Jewel of the Day: The Grand Duchess Vladimir Tiara

  September 5, 2012 at 8:07 pm by

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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 Historical Royals, Russia, The United Kingdom
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17 Responses to Jewel of the Day: The Grand Duchess Vladimir Tiara

  1. Artemisia says:

    @ Lady Daphne
    I hope you’ll enjoy this blog entry. 🙂

    If anyone would like to read an entry about a specific jewel(s), just write your request here and I’ll try to write it as soon as possible.

  2. Linda Hernandez says:

    Queen Elizabeth wears brooches on many of her outfits. Are there one or two brooches which are her favorites? If so, what are they and what historical background do they represent. Thanks so much.

  3. Juliane says:

    That was simply wonderful. Since this is September perhaps you could discuss some of the breathtaking sapphire jewelry in Her Majesty’s collection. Blue appears to be one of her favorite colors and they enhance her gorgeous eyes. I would especially like to know more about that stunning sapphire and diamond necklace she wore for for her 80th birthday portrait when she was also wearing what appeared to be a white fur coat and a necklace of huge oval sapphires set in a simple looping pattern of diamonds around her neck. She looked like a Snow Queen. It was one of my favorite portraits of Elizabeth II R.

  4. natalya says:

    Thank You for this short description of one of the beautiful royal piece.
    I would gladly learn more about the amazing creations of the royal court jewelry which have become personal ornaments.

  5. hampton says:

    Wonderful research. So many of the Russian nobility were totally clueless about the revolution that they left with very little thinking they were to return. Prince Yusapov did the same and hid his wife’s jewels under the stairway. In some cases jewels were found later in bank vaults in Sweden and
    Denmark etc. And one can only imagine the pieces still hidden and undiscovered.

  6. Cynthia says:

    I have tons of books on the royal jewels. I love the emeralds in the tiara best. The necklace is a nice piece too. I really liked it when Princess Diana wore it as a headband.With all the famous jewels that are being copied I wish someone would copy the royal ones. If it sparkles, I love it.

  7. SalannB says:

    This is my 3rd favorite tiara, behind the Alexandra Kokoshnik and the Cambridge Lover’s Knot. I love the versatility of the Vladimir Tiara.

    Emeralds? Stunning. Pearls? Gorgeous. Plain? Not so much. It looks like it’s missing something. I’d love to see this with ruby drops.

  8. Artemisia says:

    @Linda Hernandez
    Now, that’s a difficult question. The Queen’s collection of brooches is truly massive (well over 100) and she has worn most of them on fairly regular basis. If I had to single out the ones she has worn most often in recent years, then I’d pick the following brooches (in no particular order):

    The Rhodesian Flame Lily Brooch
    The Amethyst Bouquet Brooch (also known as River Tay Brooch)
    The Jardine Star Brooch
    Queen Victoria’s Bow Brooches
    Prince Albert’s Sapphire Brooch
    Boucheron Aquamarine Clips
    The Duchess of Cambridge Pearl Pendant
    Frosted Sunflower Brooch
    Flower Basket Brooch
    Ear of Wheat Brooches
    Australian Wattle brooch

  9. Artemisia says:

    That’s a wonderful idea! I’ll definitely write about some of the Queen sapphire jewellery.

    Regarding the sapphire necklace, I think I know which portrait you meant – is this the one? In that portrait, the Queen is wearing a pearl necklace, or possibly her Diamond Riviere Necklace. I don’t think there is a similar portrait where she’d be wearing a sapphire necklace. Based on your description, I think you meant this necklace. She wore it for a different portrait: the necklace is part of a demi-parure.

    I’ll definitely include that loop sapphire necklace in this month’s sapphire jewellery entry. Again, thanks for the idea. 🙂

  10. Lady Daphne says:

    This is the third time I’ve tried to leave a Thank You to Artemesia but for some reason my comment doesn’t show up……..I’ll try again. I don’t know why I’m blocked.

  11. Diana Lucia Zotescu says:

    When it comes to jewelry, and even more so, the royal ones, I simply get speechless. I certainly like this tiara in all the three versions, starting with the pearl-drops and emerald pendants, and ending with no pendants at all (that has its own beauty). I have long admired all the gorgeous pieces of jewels worn by HM Queen Elisabeth whenever I had the opportunity to see Her in photos. At times, it makes me sad when thinking that our Royal Family of Romania could only save but very few of Their jewels from the greedy hands of the communists. I can only hope one day they will return to their rightful owners. In the meanwhile, thank you so much for sharing this most interesting information with us.
    Diana Lucia Zotescu

  12. Lady Daphne says:

    Wow, it showed this time…..Artemisia…a deep curtsey to you for showcasing my favorite tiara. My fave is definitely the Emeralds. SalannB’s comment about Ruby drops has my imagination running wild. I can see it now!!
    I’m so sorry my earlier previous comments didn’t show up, as I so very much appreciate this story about a most beautiful Tiara. Again….many thanks to Artemisia, I so much appreciate discussions about these fabulous and historic jewels….

  13. Fennena says:

    Thank you for your awesome entries!

    Do you plan writing articles about jewelry of other Royal Houses as well? I appreciate your writings a lot and it would be interesting to know more of jewels of Royals outside of England!

  14. Artemisia says:

    @Diana Lucia Zotescu
    Romania had such a brilliant jewellery collection, especially Queen Marie’s jewellery. It’s a pity indeed more jewels weren’t preserved.

  15. Artemisia says:

    @Lady Daphne
    You are most welcome: it was a pleasure writing this entry. 🙂
    I’d love emerald drops with this tiara as well, and sapphire ones wouldn’t be too bad either. In fact, any coloured stones would look fantastic against the background of platinum and diamonds. The Spanish Royal House has a similar tiara with aquamarines, and it’s gorgeous.

  16. Artemisia says:

    Right now, I focus mainly on British royal jewellery simply because it’s both my main area of interest, and stronghold (I can’t boast in-depth knowledge on the magnificent jewellery collections of other countries with the exception of the Dutch and Spanish ones). However, I’d love to write (and in the process, learn a bit more) about jewels of non-British royals, so I definitely don’t exclude the possibility.

  17. Artemisia says:

    I would just like to thank you all for the magnificent feedback: it’s really appreciated!
    It’s always nice to “meet” people who share my interest and fascination with royal jewels, especially those with long, colourful history.

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