Inside the Duchess of Argyll’s jewellery collection

The story behind the Duchess of Argyll's spectacular jewellery collection. From storied tiaras to exceptional pearls. She was rarely seen without her signature pearl necklaces.

By Joshua Hendren

Clare Foy, Golden Globe winner and star of The Crown, dazzles in pearl necklaces, pillbox hats, fur stoles and tiger prints. As she plays the scandalous Duchess of Argyll in BBC’s new mini series A Very British Scandal running on Amazon Prime.

Created by the same team behind A Very English Scandal. The three part drama revisits the Duchess’ notorious divorce trial, initiated by her third husband Ian Campbell, 11th Duke of Argyll. This occurred after he broke open a locked cupboard and found dozens of nude Polaroids of his wife. Including one of her having sex with a man whose head had been cropped out of the frame.

A Very British Scandal Ian Campbell (Paul Bettany), Margaret (Claire Foy in pearls) Photographer: Chris Raphael

Born on 1 December 1912, Margaret Whigham was the only daughter of a Scottish businessman and millionaire, George Hay Whigham and his wife, Helen Mann Hannay. Widely regarded as one of the most glamorous socialites of the era, the Duchess of Argyll was admired for her charisma, beauty, and style. She often appeared at social events with her poodle Alphonse, couture clad and glimmering in spectacular jewels. 

The Duchess amassed a stellar jewellery collection throughout her 80 year life. She was regularly featured in magazines and rarely seen without wearing her signature pearl necklace she had inherited from her grandmother.

Margaret (Claire Foy) wearing pearl necklace Photographer: Nick Wall

Strung with three rows of the June birthstone, the shimmering piece famously featured in the ‘headless man’ Polaroid photo. One of the crucial pieces of evidence in the three and a half year legal battle. The illicit photograph showed the Duchess with another man wearing nothing but her signature pearl necklace, betraying her identity where her face was hidden.

Another of the Duchess’ most beloved jewellery pieces was her diamond trefoil tiara. This sparkling diadem was formed of five diamond clover leaves. It was famously worn in a coronation portrait taken by the society and court photographer Baron in June 1953. What happened to the tiara following the Argyll’s divorce and Margaret’s subsequent financial crises is unknown.

No stranger to glamorous parties, the Duchess would often compliment her diadem and three strand necklace with a pair of diamond earrings. Which she was photographed wearing on many occasions in the 1950s and 1960s. 

While best remembered for her much-publicised divorce, the Duchess of Argyll’s influence as a 20th-century style legend continues to endure. As does the elegance, beauty and timelessness of her jewellery box.

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