Posts tagged Romanov jewels
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 first Fabergé Egg: the 1885 Hen Egg made for Tsarina Maria Feodorovna.

The late 17th century gold egg from the collection of Augustus the Strong of Saxony, which may have served as inspiration for the egg.

The 18th century gold and ivory egg in the Danish Royal Collection.

Easter just wouldn’t be what it is without eggs and the jewelled, decorated ones that Fabergé created for the Russian Imperial family between 1885-1916 are the most famous of all.  They are the pinnacle of the goldsmiths’ art: ingenious and beautifully made, some with techniques now lost to us.  The quality of design of some of them is questionable, to put it charitably, but that can never detract from the incredible attention, care and detail that has been lavished on each one.

The tradition of presenting painted eggs to loved ones had long been established in Russia.  Easter is the most important festival in the Russian Orthodox Church, celebrating as it does the Resurrection.  It is always celebrated in the Spring, a time in which Russia is finally seeing the end of its long, harsh Winter and therefore a time of rebirth, the egg being a symbol of that rebirth.  Before the Romanovs had started presenting each other with jewelled eggs, they had already been commissioning beautiful porcelain examples from the Imperial factory to hand out as official gifts.

The commission of the first Imperial Easter Egg was the culmination of a long PR campaign by Fabergé.  Alexander III had already bought some small pieces from the firm and they had been working on cataloguing, restoring and organising objects and jewellery in the Hermitage for free during the 1870s.  At some point during these years they had been challenged by Alexander III that they could not equal the craftsmanship of the great 18th century goldsmiths.  They duly replicated an elaborate gold and red enamel snuffbox of the period and presented it to the Tsar, who declared the great master goldsmiths surpassed.

The Tsarina Maria Feodorovna in full Court dress in the mid 1880s, around the time she received her first Fabergé egg.

The Tsarina Maria Feodorovna in full Court dress in the mid 1880s, around the time she received her first Fabergé egg.

So it was natural that by 1885 Fabergé had become the Tsar’s go-to firm when he decided he wanted something extra special to present to his beautiful, accomplished pleasure loving wife, the Tsarina Maria Feodorovna.  The result was the charming Hen Egg, beautiful and simple and lacking in the elaborate decoration of subsequent creations.  It is made of a gold shell overlaid with white enamel.  The shell ‘breaks’ open to reveal a golden yolk- this in turn unscrews to reveal a hen perfectly rendered in three colour gold.  The hen opens to yield a miniature diamond crown with a ruby pendant.  The egg could be said to be a close replica of an 18th century one in the Danish Royal Collection, made in ivory and revealing similar surprises- it would have been a sentimental touch to remind the Tsarina of her native Denmark.  However, there is another one of an earlier date and similar design in the Green Vaults in Dresden- Peter Carl Fabergé spent much of his youth there as an apprentice, absorbing techniques and styles which he was later to distil into the world famous ‘le style faberge’.  Almost certainly some of the incredible goldsmithing he studied there was the inspiration for the immaculate three colour gold rendering of the hen in the surprise.

The Hen Egg of 1885 was only supposed to be one off bespoke trinket- but the Tsarina was so delighted with it that Alexander III immediately put in a standing order for a yearly egg and gave faberge the title of ‘Goldsmith by Special Appointment to the Imperial Crown’.  The tradition was continued by his son, Nicholas II, who increased the standing order to two eggs a year- one for his mother and one for his wife.  In total, 50 Imperial Eggs were created, of which 43 survive.

Porcelain Easter presentation egg from the Imperial factory bearing the monogram of Tsarina Maria Feodorovna.

Fabergé's subsequent, more elaborate creations.


Queen Elizabeth II wearing the sapphire and diamond earrings and necklace her father gave her to mark her wedding to Prince Philip in 1947.

This week marks a milestone for Queen Elizabeth II- she ascended the throne on the 6th February 1952; she has reigned for 65 years, longer than any other monarch in British history and this milestone has been declared her Sapphire Jubilee.  Sapphires suit Her Majesty, matching the colour of her eyes and skin tone, so here we take a look at some of the most impressive pieces in her collection.

The brooch Queen Victoria received from Prince Albert on her wedding day.  She rarely wore after his death and left it to the Crown in her will to be worn by all future queens.

Buckingham Palace today released an official portrait of the Queen to mark her latest landmark.  In it she wears sapphire and diamond necklace and earrings, the stones clearly being of matchless quality.  This set is particularly poignant to her- she received them as a wedding present from her father George VI to celebrate her marriage to Prince Philip in 1947.  The King was only 56 when he died, so to the Queen her Accession Day is a bittersweet occasion- a reminder that her long reign is in part due to the early death of her father.  She has worn the set often, as it is matches exactly the colour of her Garter riband.  In 1963 the Queen had a tiara and bracelet made to complete the set, using stones from a necklace that had originally belonged to Queen Louise of Belgium.

The pearl, sapphire and diamond brooch Queen Mary bought from the Empress Marie Feodorovna's estate in 1929.  It had been given to the Empress as a wedding present from her sister, the future Queen Alexandra.

The pearl, sapphire and diamond brooch Queen Mary bought from the Empress Marie Feodorovna's estate in 1929.  It had been given to the Empress as a wedding present from her sister, the future Queen Alexandra.

An essential part of the Queen’s uniform is a brooch, which she always wears on her left shoulder.  One of the most romantic sapphires in her collection is the Albert Brooch, given to Queen Victoria by Prince Albert on their wedding day.  It consists of a magnificent large sapphire surrounded by 12 diamonds.  Because of its romantic  associations, Victoria rarely wore it after the death of her beloved Albert and in her will left it to the Crown ‘to be worn by all future Queens of the United Kingdom’.

Another brooch of note is the Empress Marie Feodorovna’s sapphire and diamond brooch.  This jewel too was a wedding present- it was given to the future Empress in 1866 to mark her marriage to the Tsarevich, the future Alexander III by her sister and brother-in-law, Alexandra Princess of Wales and the future Edward VII.  When the Empress died in exile in 1929, this, along with several other pieces, were acquired by Queen Mary.  The brooch must have attracted her attention not only due to the quality of the piece but also the family connection.

Staying with the Romanov theme, another important piece acquired by Queen Mary but very rarely seen is the Empress’ sapphire and diamond bandeau tiara.  It is a stylish piece centred on an important cushion cut sapphire with diamond rays radiating from it.  It was acquired at the same time as the brooch and Queen Mary wore it often.  It was inherited by the Queen and although she has never worn it, she loaned it several times to Princess Margaret.  It is a piece Royal jewel watchers would love to see resurrected from the vaults, especially on the Duchess of Cambridge.

Rarely seen: Princess Margaret wears another Romanov heirloom, the sapphire and diamond bandeau bought from Empress Marie of Russia's estate.

My personal favourite is the Queen’s Art Deco sapphire bracelet.  It was given to her by her (clearly very generous) father.  A favourite piece of the monarch’s, it is classic Art Deco, perfect timeless design that never dates.

18th Birthday Present: the art deco sapphire and diamond bracelet the Queen was given by her father George VI to mark her landmark birthday.


The 1913 Winter Egg by Fabergé, given by Tsar Nicholas II to his mother the Empress Marie.

The depths of winter in which we now find ourselves has served as inspiration to many artists and designers.  The snowflake, with its perfect symmetry and tantalisingly beautiful crystal structure has been rendered many times over in diamonds by artist jewellers throughout the last century.  One jeweller, however, was key in popularising the motif in the 20th century: Carl Fabergé.  He took the concept of ice and snow and made it his own, and how fitting that this should be done by a Russian jeweller, a country where the extremes of winter are harsher than most of us are used to.  Fabergé is mostly famous for his fabulous eggs, but his jewellery is still relatively unknown by the larger public. 

Most of the fabulous, important pieces are gone, sold and melted down after the 1917 Revolution and are only known to us through portraits and archive material.  His smaller, wittier pieces have survived because intrinsically they are worth very little- this is the reason why so many objects- including the famous eggs- survived in abundance. 

Alma Theresia Pihl, one of the most talented designers employed by Fabergé .

The ice concept is remarkable for several reasons.  Firstly, there was very little precedent for this kind of ultra-naturalistic kind of jewel, so it was groundbreaking in design.  Most high end designers were still referencing historical styles.  Art Nouveau was in its full flowering, but it was more preoccupied with a highly stylised rendering of nature rather than a realistic one.  Secondly, it was the brainchild of a highly talented designer in the Fabergé workshops named Alma Theresia Pihl.  She was a young woman working in what was very much a man’s world and had a unique way of looking at design- she once drew on needlepoint for her inspiration, setting small squares of coloured gems in a mosaic manner to mimic embroidery.  It is a testament to her abilities that she was responsible for the designs of at least two of the Imperial Easter Eggs. 

Fabergé once said: ‘I have little interest in an expensive object if its price is only in the abundance of diamonds and pearls’ and this was obvious in the way he raised relatively humble quartzes and enamels into objects of desire.  He must have been thrilled when Dr. Emanuel Nobel, of dynamite fortune and subsequent prize fame came to him with a commission perfectly suited to his design philosophy.  He was a generous man and wanted a present to give out to the ladies at one of his dinners.  He wanted something very beautiful but not intrinsically valuable when taken apart.  Alma Pihl was tasked with this brief and the first snowflake jewels were born, realised in white quartz and diamonds.  The jewels were an immediate success and quickly became a staple for the firm.

Snowflake brooch in platinum and diamonds by Fabergé .

Platinum and diamond snowflake pendant by Fabergé pictured next to its entry in the stock book.

The pinnacle of this theme was the 1913 Winter Egg, given by Tsar Nicholas II to his mother, Empress Maria Feodorvna.  The shell is realistically engraved with a frost pattern and decorated with a criss crossing ice pattern in platinum and diamonds.  Concealed inside was a basket of white flowers, a metaphor for the spring to come after the winter.  Even though it was the most expensive egg ever made, the value was entirely in the craftsmanship- if you were to dismantle it and sell the component parts it is doubtful one would realise even a few thousand pounds.

Rock crystal and diamond ice pendant, one of many  created by Fabergé for Dr. Emanuel Snowman to gift at dinner parties.


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.