20 February 2014

Tiara Thursday: The Russian Pearl Pendant Kokoshnik

The Russian Pearl Pendant Kokoshnik (the original)
In a sea of fabulous imperial gems, today's tiara managed to become a favorite of Marie Feodorovna (1847-1928), wife of Tsar Alexander III. Featuring 25 of the finest pearls dangling from pointed diamond arches and floating like magic over a diamond base, this kokoshnik-shaped tiara was commissioned from court jeweler Bolin in 1841 for Alexandra Feodorovna, the wife of Nicholas I (some sources place its creation during the reigns of Alexander I or Alexander III). Though it belonged to the crown jewels and was not a personal possession, Marie Feodorovna enjoyed the tiara so much she kept it at her home.
The tiara (circled and close up) on a table of imperial jewels taken in the revolution
When revolution hit Russia in 1917, the Dowager Empress (as Marie Feodorovna was by then) went first to the Crimea before leaving the country on a ship sent by her nephew, King George V. She didn't know that she wouldn't return when she first fled, and so she took only "day jewels" and left the major pieces behind; when Prince Felix Yusupov attempted to retrieve items from her home for her, including this pearl pendant tiara, he discovered that they were already gone. The tiara was part of the masses of jewelry taken by the Bolsheviks and sold to profit the revolution. Though a replica would later be made by Soviet jewelers, the original left Russia and has yet to return.
The replica (note the difference in the pearl shapes between this and the original)
Christie's sold the original pearl pendant tiara at auction in 1927 and it was bought by Holmes & Co., who later sold it to the 9th Duke of Marlborough for use by his second wife, Gladys (1881-1977). The Duchess of Marlborough provided an example of the tiara in use, in the form of a self-portrait. When she died, the tiara changed hands again.
The Duchess of Marlborough
It was auctioned in 1978 and sold to the London trade, later ending up in the collection of Imelda Marcos. Marcos, First Lady of the Philippines during the presidency of her husband, Ferdinand Marcos, accumulated excessive amounts of shoes, art, jewels, and so on using (alleged) state funds. Hundreds of pieces of jewelry from her collection now sit in the Central Bank of the Philippines, confiscated after the Marcos couple fled to Hawaii in 1986. It has often been said that Imelda dismantled the Russian Pearl Pendant Kokoshnik, but it is seems is still intact among that collection, sitting in the bank vault. (I have remarked on the supposed dismantling on this blog and have been corrected by multiple readers, reporting that they have seen it in person or on film with the Marcos jewels. Below is an example of it shown on film.)
The original tiara, shown among the rest of the confiscated Marcos jewels. Click here to see it on film.
Since they were confiscated, the Marcos jewels have been the subject of occasional reports that the government plans to exhibit them to bring in more tourism or that the government will sell them at auction, but neither plan has been executed; legal issues and disputes have been ongoing. Geoffrey Munn notes in Tiaras: A History of Splendour that during previous sales of the tiara, its imperial history was curiously not mentioned. If this piece came to auction today, one can only imagine that the imperial connection would drive the price up far past its estimated value. As nice as it would be to see it in use again, perhaps the best hope at this point is to be able to see it on display some day.

What would you like to see happen to this tiara?

Photos: Fersman/De Kongelige Juveler/Diamond Fund/GMA