Grand Duchess Elizabeth Feodorovna’s Emerald Tiara

Today’s striking Emerald Kokoshnik Tiara was made for a beautiful Russian Grand Duchess. It was given to her adopted daughter, who sold it after the Russian Revolution to the King of Yugoslavia, and in the 1950s, the Tiara was sold by their son, King Peter, to Van Cleef & Arpels and has been loaned out and displayed around the world.

Featuring seven cabochon emeralds set in a geometric diamond design with tiny lilies of the valley, the Emerald Kokoshnik Tiara included a substantial parure, with a large necklace and a heavy stomacher, all set by the Russian Court Jeweller, Bolin. The emeralds originally belonged to Tsarina Maria Alexandrovna of Russia, wife of Tsar Alexander II of Russia, who left them to her son Grand Duke Sergei in 1880.

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In 1884, Grand Duke Sergei married Princess Elisabeth of Hesse and by Rhine, and presented his new bride with his mother’s emeralds. His bride, known as Grand Duchess Elisabeth Feodorovna, wore the necklace, stomacher, and some emerald pieces on a fabric Kokoshnik, before she had Bolin make them into the tiara. She wore them for a couple of Official portraits and at a royal event. She was the sister of Princess Alix of Hesse, who met the then future Tsar Nicholas II of Russia at the wedding and eventually became the last Empress of Russia. While the couple had a happy marriage and the Grand Duchess was a success in ST. Petersburg society, making “everyone fall in love with her from the moment she came to Russia“, they couldn’t have children, and instead adopted the motherless children of his exiled brother. In 1905, Grand Duke Sergei was assassinated by a Socialist-Revolutionary in Moscow. The Grand Duchess retired from society, put away her fancy clothes and jewels, and became the abbess of a convent in Moscow. She even sold the elaborate stomacher of her emerald parure to the Ottoman Sultan. In July 1918, the same night her sister and her family were assassinated, she was thrown down a mine shaft with other members of the Imperial family and died slowly from injuries or starvation. Grand Duchess Elizabeth Feodorovna was canonized  in 1981.

However, despite its original owner being brutally murdered, the Emerald Kokoshnik tiara and necklace survived. In 1908, Grand Duchess Elizabeth had given them to her niece and adopted daughter, Grand Duchess Maria Pavlovna, when she married Prince Wilhelm of Sweden. The couple divorced in 1914, and she returned to Russia with the tiara and necklace, which she wore in a portrait that year. She managed to make a daring escape from Russia during the Revolution of 1917, with the Tiara and her other jewels hidden in prayer candles, and had a hard life in exile. Grand Duchess Maria Pavlovna opened a Russian embroidery shop, and in 1922, to fill an order for Chanel, she sold the tiara and necklace to King Alexander of Yugoslavia.

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King Alexander bought the Emerald Kokoshnik Tiara and Necklace as a wedding gift for his bride, Princess Marie of Romania,  encouraged by his future mother-in-law, Queen Marie, who was the first cousin of Grand Duchess Elizabeth Feodorovna. Queen Maria of Yugoslavia wore the elaborate necklace on her wedding day, and wore the tiara for most of her tenure as Queen.

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Queen Marie had another elaborate emerald and diamond sautoir made by Cartier to wear with the Tiara, and after it was worn for the Coronation of her parents, King Ferdinand and Queen Marie of Romania in 1922, the Emerald Kokoshnik Tiara was mostly worn in portraits until 1934, when King Alexander was assassinated in Nice, and Queen Marie retired from most official duties.

Their eldest son, King Peter came to the throne as a minor, so Prince Paul of Yugoslavia, married to Princess Olga of Greece, became Regent. After a period of turmoil during WWII, King Peter came of age and spent the war in exile in London, and married Princess Alexandra of Greece in 1944. After WWII, the Communist government in Yugoslavia had deposed King Peter, so he never returned to his country. The Emerald Parure was the property of King Peter, but handover of the jewels was not peaceful, and Princess Olga wrote to King Peter:

“You must threaten her (Queen Marie) that unless she gives up the emeralds, you will cut her allowance by half”

Queen Alexandra wrote:

For some time Peter had wished to give me the family emeralds, which were his now that his father was dead and he was married. 

The giving of these emeralds became an obsession with him. “You have to have them before the baby is born, ” he kept saying. The famous pieces, a tiara, necklace, and earrings, were held in the bank in his and his mother’s names. Peter got in touch with her and asked that now they should be passed on to me. 

After some delay Peter finally went to the bank and withdrew the boxes containing the gems. Only his mother held the keys to these boxes. At Peter’s request she agreed to meet us in London at a place she used as an office, there to hand to us the jewels.

Back in our apartment at Claridge’s, Peter tried to cheer me up by showing me the beautiful jewels which were now mine. 

Reputedly priceless, they were magnificently lovely. They had come originally from Russia, and the huge glowing emeralds were set in myriads of diamonds. But my thoughts were not of emeralds and queenly things. I was suddenly tired and insecure.

Queen Alexandra wore Grand Duchess Elizabeth Feodorovna’s Emerald Tiara and Parure only once, for the Wedding Ball of Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip of Greece at Buckingham Palace in 1947, writing:

For the first time I was going to wear the family emeralds, which Queen Marie of Yugoslavia had given me just before Alexander was born. 

Because of their vivid green and the clear red of the ribbons of my orders, I was limited in my choice of colour for a ball gown, as, long ago, Peter had warned me I should be. I chose a simple design with a low-cut bodice and an enormous skirt made in palish aquamarine satin, so pale that it was almost white.  

I drove with Peter to the state ball in Buckingham Palace. I had not attended a ceremonious occasion there before. The time would come when Philip would have to assist Lilibet in receiving hundreds of guests in this great state ballroom, as Uncle Bertie and Aunt Elizabeth were doing now–he would have to take his share of making the right remarks to each one, help his wife to carry the magnitude of stateliness and ritual. As the long formal dinner went on, my head ached and hurt unbearably under the weight of the heavy tiara of emeralds I wore. Even the jewels of the necklace seemed to lie too heavily on my neck, and I longed to take them all off and to relax comfortably. 

I gazed about me at the women in their rich gowns and jewels; everywhere there were the same gracious or smiling expressions on their faces, expressions worn as dutifully as their orders and decorations. I, too, had been trained to behave and appear like this. But for me such occasions were now rare. And I was glad. 

My tiara bit viciously into my head. Somehow I was not sorry that Peter and I were not called on to maintain a large court.

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In 1949, King Peter left the tiara for safe-keeping with Van Cleef & Arpels in 1949, as collateral for a $20,000 loan. It was eventually sold to them in 1953. Queen Alexandra also wrote:

“Well, although you gave them to me, the jewels are really yours. There are the emeralds, and the engagement ring. Both must be very valuable. Do you wish to see if you can sell them?”

Peter nodded dejectedly. “Don’t look so infinitely miserable,” I said. “I don’t like wearing the emeralds, they hurt me. And as for the blue diamond, you know I have never liked it. It has never brought me any pleasure, and I’ve always had an uneasy feeling that it holds bad luck. I shall be glad to let you sell it. We’ll manage. “

Yes, said Peter doubtfully, “Perhaps you’re right, Sandra, perhaps we will.”

The engagement ring was sold. We got £3,600 for it, less than half of what it had cost. The fabulous emeralds were also sold. These realised a more substantial sum, $50,000, but we learned later that if we had had a greater knowledge of their worth we should have been able to realise $250,000 for them.

Meanwhile, Peter, loath to think I had no valuable pieces, insisted on reinvesting some of the money in one fine emerald neck- lace to replace at least one part of the set. 

He bought the new necklace, and matching earrings at Van Clef’s, a double row of Indian emeralds, each stone interspersed with a diamond. “You’re to keep these, he told me sombrely, “not only as jewels, but also as a security.”

Van Cleef & Arpels removed the valuable Romanov emeralds, sold them to an unknown buyer, and replaced them with paste. They loan out the Tiara to celebrities and socialites, including Mrs. Donald D. Burr in 1965, Princess Elisabeth of Yugoslavia (daughter of Prince Regent Paul and Princess Olga) in 2010, and to a lady who wore it at the Red Cross Ball in Palm Beach in 2017.

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For more information, check out:

Jenni Wiltz

Tiara Mania

Royal Magazin

Queen Alexandra of Yugoslavia

Queen Marie’s Fringe Tiara

Princess Olga’s Kokoshnik Tiara

Princess Olga’s Boucheron Diamond Tiara

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