Posts tagged romanov crown jewels

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.




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.