20 October 2016

Tiara Thursday: The Yusupov Diamond Sunburst Tiara

The Yusupov Diamond Sunburst Tiara
The Yusupov family held the greatest private fortune in imperial Russia and had a jewel collection to match, one built thanks to a couple generations of serious stone admirers. Prince Felix Yusupov (1887-1967) was the heir to the lot, and he wanted to marry Irina Alexandrovna (1895-1970), a niece of Tsar Nicholas II. Some in her family were opposed to the match because Felix had what was considered a checkered past, but he won the endorsement of the Dowager Tsarina, and the couple wed in 1914. (Prince Felix had quite the life. As a young man, his exploits included dressing up in his mother’s clothes and jewels for nights on the town and he had romances with both sexes. In 1916, he was part of the group that murdered Rasputin. Later, a libel lawsuit he brought against the makers of the film Rasputin and the Empress set legal precedent leading to those disclaimers you see in films proclaiming that the work is fictitious and all persons portrayed in it are fictitious.)

Prince Felix and Princess Irina
Anyway, Prince Felix and Princess Irina made a glamorous couple. Together, they took great care with Irina's jewels; when they departed on their honeymoon, they made a pit stop in Paris to drop her collection off with jeweler Chaumet, who redesigned whole sets (rubies, emeralds, sapphires, diamonds, and pearls) while they were traveling.

A Chaumet display of Yusupov jewels
Chaumet was also behind the diamond sunburst tiara pictured above, one of Irina's wedding gifts from her husband. The dynamic diadem features layers of diamond rays bursting out from a central round diamond. It was a fresh take on the famous kokoshnik-inspired Russian fringe tiaras, and one that looked very fashionable when worn low in the style of the day.

Princess Irina in the Yusupov Diamond Sunburst Tiara
When revolution came to imperial Russia, the Yusupovs were able to make it out with a few of their most valuable gems. These were mainly single stones of such great size and importance they carry their own names: the Polar Star Diamond (41.285 carats), the rose Ram’s Head diamond (17.47 carats), the Pelegrina Pearl (133.16 grains, not to be confused with La Peregrina, of Elizabeth Taylor fame), and several others. These items were slowly sold off for funds in exile. A pair of diamond earrings said to have belonged to Marie Antoinette also made it out of Russia, and eventually ended up with American collector Marjorie Merriweather Post. Those earrings are today in the Smithsonian.

Those pieces aside, Prince Felix hid most of the family jewelry in the Yusupov Palace in Moscow. The Yusupov jewel collection was one of considerable fame, so of course the Bolsheviks came looking for it. One of the Yusupovs' loyal employees refused to give up the location and was executed, but the jewels were ultimately discovered and confiscated.

Looking over the confiscated Yusupov jewels
The family's collection is pictured above, ready to be examined and likely dismantled in preparation for sale. Visible on the table is the Yusupov Rock Crystal Tiara, another of Princess Irina's wedding presents; the family's version of a classic pearl drop lover's knot tiara can also be seen. Their Diamond Sunburst Tiara is upside down in the middle of the table, and it has never appeared again. Alas, it was probably dismantled to be sold stone by stone.

If the tiara were around today…which royal do you think would wear it best?

One final note: Cartier also made at least one tiara in a very similar design (with a yellow diamond or star sapphire center), which is still in existence. I've often seen this identified as the Yusupov tiara, but it is not.

Photos: Chaumet/DR