier made. And you can see...

VIEIRA: Oh.

Ms. HUBBARD: Look at his little legs.

LAUER: Oh, stop gasping.

VIEIRA: Oh.

Ms. HUBBARD: So it's totally articulated and...

VIEIRA: That's beautiful.

Ms. HUBBARD: ...very sleek.

VIEIRA: Gorgeous.

LAUER: Yes. We have really just a few seconds left.

Ms. HUBBARD: The last is the 20th...

LAUER: Tell us about the other brooch.

Ms. HUBBARD: ...the 20th anniversary wedding brooch, where you have W and E, Wallis and Edward , entwined on the front, a ducal coronet at the top indicating the royalty that she was never able to be, and XX below, which is 20 years.

LAUER: Nice.

Ms. HUBBARD: So who said it wouldn't last?

VIEIRA: And Mark Traub pointed out if you turn it over, the W's an M for Meredith . So I could probably wear that.