14 September 2017

Tiara Thursday: The Russian Nuptial Tiara

A German noble wedding linked in Tidbits over the summer featured a bride wearing a rather spectacular diamond tiara with a row of dangling emeralds. Many of you made the connection between the shape of that tiara and another wedding tiara with a similar tall, triangular kokoshnik shape - this one with some major imperial history behind it:

The Russian Nuptial Tiara
The Russian Nuptial Tiara was made around 1800 or earlier by St. Petersburg jeweler Jacob David Duval for Maria Feodorovna (Duchess Sophie Dorothea of Württemberg, 1759-1828), the wife of Tsar Paul I, according to the Diamond Fund; other sources state it was made for Elizabeth Alexeievna (Princess Louise of Baden, 1779-1826), the wife of Tsar Alexander I. The date alone is enough to make this tiara a rare item; not too many tiaras can claim a creation date that long ago and even fewer can claim to have kept their original design and craftsmanship through the following centuries.

Elizabeth Alexeievna
The date of creation isn't the only thing that makes this tiara a valuable and rare jewel. The tall kokoshnik design is centered around a spectacular natural pink diamond, a 13.335 carat stone from the treasury of Paul I. This stone alone would be worth millions; in 2017, the Artemis Pink diamond earring featuring a 16 carat pink diamond sold for more than $15.3 million. (Also in 2017, the 59.6 carat Pink Star diamond sold for $71.2 million, setting a new record price.) The rectangular pink stone at the center of the Russian Nuptial Tiara was at one point backed with foil to enhance the pink color. This backing was later removed, accounting for the difference in color appearance in various photographs of the diadem.

Diamond Fund
And then there are the white diamonds. Including stones of the finest quality from Brazil and India weighing in at more than a reported 1,000 carats in total, these gems are exceptional in their own right. They form the scrolled base that surrounds the pink diamond, as well as the pointed top of the tiara. From the underside of the tiara's top section hang a multitude of briolette-cut diamonds, dangling so that they can tremble and sparkle with every movement the wearer made. The tiara is topped by a row of large upright pear-shaped diamonds. These design characteristics - a middle row of pendant stones and a top of upright pear-shaped diamonds - were also used in Elizabeth Alexeievna's Diamond Kokoshnik tiara.

Two imperial brides in the tiara and accompanying wedding regalia: Grand Duchess Elena Vladimirovna (left) in 1902, and Grand Duchess Maria Pavlovna (right) in 1908
As its name suggests, the Russian Nuptial Tiara became a jewel worn by generations of imperial brides. While the use of a wedding tiara is not unique among royal families, none take it quite so far as the Russian family did. Their brides donned an entire set of spectacular wedding regalia.

Other wedding jewels worn by Russian imperial brides: the wedding crown, necklace, clasp, and earrings
Not only was there a tiara to use, there was also a wedding crown to set behind the tiara, a pair of diamond cherry earrings dating from Catherine I, a diamond collet necklace with diamond pendants weighing in at 475 carats, a mantle (robe) to wear, and an Imperial Clasp - basically a brooch the size of your chest - to fasten the mantle. (We looked at the imperial wedding jewels in depth here.) There are tales of brides struggling to carry the weight of it all. Literally and, perhaps, figuratively.

Princess Alix of Hesse and by Rhine (Alexandra Feodorovna, 1872-1918) marries Nicholas II in 1894
So often, the stories of these imperial jewels end in the same way: sold after the revolution, or seemingly vanished into thin air never to be seen again, or both. The Imperial Bridal Crown was sold but preserved, bought by Marjorie Merriweather Post and now a part of her collection at the Hillwood Museum. The imperial wedding necklace was never seen again. The Russian Nuptial Tiara was displayed on the table of treasures confiscated by the Bolsheviks, many of which ended up on the auction block or were destined to be dismantled and sold stone by stone, but the pink diamond tiara came to a different fate.

Grand Duchess Elizabeth Mavrikievna (Princess Elisabeth of Saxe-Altenburg, 1865-1927), at her 1884 weddding to Grand Duke Konstantin Konstantinovich
Instead of selling or dismantling this diadem, the new Russian government kept it. They also kept a selection of other pieces reflecting the extravagant splendor of their imperial history. These jewels are still with the Russian government and are today held in the Diamond Fund museum at the Kremlin in Moscow.

The Russian Nuptial Tiara displayed with other confiscated imperial jewels, most sold or disappeared since
The Russian Nuptial Tiara is an extravagant jewel, to say the very least, and a true product of the court of excess from which it came. It remains, however, a piece of art with true historical significance and a marvel of fine gemstones - and, though I'm usually in favor of seeing things worn, I think this is a splendid fit for its museum spot.

A Russian favorite for you, or no?