Last week we discussed Empress Maria Feodorovna’s Russian Field Diadem. If you recall, it was sold by the Soviets and never reappeared in public again; most likely it is lost to history. You can catch a glimpse of the tiara in this 1926 British Pathé video.
In the early 1980s Soviet jewelers recreated the tiara for the Diamond Fund. It’s not an exact copy; you can see that the jewelers took liberties with the design as the tiara seems to be filled in a little more than the original. It may be a reproduction, but the tiara is completely set with natural diamonds. Another difference is that the center is set with a large yellow diamond. You’ll recall that the original tiara’s center was set with a sapphire.
I feel that the reproduction honors the spirit of the original and that the original owner, jewelry connoisseur, Empress Maria Feodorovna would approve.
Today’s royal trinket is a gold ring that contains a miniature portrait of Empress Maria Feodorovna of Russia (1759-1828). The portrait is surrounded by numerous bezel-set diamonds. Maria Feodorovna, wife of Paul I, was the owner of the magnificent Russian Nuptial Tiara and the long-lost Russian Field Diadem.
The ring is now owned by Queen Elizabeth II. The Royal Collection Trust cataloged it only in 1952. Perhaps it was lost and collecting dust within its archives. It’s not certain when the ring was created. The Royal Collection Trust gives a conservative estimate: between 1800-1900. Maria Feodorovna died in 1828. Perhaps it was made to commemorate her life. She was a much loved matriarch of her family.
The Russian Field Diadem came to the world’s attention after it was featured in the sales catalogue of the Russian crown jewels. The tiara was created for Empress Maria Feodorovna in the early 19th century. It appears she may have been the only woman to have worn the diadem. The diadem, set in gold and silver, is centered around a large white sapphire and composed of six ears of rye encrusted in diamonds. There are 37 briolette diamonds dispersed throughout the diadem; other diamonds are brilliant and rose cut.
Maria Feodorovna, born Sophia Dorothea of Württemberg in 1759, was a niece of King Frederick the Great of Prussia, and the second wife of Paul I. Her mother-in-law was Catherine the Great. She was also the mother of Tsar Alexander I (if you remember your history lessons, Alexander I embarrassed Napoleon) and Tsar Nicholas I.
Maria Feodorovna led quite an eventful and full life after the death of Paul I. She acted as matriarch to her family and advisor to Alexander I. Whether her children were near or far she kept in contact with them, advised them as she saw fit and made sure her children were financially provided for. She appreciated and cultivated the arts within Russia. She was also a patron of charities; she even founded an institute of learning for children. Each successive empress took over her institute until its closure in 1917.
The Dowager Empress loved and appreciated her homes, the Russian countryside and her gardens. She was overjoyed whenever her beloved daughter, Anna Pavlovna, Princess of Orange and wife of the future William II of the Netherlands, sent her bulbs and plants for her gardens. Therefore, it makes sense that Maria Feodorovna would have commissioned a tiara with a motif that embodied the Russian fields. After her death in 1828 the diadem was sent to the Diamond Fund. It remained there until the revolution.
Sadly, after its auction sale in 1927, the tiara disappeared. Perhaps we’ll see it again in a future auction. Though that may be doubtful as the last documented sale was the one by Christie’s in 1927. In an era when monarchies fell like dominos and stock markets crashed, wearing tiaras may not have seemed appropriate. It’s possible the seller pulled the tiara apart for its stones; perhaps even reconfigured it to wear as smaller, individual brooches. Only time may tell.
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