HM The Queen and other female members of the British royal family are often pictured wearing the Grand Duchess Vladimir Tiara. Just how did this magnificent piece of Russian finery end up in the hands of the Windsors?
The Romanov jeweller, Bolin made the Grand Duchess Vladimir Tiara in 1874 for Marie of Mecklenburg Schwerin on her marriage to the Tsar’s third son Vladimir Alexandrovich of Russia. According to The Royal Order of Sartorial Splendor, it is ‘made up of interlocking diamond circles, set in gold and silver with pear shaped pearl drops.’
Miechen, as Marie was known to her family wore the tiara on state occasions right up until the abdication of Tsar Nicholas II in February 1917.
As the political situation in Russian deteriorated for the Romanovs, the Duchess left her home at the Vladimir Palace in St Petersburg for a more modest accommodation in Kislovodsk. However, before the Duchess left she ensured her priceless jewels, including her tiara were safely hidden in a safe in her bedroom
With her income cut off and the authorities having placed her under house arrest, Marie was keen to recover her property from St Petersburg. So in the summer of 1917 her son Boris and a British art dealer, Bertie Stopford teamed up, disguised themselves as workman, retrieved the jewels and smuggled them out of Russia to London.
Maire herself escaped to France via Italy, but her health was not robust and she died in 1920 at her home in Contrexeville.
In 1921 Queen Mary bought some of the Grand Duchess’s jewels from her daughter Elena and she immediately sent them to the royal jeweller Garrard for essential repairs. Three years later Queen Mary engaged Garrard again to alter the tiara. This time she commissioned the craftsmen to alter the tiara so it could be worn with the original pear shaped pearl drops, the Cambridge emeralds or with no precious stones.
When Queen Mary died in 1953 her granddaughter HM Queen Elizabeth inherited the tiara. She has worn the tiara many times in all of the different configurations. Perhaps one of the most famous occasions was on a 1980 visit to the Vatican, when it was paired up with a black veil.
Not surprisingly in 1988 when the tiara was 114 years old it required a complete refurbishment and once again the royal jeweller Garrard was engaged to carry out the work.
Throughout its remarkable life the tiara has been worn by The Grand Duchess herself, HM Queen Mary, HM The Queen, HRH The Princess of Wales (Diana, Princess of Wales) and HRH The Duchess of Cornwall.
Click below to see HM The Queen wearing the tiara with the Cambridge emeralds at a Commonwealth gathering.