11 August 2016

Tiara Thursday: The Grand Duchess Vladimir Tiara, Revisited

Turns out I was only soooorta kidding about that Tiaras That Remind Me of the Olympic Rings thing.

The Grand Duchess Vladimir Tiara
Royal Collection/Queen Elizabeth II
Grand Duchess Vladimir (Grand Duchess Maria Pavlovna of Russia, wife of the Grand Duke Vladimir Alexandrovich) was the aunt of Tsar Nicholas II. She was the grandest of the grand duchesses at the imperial court, and she was no fan of the Tsar’s wife, Alexandra. So she packed up her magnificent jewel collection and set up a rival court at which she could properly dazzle.

Maria Pavlovna
via Wiki
One of her most dazzling pieces was this tiara of 15 intertwined diamond circles strung together with an undulating diamond ribbon on top and hung with pendant pearls, made in 1874 by Bolin, the Russian court jeweler. She hid this wonderful example of intricate Russian craftsmanship in the vault at Vladimir Palace in 1918 when she fled St. Petersburg in the wake of the revolution. It remained hidden away until a friend of the family who happened to be a member of the British Secret Intelligence Service smuggled her jewels out of Russia for the Grand Duchess, tucked away in a plain bag.

Royal Collection/Queen Elizabeth II
With her jewels finally returned to her, the Grand Duchess split them between her four children before passing away in Paris in 1920. This tiara went to her daughter, Princess Nicholas of Greece. Princess Nicholas sold her jewels to benefit both her family and Russian charities, and she sold this one in 1921 to Queen Mary. Mary subsequently had to have some repairs completed, as the journey hadn't been kind to the fine craftsmanship. On Mary’s death in 1953, this tiara and much of the rest of her jewel collection was inherited by her granddaughter, the Queen. The Queen has had to have her own share of repairs made to the tiara, ultimately having the frame remade in 1988.

Maria Pavlovna, showing a tightened coronet arrangement of the tiara
via Wiki
A quick word on its Russian provenance, as this always brings up accusations that Queen Mary swindled her poor exiled relatives (there is evidence against this, but that doesn't make it any less of a juicy story to repeat time and again): that debate mainly relates to jewels that were delivered to Grand Duchesses Xenia and Olga that Mary and George were meant to be helping value and sell. This tiara does not belong to that group, as it was bought separately from Princess Nicholas. In the documentary De Kongelige Juveler, you can see a written record of the purchase; we learn that the tiara was sold to Mary along with a diamond rivère for a price of £28,000 with all but £3,000 paid at the time of writing.

Queen Mary
via Wiki
Anyway, once in Queen Mary’s hands, of course she couldn’t leave it alone. Mary was in possession of the Cambridge emeralds, a group of around 40 cabochon emeralds which had originally belonged to Indian royalty but had made their way into British hands before being auctioned at a charity ball in 1818. The winner of the auction was Queen Mary’s grandmother, the Duchess of Cambridge. Once acquired by Mary, the emeralds were incorporated into new and existing royal pieces.

Royal Collection/Queen Elizabeth II
To the Vladimir tiara, she added 15 emeralds - originally toppers for the Delhi Durbar Tiara - as an alternative to the dangling pearls in 1924. It was a pretty ingenious idea, actually, making more of a mid-sized tiara option to wear alongside the fabulous collection of emeralds she had once she combined the Cambridge stash with emeralds collected in India during the Delhi Durbar. (I've covered the Cambridge and Delhi Durbar Parure extensively at the Vault, click here for that.)

Library and Archives Canada
The emeralds and pearls are stored in small pouches with numbers indicating their position in the tiara (larger stones in the center, smaller to the sides) so they can be swapped out according to the Queen's desires. The change is made by Angela Kelly, the Queen's personal assistant, advisor, and jewelry curator. She explains in her book, Dressing The Queen: The Jubilee Wardrobe, that the change takes nearly an hour to complete and requires focus so that they are securely on their hooks and placed in the proper order.

Video: The emerald version in action
The pearls are the most popular pick; the Queen often pairs the pearl tiara with the Duchess of Gloucester's Pendant Earrings and Queen Victoria's Golden Jubilee Necklace. The emeralds have grown less popular in later years as the Queen has gravitated to white gowns and jewels, but were seen in both 2014 and 2015. She likes to pair it with the Delhi Durbar Earrings and the Delhi Durbar Necklace, maintaining the parure that Queen Mary put together, and occasionally with other emerald pieces in her collection.

The Queen has not added any pendant options, as her grandmother did, but she has removed them. She's worn the Grand Duchess Vladimir Tiara a few times with no pendants at all, which always looks to me like just what it is: a tiara with missing pieces.

Royal Household
This is one of the Queen's most easily recognizable tiaras, something reflected by its spot as #6 on our list of readers' favorite tiaras in 2011. Does the love hold up? You tell me.

Emeralds, pearls, or none?