Ooooooo. We love it when we run into some royal tiara drama. The intrigue. The mystery. The did she or didn’t she! As with any royal family, the British Royals aren’t without a little drama when it comes to some of the royal jewels in the vaults. And the Grand Duchess Vladimir Tiara certainly provided a little drama.
Let’s start at the beginning. The tiara had its beginnings not in Britain but instead in 19th Century Russia. Hint: you might want to grab a piece of paper to jot all of this lineage down. It’s a long one. The year is 1874. Marie of Mecklenburg-Schwerin becomes a member of the Romanov dynasty by marrying Grand Duke Vladimir Alexandrovich of Russia. She has some Russian provenance of her own (her great grandmother was Grand Duchess Elena Pavlovna), but she’s just married the third son of Tsar Alexander II. After marriage, she’s officially known as Grand Duchess Maria Pavlovna.
She, of course, needs some grand jewels to go with her grand new title and position and so she commissions Romanov court jeweler, Bolin, to create a spectacular tiara consisting of 15 interlocking diamond circles, set in silver and gold, strung together with a diamond ribbon on top and accompanied by pear-shaped pearl drops. The tiara becomes known as the Vladimir Tiara. And Miechen, as she’s known to her family and close friends, has added to her ever growing and outstanding jewel collection.
But as it often was back then, the Duchess outlived her royal husband (he died in 1909 of a stroke) and there was also unrest within their country. Her nephew Tsar Nicholas II abdicates the throne in 1917 and then in 1918 he is murdered, along with his family, by the Bolsheviks. By then, Maria Pavlovna has already fled to Kislovodsk, but not before locking up her beloved tiara in a safe in her bedroom at Vladimir Palace. Put on house arrest, as the government got suspicious, she wasn’t able to go retrieve the tiara, but her son, Grand Duke Boris, hatches a plan. Along with Bertie Stopford, a friend and British art dealer, they sneak into the palace disguised as workmen, smuggle out the contents of her secret bedroom safe and then Stopford sneaks it all out of Russian and into the UK. Whew!
Now the jewels are in London in a safe deposit box, but not before being inventoried by Garrard and assessed for damage. Sadly, the tiara has been damaged in transition and travel and is now missing some diamonds and a few pearl drops. Within months the Duchess is also able to escape Russia and she eventually ends up in France, but all of the travels have taken a toll on her health and September of 1920, she passes away at age 66.
Prior to her death, the Duchess spilt her jewels up amongst her four children and the tiara lands in the hands of her daughter, Grand Duchess Elena, now Princess Nicholas of Greece and Denmark. But within a year of her mother’s death, Elena decides to sell the tiara to bolster her family fortunes and Russian charities and guess who was the lucky buyer? Yup. Good old Queen Mary. She never could pass up a good deal on a jewel of royal provenance (there are some that proclaim that she took advantage of her poor exiled relatives, but there’s a good deal of evidence that she paid for this tiara fair and square). Mary has the necessary repairs to the tiara completed and in true Queen Mary style, decides to make it even more versatile by adding some emerald drops (from the Cambridge emeralds collection, these drops originally topped the Delhi Durbar Tiara) that could be swapped out with the pearl drops.
Now that she has such a versatile tiara, Mary wears and is photographed in it often. Until 1953 that is, when she passes on and the tiara is now bequeathed to her granddaughter, Queen Elizabeth II. The current Queen also seems to be quite fond of the tiara, wearing it often with both the pearls and the emeralds, but she’s added her own third twist: eliminating the drops all together (which is probably lighter and much easier to wear, since there aren’t giant gemstone drops swinging as she walks). But if you ask us, this third option looks like….. a tiara missing its drops! And she’s even been kind enough to loan it out, as we’ve found photos of her current daughter-in-law (she who shall not be named) wearing it. How kind.
What a story! Smuggled out of one country. Sold off by its owners to help fund their exile. Modified by the “Jewelry Queen” and now a favorite of the current monarch. So tell us, does this tiara make your list of the top British Royal Tiaras? Are you team pearls or team emeralds? Let me know what you think in the comments below!