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The Grand Duchess Vladimir Tiara: From St. Petersburg to London

This is the second of a two-part article about Grand Duchess Marie Pavlovna and her famous tiara that now belongs to the British Royal Family. You can read the first part here.

Pictured above are Grand Duchess Maria Pavlovna of Russia, the original owner  of the famous Grand Duchess Vladimir Tiara; Queen Mary, who purchased the tiara in 1953; and Queen Elizabeth II, who inherited the piece from from her grand mother in 1953.

It was 1917. World War I was nearing its end, and so the Romanov dynasty, which had ruled over Russia for over three centuries. Before the year came to a close, Nicholas II was overthrown from power and the Czar, his families and several of his relatives were murdered. Grand Duchess Maria Pavlovna, famous as St. Petersburg’s society queen and known for her fascinating jewelry collection refused to believe that the world around her was crumbling apart.

She was told she had to evacuate her own palace or risk her own life. With no time left, she tucked her famous tiara together with other jewels inside a safe somewhere in her bedroom at Vladimir Palace. She proceeded to a villa in Kislovodsk, but revolutionaries, suspicious of her correspondences, placed  her under house arrest. She managed to escape aboard a fishing boat to Anapa in 1918.

Her son, Grand Duke Boris, and his British friend, Bertie Stopford, devised a risky plan to recover her jewelry. Stopford was an art dealer who had connections with the British Embassy. Disguised as laborers, they sneaked in at the palace with the help of a caretaker and retrieved Miechen’s precious gems. Stopford placed the Vladimir Tiara and her other jewels in a pair of Gladstone bags,  successfully smuggling them out of Russia. The jewels were kept inside a safety deposit box in London. An inventory made by Garrard revealed that the tiara was damaged during the journey and that some of the pearls went missing.

Grand Duchess Maria Pavlovna was the last Grand Duchess to leave Russia and the first of the surviving members of the Imperial Family to die. The strenuous trip from Russia to France took a heavy toll on her health and she passed away at her villa in Contrexeville in 1922.

Her jewels remained intact and passed on to her children, the division of which was according to stones. The diamonds went to her only daughter, Grand Duchess Elena (who married Prince Nicholas of Greece), the pearls to Grand Duke Kirill, the emeralds to Grand Duke Boris and the rubies to Grand Duke Andrei.  Having lost their Russian estates, the children sold off their mother’s jewelry for cash. Princess Nicholas of Greece sold the Vladimir Tiara to Queen Mary in 1921 £28,000 (Elena’s daughter, Princess Marina of Greece and Denmark, later married Queen Mary’s fourth son, Prince George, Duke of Kent and they had three children: Prince Edward, Duke of Kent, Princess Alexandra of Kent, and Prince Michael of Kent).  

Queen Mary had the tiara altered to so she can easily alternate the pearls with the Cambridge cabochon emeralds. When she died in 1953, the Vladimir Tiara passed on to Queen Elizabeth II, which she wore almost exclusively with the Cambridge and Delhi Durbar parures. The Queen wore the tiara in her official portrait as Queen of Canada since the Commonwealth realms do not have their own crown jewels.  The Vladimir Tiara eventually emerged as one of the loveliest and most popular of Queen Elizabeth’s tiaras.


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