Today’s tiara is not of royal provenance, at least none that I’m aware of. However, it was made in St. Petersburg between 1870 and 1900, so I’d like to think that this headpiece saw its fair share of imperial balls.
The tiara is made of silver and does not hold a single gemstone. It is designed as flowering sprays of myrtle. The accompanying brooch matches the tiara’s design and is in the shape of a single rose. The myrtle plant, being a symbol of love, would have made a lovely 19th century wedding gift to a young bride.
Today’s tiara topic is the Russian Nuptial Tiara. Once upon a time this dazzling tiara was part of the bridal jewelry worn by all Russian grand duchesses and wives of grand dukes on their wedding day.
The kokoshnik-shaped tiara has four arched diamond-studded rows. The second row from the bottom is composed of intertwined loops of diamonds, while the third row consists entirely of hanging briolette diamonds. The briolettes are from India and the other white diamonds are from Brazil. The center holds a 13 carat pink diamond that came from the treasury of Paul I. My guess is that the tiara wasn’t initially created to act as a nuptial tiara. Even the Russian Nuptial Crown wasn’t created until 1840.
According to the 1925 catalog Russia’s Treasure of Diamonds and Precious Stones, the tiara was created in 1800 for Elizabeth Alexeievna (née Princess Louise of Baden, 1779-1826) consort of Alexander I. However, according to Christie’s, the tiara was created for Maria Feodorovna (née Duchess Sophie Dorothea of Württemberg, 1759-1828) wife of Tsar Paul I (father of Alexander I). I tend to side with Christie’s that it was made for Maria Feodorovna since the pink diamond came from her husband’s treasury.
Regardless of whom it was made for, it’s incredible that the nuptial tiara has survived two centuries. Miraculously, the Soviet government decided not to destroy or sell it. The tiara is intact in its original form and remains in the ownership of the Russian government. You can spot the Russian Nuptial Tiara on the inventory table with other confiscated Romanov jewels. It’s the third tiara from the right.
Leslie Field’s Lot Essay for Christie’s
Jewels of the Romanovs by Stafano Papi
Russia’s Treasure of Diamonds and Precious Stones by Alexander Evgenevich Fersman
Above is a photograph of Grand Duchess Maria Pavlovna of Russia (also known as Maria Pavlovna the Younger) and Prince Wilhelm, Duke of Södermanland on their wedding day.
The Grand Duchess is wearing the traditional wedding jewels worn by all Romanov brides: the Russian Nuptial Crown, the Russian Nuptial Tiara with a rare pink diamond as its center stone, diamond earrings in the form of cherries and the collier d’esclave diamond necklace. Attached to her dress is Catherine the Great’s diamond mantle.
If you follow royal news, you may have noticed a recent royal engagement. Grand Duke George of Russia, a direct descendant of Tsar Alexander II, asked his long-time girlfriend, Rebecca Virginia Bettarini, to marry him. Though Russia no longer has a monarchy, let’s take a look at Grand Duke George’s imperial lineage.
Tsar Alexander II married Maria Alexandrovna in 1841. They had eight children together. Their third son, Grand Duke Vladimir (younger brother to Alexander III) married Maria Pavlovna in 1874.
Vladimir and Maria Pavlovna’s eldest son, Grand Duke Cyril Vladimirovich of Russia, married Princess Victoria Melita of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha in 1905. They had two daughters and one son. After the murder of Tsar Nicholas II and his family, Grand Duke Cyril, as the senior surviving male-line descendant of Alexander II, declared himself emperor-in-exile.
Their only son, Vladimir Kirillovich of Russia, married Leonida Bagration of Mukhrani in 1948. They had one child together, Grand Duchess Maria Vladimirovna of Russia (born 1953). In 1976, she married Prince Franz Wilhelm of Prussia. Before they divorced in 1985, they had one son, Grand Duke George Mikhailovich Romanov, born in 1981.
Grand Duchess Maria Vladimirovna considers herself the rightful heir to the throne, should it ever be restored. Her son, Grand Duke George considers himself the Tsarevich and heir apparent to the throne, after his mother. However, Maria Vladimirovna’s claim is disputed by other members of the Romanov Family. Though I’m not sure the dispute matters since the monarchy in Russia will probably never be restored. Either way, it’s wonderful to have a royal wedding to look forward to later this year.
For all the tiaras at her disposal, Queen Elizabeth II turns to the Vladimir Tiara for tiara events more often than not. It’s beautiful and suits the Queen very well. But it’s more than just a well-suited piece of jewelry. The tiara, acquired from the collection of Grand Duchess Maria Pavlovna, has a storied past.
Grand Duchess Maria Pavlovna, born Marie Alexandrine Elisabeth Eleonore of Mecklenburg-Schwerin, was already engaged to a German prince when she met Grand Duke Vladimir Alexandrovich, second son of Tsar Alexander II of Russia. She promptly ended her engagement with the German prince. After several back-and-forth negotiations, such as her wish not to convert to the Russian Orthodox faith, she married Grand Duke Vladimir in 1874.
That same year, the happily married couple moved into their newly-built palace, Vladimir Palace, situated near the Winter Palace in St. Petersburg. There they lived a life of splendor where they entertained lavishly and cultivated the arts. They had five children together, though only four survived to adulthood: Grand Duke Alexander (1875-1877), Grand Duke Cyril (1876-1938), Grand Duke Boris (1877-1943), Grand Duke Andrei (1879-1956) and Grand Duchess Elena (1882-1957). By all accounts, the family had a happy home life.
Perhaps understanding her prominent new role in the imperial court, her father-in-law, Tsar Alexander II, generously provided her with a magnificent emerald parure as a wedding gift. This was only the beginning of her love affair with jewelry. Grand Duchess Maria Pavlovna maintained a working relationship with Chaumet and Cartier, who provided her with new jewelry on a continuous basis. She often provided them with her own gemstones. She made frequent trips to Paris where she met with her jewelers. One of her favorite pieces of jewelry, which she wore frequently, was the Vladimir Tiara, a kokoshnik-shaped tiara believed to be made by court jeweler Bolin in 1874, the year of her wedding. It’s made of fifteen intertwined diamond-encrusted circles from which fifteen perfect pendant pearls hang. The Grand Duchess also had the option to wear the versatile tiara without the pearls.
Sadly, Grand Duke Vladimir died unexpectedly in 1909. Grand Duchess Maria Pavlovna carried on, acting as the matriarch to her now-grown children and their families. Later, she survived the Russian Revolution and was the last Romanov to escape Russia. In 1920, under the protection of the White Russian Army, she departed on a boat to Italy. Luckily, most of her jewels, including the Vladimir Tiara, were already smuggled out of Russia by a trusted British friend, the Honorable Albert Henry Stopford. After arriving in Italy, Grand Duchess Maria Pavlovna made her way to Switzerland before finally settling in France.
The Grand Duchess didn’t live much longer after her escape from Russia. She died in September 1920 at the age of 66. After her death, the Vladimir Tiara was inherited by her daughter Grand Duchess Elena. To finance their new lives in exile, her children sold most of the jewels. Grand Duchess Elena sold the Vladimir Tiara to Queen Mary in 1921.
After Queen Mary purchased the Vladimir Tiara she took it to Garrard, the court jeweler, for repairs. The tiara wasn’t necessarily in the best of shape. Garrard updated the frame to include a special mechanism that allowed the wearer to switch from pearls to a different set of gemstones, in this case, emeralds.
After Queen Mary died in 1953, the Vladimir Tiara was inherited by her granddaughter, Queen Elizabeth II. Queen Elizabeth II wears the Vladimir Tiara often. She has worn it with both the emerald and pearl settings, but also without either drops. After almost 150 years it’s safe to say the Vladimir Tiara has a permanent home.
Dressing the Queen: The Jubilee Wardrobe by Angela Kelly
Jewels of the Romanovs: Family & Court by Stefano Papi
In the image above, Barbara Hutton wears Grand Duchess Maria Pavlovna’s emeralds set in a tiara.
The emeralds were once part of a sumptuous parure given to Grand Duchess Maria Pavlovna in 1874 as a wedding gift from her father-in-law, Tsar Alexander II. After her death, the parure was sold by her son Grand Duke Boris Vladimirovich of Russia.
Unfortunately, the original parure is no longer intact. While pieces from the emerald parure come up at auction from time to time, many of the emeralds’ whereabouts are unknown.
Wartski: The First One Hundred and Fifty Years by Geoffrey Munn
Jewels of the Romanovs: Family & Court by Stefano Papi
Fabergé was not the only firm creating colorful and imaginative eggs. This enameled easter egg was made in Moscow by the Firm of Khlebnikov for the Russian Imperial Family.
Khlebnikov was founded in 1865 by Ivan Khlebnikov in St. Petersburg, but later moved its headquarters to Moscow. After Khlebnikov’s death in 1888, his four sons ran the successful firm. Known for its silver and decorative arts pieces, the firm held an imperial warrant from 1879 until the Russian Revolution when it ceased to exist.
Mrs. Marjorie Merriweather Post, an American socialite and business woman, purchased priceless decorative arts pieces and jewelry when she joined her diplomat husband, the second US ambassador to the USSR, in Moscow. She returned home to Washington, D.C. not only with this egg, but countless other treasures such as the Russian Nuptial Crown worn by the last Russian tsarina.
The Firm of Khlebnikov was prolific and from time to time you may find the firm’s silver or other decorative arts at auctions around the world.
Last week we talked about Easter eggs by Fabergé at Hillwood Museum, so I thought you’d like to see another Fabergé item.
Mrs. Post, who developed an appreciation for Russian culture, purchased this picture frame made by Fabergé during her time in Moscow. The frame is composed of rhodonite, gold, silver, enamel, diamonds and mother-of-pearl. A picture of Grand Duchess Tatiana Nikolaevna, daughter of the last Tsar and Tsarina, is in the frame. It feels sad to look at Tatiana’s picture given the tragic fate that befell the Romanovs.
Next to the frame is a presentation box also made of rhodonite and gold, with the seal encircled in diamonds. Though it matches the frame almost exactly, it’s not by Fabergé. The maker is unknown, but it’s believed to have been made in Western Europe during the first half of the 1800s.
Hillwood Museum in Washington, D.C., the home of the late Marjorie Merriweather Post, is a treasure trove. Two of the most unique decorative arts pieces nestled within its dazzling walls are imperial Easter eggs created by Peter Carl Fabergé and his workmasters.
Mrs. Post, as wife to the second ambassador to the USSR, Joseph E. Davies, purchased numerous Russian treasures of imperial provenance during her time in Moscow.
In 1885, Alexander III began the annual tradition of commissioning Fabergé for intricate Easter eggs as gifts for his wife, Empress Maria Feodorovna. After his death, his son, Nicholas II continued the tradition by purchasing two eggs every year for Easter. One for his mother, Dowager Empress Maria Feodorovna. The second, for his wife, Tsarina Alexandra.
This decades-long tradition produced more than fifty eggs, two of which made their way into Mrs. Post’s collection.
Commissioned by Tsar Nicholas II and presented to Dowager Empress Maria Feodorovna in 1896, the diamond-studded Twelve Monogram Easter Egg (also known as the Imperial Monogram Egg) is decorated with the Cyrillic initials of Alexander III and Maria Feodorovna. The initials are made entirely of rose-cute diamonds and are set against a dark-blue enameled background. Fabergé and his workmasters were especially skilled in enameling. The surprise inside the egg was a frame holding six tiny portraits of Alexander III. Sadly, the surprise is now lost to history. Maria Feodorovna was immensely pleased. In a letter to Nicholas II she wrote, “I can’t find words to express to you, my dear Nicky, how touched and moved I was on receiving your ideal egg with the charming portraits of your dear, adored Papa. It is all such a beautiful idea, with our monograms above it all.”
Commissioned by Tsar Nicholas II and presented to Dowager Empress Maria Feodorovna in 1914, the Catherine the Great Easter Egg has pink translucent enameled panels showcasing allegorical scenes of the arts and sciences. Four smaller panels contain scenes from the four seasons. According to a letter written by the Dowager Empress to her sister, Queen Alexandra, the surprise inside the egg was a seated Catherine the Great. Catherine the Great was a lover of the arts and sciences, so it makes sense that she would have been the surprise. However, by the time this egg made it to the collection of Mrs. Post, the surprise was also lost to history. In older literature, you may see this egg listed as the Imperial Cameo Egg.
Hillwood Museum Exhibit: Fabergé Rediscovered
Fabergé and the Russian Master Goldsmiths (1989) by Gerard Hill