Calvin Klein’s Private Collection: Sotheby’s Magnificent Jewels

Sotheby’s Magnificent Jewels sale will feature a stunning collection of natural pearls from Kelly and Calvin Klein that once belonged to the Duchess of Windsor.

By Sara Neff


 The final item to be auctioned from the Kleins’ collection is a pair of black and white natural pearl and diamond ear clips (estimated from $300,000 to $500,000).

With the legend of their love reminiscent of a fairy tale, their relationship has been hailed the romance of the century. As the new King of England, he famously abdicated the British throne in order to marry twice-divorced American, Wallis Simpson, in 1936. This is the illustrious saga of the Duke of Windsor, formerly King Edward VIII, and his wife, the Duchess of Windsor. Their story has captured the hearts of hopeless romantics everywhere, and with Sotheby’s 1987 landmark auction of the duchess’ unique collection of jewels, buyers were able to own a piece of the couple’s history.

The Jewels of the Duchess of Windsor auction, held in Geneva, attracted some of the most prominent and elite buyers in the world. Among those buyers was the newest face on the fashion scene, Calvin Klein, who had just made his mark as an industry innovator. Newly wed to Kelly Rector, Klein purchased three lots of the duchess’ jewels for his bride as a symbol of the love they shared. Now, 20 years later, the historic jewels are to be re-offered at Sotheby’s Magnificent Jewels sale on December 4 in New York.

The collection of jewels, comprised of a necklace, a pendant, and a pair of ear clips made of striking natural pearls, is estimated to sell from $2.2 to $3.1 million. The necklace, a single strand of pearls and diamonds, once belonged to Queen Mary, the wife of King George V, and was passed down to their son, the Duke of Windsor.

The Cartier Paris necklace is made of 28 flawless pearls, ranging from approximately 6.8-9.2mm, and completed by an oval clasp set with four large diamonds-two emerald-cut, two fancy shaped-and bordered by 20 small round diamonds for a total weight of 3.7 carats. It is expected to sell for $1.5 to $2 million.

Also being auctioned is a stunning Cartier Paris natural pearl and diamond pendant (est. $400-600,000), circa 1950. The pendant exudes the classic and sophisticated style of the ’50s. A natural pearl with an 18.4mm diameter is capped by single-cut round diamonds on a detachable stirrup-shaped diamond-set pendant. If one is fortunate enough to buy both the pendant and the necklace, the pendant can be worn as a drop, creating one incredible piece of jewelry.

The final item to be auctioned from the Kleins’ collection is a pair of black and white natural pearl and diamond ear clips (estimated from $300,000 to $500,000). The Van Cleef & Arpels, New York designed clips are mounted in white gold and set with one black pearl and one white pearl. The iridescent pearls, 18.1mm and 18.2mm in diameter respectively, are bordered by 9.25 carats of 32 pear-shaped and 64 round diamonds.

Since the duke and duchess never had children, the duchess stated in her will that following her death, her jewelry was to be sold at auction and the proceeds given to the Pasteur Institute in Paris, a center known for its AIDS and cancer research. The jewelry sold for an astonishing $50.3 million (seven times the presale estimate) after intense bidding ensued in Geneva and New York at the 1987 Sotheby’s auction.

Due to the legendary significance of the pearls, extensive presale exhibitions will be held before the December auction. With stops in major cities across Asia, Europe, the Middle East, and the U.S., the pearls will be traveling the world and showcasing their exquisite quality, beauty, and provenance.

“These pearls hold a very special place in my heart. They were a present from Calvin early on in our relationship. They represent passion, tenderness, and a promise about the future,” says Kelly Klein. “Pearls, in my mind, are different from diamonds or gold. They are warm, mysterious, a small miracle created by nature.” It is apparent that the ardor of the Duke and Duchess of Windsor has been inherited by the Kleins through the purchase of the pearls. The next buyer will certainly experience similar passion for the historic love affair that these pearls epitomize.