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Emeralds for May: the United Kingdom

The Queen in the Grand Duchess Vladimir tiara with emeralds, one of the best known tiaras around

One of the most famous emerald tiaras in the world belongs to the Queen and it really packs a ragal punch. It looks spectacular and that's before we get to its history and its versatility - those emeralds can be swapped for pearls for a lighter look. It's time for Emeralds for May to meet the Grand Duchess Vladimir Tiara.

Yes, the Queen's emerald tiara has (partly) Russian history.  The Queen inherited this diadem, like many of her other diamonds and pearls, from her grandmother, Queen Mary, who loved a sparkler or two. Or three. Hundred.

This particular piece was bought by Mary just over a decade into her time as queen consort. The seller was Princess Nicholas of Greece who had inherited it from her mother and promptly sold up to raise funds for her family.  

The royal who sold the tiara to Queen Mary, Princess Nicholas of Greece

Princess Nicholas had been born Grand Duchess Elena Vladimirovna of Russia but the tiara doesn't get its name from her. It had been made for her mother, Marie of Mecklenberg-Schwerin after she married Grand Duke Vladimir, third son of Tsar Alexander II, in 1874.  And even in the opulence of the Russian court of the 1800s, this was a statement piece of jewellery.

The tiara worn by its original owner, Maria Pavlovna, Grand Duchess Vladimir of Russia

It was made by the Russian court jeweller, Bolin, and consists of 15 circles made up of diamonds that interweave with a row of diamond swirls nestling on top of them. There are more sparkling stones beneath in a neat row of diamonds that bridge from the circles to the tiara base.

Almost a century on, Elizabeth II wears the same tiara with its pearl adornments
(photo credit Library and Archives Canda via Wiki Commons)

Grand Duchess Vladimir had pearl pendants to hang in those circles and when the Russian Revolution began, this piece ended up hidden in a basement in St Petersburg with many of her other jewels. They were smuggled out of Russia with the help of a British diplomat who brought them to London, The Grand Duchess had also made it out but died in 1920 and her daughter sold the piece the following year with Queen Mary snapping up this sparkle. Thirteen years later, Mary's son married Princess Nicholas' daughter, Marina, but the tiara was staying firmly with its new owner.

So far, so dramatic. But there is more. Queen Mary had a stash of emeralds which she rather liked the look of and which had a family history all of their own. For these forty cabochon emeralds had come to her from her grandmother, the Duchess of Cambridge, who had won them in a lottery in 1818. As you do.  They had ended up with Mary's brother, Francis, who left them to his mistress when he died but George V's queen was having none of that - she got them back from the Countess of Kilmorey and locked them firmly in the royal jewellery vault.

In a very Edwardian moment of royal recycling, Mary had fifteen of the emeralds turned into drops to wear in her brand new tiara and they made a striking addition and then some. Mary favoured the pearls but when she died and the tiara came to her granddaughter, now Queen Elizabeth II, the emeralds got much more of an outing.

The Queen wears this tiara a lot and the emeralds hold their own against the pearls in the seen and sparkle stakes. In recent times, it was most famously worn for the historic State Visit by the President of Ireland, Michael, Higgins, when the Queen chose this piece and a selection of other emeralds to honour him and his wife at the State Dinner at Windsor Castle.

This really is a spectacular tiara and while the pearls provide the classic look, the addition of emeralds is a stunning variation. As its name suggests, this is a grand piece of royal jewellery and never fails to amaze when it makes an appearance.


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