TODAY | October 28, 2010
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 ."
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.
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.
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...
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...
Ms. HUBBARD: Look at his little legs.
LAUER: Oh, stop gasping.
Ms. HUBBARD: So it's totally articulated and...
VIEIRA: That's beautiful.
Ms. HUBBARD: ...very sleek.
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.
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.