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May Jewels: Queen Mary’s Deal with a Duchess

Photo: Jessica Storoschuk

The Grand Duchess Vladimir Tiara is one of the most impressive pieces in The Queen’s tiara collection. It is one of her favourite tiaras and is frequently worn for different events. It is notable, not only for its sheer size and brilliance but for the fact that it can be worn with either 15 pearls or 15 emeralds hanging from the diamond circles. But how did it end up in the British Royal Family’s collection? 

The tiara was originally created for Grand Duchess Vladimir Alexandrovich, who was married to one of Tsar Alexander II’s sons. Known as Miechen, she was a German princess and a social favourite at the Romanov court in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. However, she was kept under house arrest after the Tsar’s abdication, and a trusted friend snuck her jewels out of Russia to London. 

Her daughter, Elena (Princess Nicholas of Greece and Denmark by marriage), inherited the tiara. It had been damaged in transit from Russia to London, and Elena decided to sell some of her mother’s pieces while in exile. Queen Mary, no stranger to collecting royal jewellery, bought it immediately in 1921. 

By Unknown author – King George’s Jubilee Trust (1937). The Coronation of Their Majesties King George VI and Queen Elizabeth: Official Souvenir Programme. Odham’s Press., Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

Mary understood that although the tiara was damaged, it was a beautiful piece. She commissioned the jeweller Garrard to work on the piece when she first acquired it in 1921 and again in 1924. The piece could originally be worn as a closed circlet or open in a standard tiara and could be worn without the pearls (known as the “widowed” setting). However, had Garrard add a third setting to use 15 of the Cambridge emeralds. 

The Cambridge emeralds had been in Mary’s mother’s family, and Mary had purchased them after her brother, Prince Francis of Teck, had bequeathed them to a mistress. She had bought them to keep them in the family and used 15 of these emeralds on the new setting for the Vladimir tiara. She frequently wore the emerald setting of the tiara with different pieces of the Delhi Durbar suite.

By Unknown / Library and Archives Canada – This image is available from Library and Archives Canada under the reproduction reference number e010975985 and under the MIKAN ID number 4301935T, CC BY 2.0, Wikimedia Commons

Queen Elizabeth II often wears the tiara, in both the pearl and the emerald setting. It was featured in the Russia: Royalty and the Romanovs exhibition at The Queen’s Gallery, Buckingham Palace. 

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