16 April 2012

The Queen's Top 10 Diamonds: #7. Alexandra's Kokoshnik Tiara

In 1888, the Prince and Princess of Wales – the future King Edward VII and Queen Alexandra - were celebrating their silver wedding anniversary. The gifts poured in, as they were prone to do back in those days (insert nostalgic sigh here). The Ladies of Society, the 365 peeresses of the realm, were preparing to give their future queen one of the most glittering gifts: a tiara. Wanting, I suppose, to ensure that it would be something she would love and wear, they asked for some guidance on what she might like. And with her request, this Russian style tiara was born.
Queen Alexandra's Kokoshnik Tiara
Alexandra’s Russian request was likely inspired by the gems of her sister Dagmar. Dagmar, or Minnie as she was affectionately known, became Empress Marie Feodorovna of Russia and owned an absolutely staggering jewel collection.
Inspiration: Dagmar with a kokoshnik of her own, and some of her amazing jewels. The largest diamond in her necklace display is 32 carats.
The tiara made for Alexandra is a variation on the Russian fringe design that was terribly popular at the time. There are many examples around today – Queen Mary’s Fringe Tiara is an excellent classic example - and some choose to call this particular diadem Alexandra's Russian Fringe. The rounded sections took the shape of a kokoshnik, a traditional Russian headdress usually done in fabric but seen in bejeweled fashion at the Russian imperial court.
Queen Alexandra (left), Queen Mary (right)
Alexandra’s kokoshnik was made by Garrard and included 61 platinum bars containing 488 diamonds, the largest two weighing in at 3.25 carats apiece. It was presented to her by Lady Salisbury.
Queen Elizabeth
After Alexandra's death, Queen Mary wore the tiara. Mary had so many jewels of her own, either made for her or purchased by her, that I’ve always found her outings of Queen Alexandra’s jewels notable. I guess even among the rest of her magnificent collection, a straight up wall of diamonds couldn’t be resisted.
Queen Elizabeth
The tiara was included in that wondrous stash when Mary passed away in 1953, and it passed along to the new queen, Elizabeth II. It’s since found a place amongst the handful of tiaras in regular rotation on her queenly head – notable for being the sparkliest one in the rota, or at least the most diamond-dense one.
In action at the state banquet for South Africa's president, 2010. Also on display in this video is my pick for #9, the South African diamond necklace and bracelet. For a glittering black and white glimpse of the kokoshnik, revisit the video in the Oriental Circlet post.
It’s not the biggest tiara in the British royal collection, size-wise, and it doesn’t include the biggest individual stones – but it is a fortress of diamonds, right there on the head. For that fact, for being much blingier than QEII usually sways, for being a gift from the realm, and for pure history, this tiara owns a spot on my countdown.

Photos: Leslie Fields/Corbis/Getty Images/Daylife