Posts tagged Grand Duchess Vladimir

A necklace auctioned by Christie’s in May 2019, set with a 75.63 carat pear cut emerald once owned by the Grand Duchess Vladimir of Russia.

One of the things I love the most is tracing the journeys of important gems.  Having previously written about the famed emeralds owned by the Grand Duchess Vladimir of Russia, I was fascinated to hear that a single one of these stones had made an auction appearance earlier this year. The stone attracted attention not only because of its Imperial provenance, but also because it was arguably the finest emerald in the Grand Duchess’ collection.

The Grand Duchess Vladimir wearing her emeralds for the great Court ball of 1903. Note the emerald diadem; the large square on her chest is the 107 carat gem recently auctioned.

The emerald necklace in its original form: nine large emeralds set in diamonds, suspending important cabochon briolette stones.

A rare photograph of a young Grand Duchess Vladimir wearing the necklace, the brooch clearly pinned to the front.

Originally, the emerald was part of a parure, a wedding present from the Romanovs to Princess Marie of Mecklenburg-Schwerin, to celebrate her marriage to the uncle of Tsar Nicholas II, upon which she became Her Imperial Highness The Grand Duchess Vladimir Pavlovna.  These stones, in my opinion, were probably the finest collection of emeralds ever owned by an individual, unrivalled in size, quality and colour match.  The fullest extent of the Grand Duchess’ emerald collection can be seen in the famous photograph of her in historical Russian costume for a ball in 1903.  The centre stone of the parure’s necklace (more of which later) was a hexagonal specimen weighing over 100 carats, and can clearly be seen on the headdress.  The stone recently sold at auction was originally an emerald cut weighing 107.67 carats, set in diamonds and suspending an important drop emerald; this can also clearly be identified pinned at the front.  The rest of her emerald jewellery, all containing stones of considerable size, is sewn all over her dress.

Upon her death in 1920, the emeralds were inherited by the Grand Duchess’ son, the Grand Duke Boris, the rest of the jewellery divided into colours and bequeathed thus to her other children.  The first break up of the emeralds was effected by the Grand Duke, who sold the emerald necklace in about 1922 to Cartier; they were subsequently reset into a sleek Art Deco sautoir, bought by Edith McCormack Rockefeller.  However, some of the stones must have been held back by the Grand Duke, who clearly only sold out of sheer necessity.  The emerald set in the brooch sold by Christie’s was only acquired from the Grand Duke by Cartier in 1927; on expert gemmological advice the stone was recut from a 107.67 cut to an unrecognizable 75.63 pear shape.  The pear shape was then sold to John D. Rockefeller Jr., brother of Edith and owner of the other stones.  John D. Jr. must have known the Imperial provenance of the emerald he had bought and must have wanted to reunite it with the Imperial stones in his sister’s sautoir.

The emeralds as set by Cartier into the Art Deco sautoir bought by Edith McCormack Rockefeller.

The emeralds as set by Cartier into her Indian style tiara. Note there are now only seven stones.

The reunion was to be short lived; Edith McCormick died in 1932 and the necklace was sold and bought by the heiress Barbara Hutton, the transaction brokered once more by Cartier.  At this point, the more of the stones must have been dispersed: the McCormick sautoir clearly contained nine stones; when Barbara Hutton had Cartier reset the emeralds into a tiara convertible into a necklace, there are only seven.  There is speculation that she used the other stones in a ring and earrings, but on close inspection of photographs of these items it is impossible that the stones in these were recut octagon emeralds from the Vladimir necklace.

The Art Deco necklace unveiled by Van Cleef and Arpels in 1929; I find the similarity of these emeralds to the drops in the original Vladimir necklace remarkable.

If we go back to the emeralds as they were given to the Grand Duchess, we can also see that suspended from the necklace are nine important cabochon drop shape stones.  These stones do not feature in any of the McCormick/Hutton versions of the necklace- nor do they feature in any jewels created by Cartier in either the 20s or 30s.  I have a hunch: in 1929, Van Cleef unveiled a spectacular diamond necklace in the Art Deco style suspending 9 cabochon briolette emeralds, remarkably similar in shape and size to the 9 in the original Vladimir necklace.  I suspect that the Grand Duke had retained these stones, disposing of them only in 1927, the same time at which he sold the 100 carat emerald brooch.  Should my hunch be correct, I have no idea why the stones would have ended up in the hands of rival jewellery houses. Speculatively, it would make it the second time Van Cleef handled emeralds from the same Romanov source, as they acquired Barbara Hutton’s tiara in the mid 1960s and sold the stones off piecemeal. The Art Deco necklace was bought in 1947 by Princess Faiza of Egypt and is now owned by a private collector.

 The drop shape emerald had been bought from the Rockefellers by the Esmerian family, the same gemmologists who had advised on recutting the gem.  The pear is set in an unremarkable contemporary diamond setting which I suspect will not survive, achieving an auction price of CHF4,335,000.  Imagine if the stones had survived as a set.


The diamond and pearl tiara commissioned by the Grand Duchess Vladimir; it was bought by Queen Mary and left to her granddaughter, Queen Elizabeth II. It is currently on show at the Queen’s Gallery in Buckingham Palace as part of the Russia, Royalty and the Romanovs exhibition.

I have noticed from the reader activity on my blog that there seems to be a special interest in jewels formerly owned by the Romanovs- my blog entry on the famous pearl and diamond tiara commissioned by the Grand Duchess Vladimir (aunt by marriage of Tsar Nicholas II) seems to have elicited particular interest.

There is an opportunity, for those who are interested, to go and see this jewel up and close for a limited time only. I am not going to go into the history of the piece again- click here if you would like to read the background of this fascinating jewel.

The tiara is part of a much wider exhibition being held at the Queen’s Gallery beside Buckingham Palace in London. The title of the exhibition is Russia, Royalty and the Romanovs and is an insight into the close links the royal houses of Great Britain and Russia maintained for 300 years. These started when the Emperor Peter, also known as Peter the Great, spent some months living in London at the end of the 17th century in an effort to learn European engineering and culture.

The Mosaic Egg of 1914 by Fabergé, currently on display at the Queen’ Gallery in Buckingham Palace.

A detail photograph of the Colonnade Egg of 1910 by Fabergé.

The exhibition offers some fascinating exhibits; as a jeweller, I have to be completely biased and say that it is worth going to see for two reasons: the Fabergé on show, which is almost incomparable- it is of the highest quality possible and includes three of the famed Imperial Easter eggs, as well as an important selection Fabergé hardstone flowers. It is rare to see such a exemplary pieces from a private collection all on show together.

And secondly, of course, the famous tiara- displayed alone, in a darkened side recess of the gallery, emanating legend not just legend and Imperial mythology, but also a glittering example of the jewellers’ craft and design abilities at its height.

A fine three quarter view of the Grand Duchess Vladimir tiara .

The Most Magnificent Emeralds in the World

The Grand Duchess Vladimir wearing the emeralds for the great Court ball of 1903.  Aside from the emeralds on her headdress, note the other stones of size and importance on her clothes.

One of the most important collection of emeralds ever assembled in one jewel has to be those of the Grand Duchess Vladimir of Russia.  Aunt by marriage to Tsar Nicholas II, she set up a rival court in St. Petersburg at the beginning of the 20th century, as the Tsar and his wife shielded themselves from public life as the haemophiliac condition of their only son Alexis began to take its toll on their private life.

Although she was born into minor royalty, she fulfilled her role as a Romanov with great taste and splendour.  The seed of her famed jewellery collection was her wedding present from her father-in-law, Tsar Alexander II: a magnificent parure of emeralds, the central stone of the necklace a hexagonal emerald weighing a magical 100 carats.  The Grand Duchess was an extremely welcome client at the great establishments of the day: Fabergé, Bolin, Chaumet et al, but it was with Cartier that she established the closest relationship.  Most of her resetting was done by them and it was through them that she made most of her important bespoke acquisitions.

Her famous emeralds were worn often, most memorably decorating her dress at the great Court Ball of 1903, in which the guests arrived dressed in 17th century dress.  The Grand Duchess was able to leave St. Petersburg during the revolution, escaping with her life, a few of her jewels and little else.  The majority of her jewels were salvaged by a brave Englishman named Bertie Stopford who managed to smuggle the jewels out of the country to their rightful owner before the Vladimir Palace was seized by the authorities.

The Vladimir emerald necklace in its original form.  Even though it is late 19th century, the design remains timeless.

The Vladimir emeralds in their last setting before they were dispersed.  This was a bespoke piece by Cartier for the heiress Barbara Hutton.

The Grand Duchess died in France in 1920 and her jewels were divided amongst her children, her son the Grand Duke Boris inheriting the emeralds.  Shortly after that, penury biting at his heels, he sold the emeralds to Cartier, thus reversing the relationship his mother had had with them.  Cartier re-set the stones into a magnificent sautoir and promptly sold it to Edith Rockefeller McCormick.  She was an eccentric heiress who divorced her husband Harold in 192 and it’s somehow pleasant to speculate that she bought them for herself as a bit of post-divorce cheer.  It was also around this time that Mrs. McCormick achieved minor notoriety with the press by claiming to be the reincarnation of the wife of the Pharaoh Tutankhamen.  She did not enjoy the emeralds for long: Mrs. McCormick died of cancer in 1930 and her executors sold the stones back to Cartier.

Brabara Hutton wearing the Vladimir emeralds in their oriental setting.  She wears the Pasha diamond on her finger.

In 1935, they sold the emeralds (again- Cartier must have done really well out of these emeralds) to their most famous owner, thrift store heiress and serial spouse seeker Barbara Hutton.  In 1947 she had them re-set again by Cartier into a ravishing, striking tiara of oriental design, finished off in diamonds and yellow gold- this was going against the trend of the time, which favoured platinum.  The tiara could be worn as a necklace and Mrs. Hutton greatly enjoyed wearing the piece, especially dressed in exotic fabrics hosting fabulous parties in her palace of Sidi Hosni in Tangier.

In order to fund one of her many divorces, the emeralds were sold in 1965 to Van Cleef and Arpels, who recut some of the stones, remounted them and sold them individually.  It was not the first emerald set to suffer historical vandalism at the hands of Van Cleef: in 1953, they had bought the emerald tiara of the Empress Marie Louise, a wedding gift from Napoleon, and sold off the stones separately. 

There are few jewels with a set of stones of such impeccable provenance and unless Queen Elizabeth II starts disposing of her own collection, which is unlikely, we will probably never see such an assembly of emeralds on the market ever again.




The Grand Duchess Vladimir tiara owned by Queen Elizabeth II, which she inherited from her grandmother Queen Mary.  It is shown hung with the Cambridge emeralds, which she also inherited from her grandmother.

The Queen wearing the Grand Duchess Vladimir tiara with the rest of the Cambridge emeralds.  The necklace is also hung with a cleaving from the Cullinan diamond.

This beautiful piece of jewellery has graced the heads of three magnificent matriarchs of royal dynasties: the Grand Duchess Vladimir (who commissioned it), Queen Mary (who bought it) and Queen Elizabeth II (who inherited it), and is associated with a romantic story of escape during the Russian Revolution. 

It was ordered in the 1870s from Bolin, Russia’s most famous jeweller after Fabergé, around the time of Marie’s marriage into the Romanov family.  It must have been one of the first of many important pieces of jewellery to come her way.  Its style was a revolution in simplicity by the standards of the time when the leading trend was the Garland style, with jewellery tending to be modelled on elaborate festoons of flowers. 

The Grand Duchess Vladimir began life as Princess Marie of Mecklenburg-Schwerin, a scion of a relatively modest principality in Germany.  In spite of considerable opposition she married the Grand Duke Vladimir, uncle of Tsar Nicholas II and into a life of unimaginable splendour.  A weaker character would have been overawed by this newfound status, but Marie revelled and excelled in her position.  Stories abound of her hosting fancy dress parties where she wore jewel encrusted peasant style dresses.  The Tsarina Alexandra was steadily withdrawing from public life due to her son’s haemophilia (which was then a State secret), so Marie developed a glittering rival court in St. Petersburg.  She cultivated her jewellery collection to enhance this position, from whence she patronised the foremost artists and revolutionary styles of her day.  The Grand Duchess included in her collection wonderful stones then considered slightly inferior such as cat’s eyes and tourmalines.         

The circle tiara was hugely successful and its groundbreaking style was recognised by Cartier, who took the opportunity to make three copies of it when it was sent there for cleaning.  It was clearly a favourite, as there are several existing official photographs of the Grand Duchess wearing the piece throughout her life.   

The Grand Duchess Vladimir wearing the tiara she commissioned from Bolin.  She is photographed with her only daughter, Elena, who married Prince Nicholas of Greece.  She sold the tiara to Queen Mary in 1921.  Her daughter Marina married the Queen's uncle, the Duke of Kent.  Note the grandeur and sumptuousness of their Court dress.

Queen Mary wearing the Vladimir tiara.  Note her diamond studded Garter star.

The Grand Duchess finally escaped Russia in 1919, taking with her only a small bag of her once vast treasure.  The bulk of her possessions were left walled up in her St. Petersburg palace, when a relatively junior figure at the British Embassy called Bertie Stopford took it upon himself to break into the yet undiscovered safe and smuggle the treasures out of Russia on behalf of the Romanov family.  There is a romantic, though unsubstantiated story that Stopford stuffed the tiara into a black bonnet whilst disguised as an old woman, and the pearls were concealed into false cherries sewn onto this.  The majority of the jewels were re-united with their owner, who died in exile in 1920 at Contrexéville in France.  The jewels were divided by her children according to stones, the diamonds going to the Grand Duchess Elena (who married Prince Nicholas of Greece), the pearls to Grand Duke Cyril, the emeralds to Grand Duke Boris and the rubies to Grand Duke Andrei.  The tiara was bought from Princess Nicholas of Greece in 1921 by Queen Mary, whose daughter Marina married the future Duke of Kent. 

Queen Mary also altered the tiara to make the pearl drops interchangeable with emerald cabochon drops, and the Queen has been photographed many times wearing it with either stone.  At a State Banquet in Latvia in 2006 the piece was worn with no drops.

The Vladimir tiara hung with its original pearls.  It was completely reset in the late 1990s by Garrards onto a more resistant platinum frame.