Jewel of the Day: The Grand Duchess Vladimir Tiara
The tiara was named after its original owner Maria Pavlovna, Grand Duchess Vladimir of Russia, the wife of Grand Duke Vladimir Alexandrovich (third son of Alexander II and brother to Alexander III). The Grand Duchess had impeccable taste in sparkling gems and wore them to great effect. Maria Pavlovna never tried to hide her disdain for Empress Alexandra, wife of Nicholas II, and went as far as to establish a rival court which was as dazzling as Alexandra’s court was conservative.
In 1874, the Grand Duchess tasked the Bolins, the Russian court jewellers of the time, to create a tiara that would represent the tendencies of the time. During the late 19th century, the Russian jewellers liked incorporating a combination of diamonds and pearls into their creations; the Grand Duchess Vladimir Tiara was a perfect representation of that style.
Set in platinum, the tiara in its original form consisted of fifteen interlaced diamond-covered circles strung together with a diamond ribbon on top. At the bottom, the circles are attached to a semi-circular thick band of platinum that forms the circlet of the tiara. The beauty of the tiara was further enhanced by the swinging oriental pearl drops with small diamond set mounts positioned inside each circle.
Along with most Russian aristocracy and royalty, Maria Pavlovna the Elder was forced to flee the country in the wake of the Russian Revolution of 1917. Initially, the family settled in the Caucasus, hoping for the improvement in the situation and restoration of Monarchy. By 1920, it was clear those hopes were in vain, so the Grand Duchess moved to Venice before settling down in the south of France.
Because of the family’s hasty flight, they had left most of their fabulous jewels hidden away in a secret vault at Vladimir Palace in St Petersburg. The jewels, which included the Vladimir Tiara, remained in the Palace undetected by the Bolsheviks until a friend of the family (a British diplomat and member of the Secret Intelligence Service) managed to smuggle them out of the Palace and then send abroad through diplomatic channels in a plain bag.
Once the Grand Duchess was reunited with her jewels, she split them up among her four children before passing away in Paris in September of 1920. The Vladimir tiara, along with most of the diamond jewellery that was part of Maria Pavlovna’s world-renowned collection, was left to her only daughter, Grand Duchess Elena Vladimirovna of Russia.
Grand Duchess Elena Vladimirovna, who after her marriage to Prince Nicholas of Greece was always as Princess Nicholas of Greece, was deeply involved in philanthropic projects. Unfortunately, the family’s exile meant money was hard to come by so over the years Princess Nicholas sold various pieces of jewellery from her personal collection to support her family and numerous charities. This tiara was sold to Queen Mary in 1921. Mary bought the tiara along with a diamond rivière for a price of £28,000, which is quite a lot considering it equals nearly £1,000,000 in today’s money. I have to say though this beauty is certainly worth every penny.
Time hadn’t been kind to the fine craftsmanship and by the time of its acquisition by Queen Mary the tiara was in need of some repairs. Mary, with her intimate knowledge of jewellery and superb taste in their designing, also felt there was a room for some modifications. Accordingly, in 1921 the Queen got the court jewellers Garrard & Co to cut and polish fifteen of her famous Cambridge emeralds, which originally topped the Delhi Durbar Tiara, as drop-shaped pendants. The intention was for the original teardrop pearls to be interchangeable with the emerald ones whenever needed.
The result was exactly as anticipated: emeralds looked stunning against the background of diamonds and platinum. Moreover, the Vladimir Tiara, when worn with emerald drops, complemented Queen Mary’s Cambridge and Delhi Durbar Parure nicely. No wonder then the versatile tiara became a firm favourite of Mary’s and was one of her favourite tiaras of choice. When Queen Mary died in 1953, she willed most of her jewellery collection, including the Vladimir Tiara, to her granddaughter, Queen Elizabeth.
Just as the Vladimir Tiara had been Mary’s favourite, it quickly became Queen Elizabeth’s as well. Her Majesty has worn the beautiful piece on formal occasions throughout her reign, from early years to recent times. When worn with emerald drops, the Queen usually combines the tiara with matching pieces from the Cambridge and Delhi Durbar Parure such as the Delhi Durbar Necklace, and Cambridge emerald earrings. When worn with pearl drops, the tiara is paired with some of the Queen’s numerous pearl and diamond jewels. Queen Elizabeth introduced a third way of wearing the Vladimir Tiara – with no pendants at all. While the diamond-covered intertwined circles are beautiful on their own, this is personally my least favourite styling of the tiara.
Some of the many occasions when this tiara were used include Queen Elizabeth’s official visit to the Vatican for an audience with Pope John Paul II, the reception hosted for Nelson Mandela in the Buckingham Palace, and the Queen’s official photograph as Queen of Canada (none of the Commonwealth realms besides the United Kingdom has its own crown jewels).
Which style of the Grand Duchess Vladimir Tiara do you prefer? With the original pearls, Cambridge emeralds, or with no pendants at all?Filed under British Royals, Historical Royals, Russian Royals
Tagged Cambridge Emeralds, Elizabeth II, Grand Duchess Vladimir Tiara, Jewellery, Marie of Mecklenburg-Schwerin, Mary of Teck, Tiaras.