Today marks the 80th Anniversary of the Death of Queen Marie of Romania, and we are taking a look at her trademark Vladimir Sapphire Kokoshnik, which started up in Russia, went to Romania, then Austria, and finally the United States.
Commissioned by Grand Duchess Vladimir from Cartier in 1909, the Kokoshnik Tiara featured a large 137.2 carat cushion cut sapphire and six cabochon sapphires that had belonged to Empress Alexandra Feodorovna of Russia. The Grand Duchess notably wore the piece for a grand portrait, along with a host of other large sapphire pieces. After her jewels were dramatically smuggled from Russia in the aftermath of the Revolution, and her death in 1920, the Sapphire Kokoshnik was inherited by her eldest son, Grand Duke Kyril and his wife (and her niece) Princess Victoria Meltia of Edinburgh (known as Grand Duchess Victoria Feodorovna).
In exile, the couple were struggling financially, but luckily for them, a buyer was close at hand, Queen Marie of Romania, sister of the Grand Duchess Victoria Feodorovna, who had lost her jewels in Russia during WWI. Queen Marie wrote
I spoke to Ducky about some of Aunt Miechen’s jewellery that Ducky wants to sell as these pieces represent the only fortune the family has left – thank God that the jewels of the old lady are fabulous! She was an extraordinarily greedy woman and she received, throughout her entire life, more than her share of anything. Nando gave me a generous sum of money to buy jewellery, since mine are lost forever. I want of course, in as much as it is possible, for our money to go to Ducky and her family. I chose a diamond and sapphire tiara, one of the most wonderful things I have seen in my entire life! It is however a horrible feeling to take these treasures from a person I love more than anything in the world. But at the same time I know that I am a gift from God to her, as I am ready to pay for the pieces in full and right away without negotiating the prices. Oh, and heaven, these jewels are wonderful, as seldom one can find!”
Queen Marie of Romania loved the Vladimir Sapphire Kokoshnik and it became her trademark tiara, well suited to her fairytale-like tastes. She notably wore it for a variety of portraits, her Coronation, and in her painting by Phillip Lazlo. In 1931, she gave the Kokoshnik as a wedding gift to her youngest and favourite daughter, Princess Ileana, when she married Archduke Anton of Austria. Queen Marie often wore the piece with her large sapphire and diamond sautoir.
Princess Ileana talked about rarely wearing the Tiara in the early years of her marriage in her memoir ‘I Live Again’:
I myself wore the lovely sapphire and diamond tiara on only one state occasion, and that was at a large ball which the Legitimist Party gave in the Hofburg in Vienna, four years after I was married.
She loaned it back to Queen Marie to wear at King George V’s Silver Jubilee in London, where it stayed in a bank vault until after her death, and made escapes from Austria and Romania, where Princess Ileana and her family escaped to in 1944, living at the famous Bran Castle. In 1948, her nephew, King Michael, abdicated and the family were exiled again, this time ending up in Argentina, where it again made a daring escape. In 1950, Princess Ileana traveled with the Kokoshnik to United States, wrapped in nightgown because she was too poor to insure it. She then sold it back to Cartier to build a new life for herself and her children, eventually becoming a nun. Princess Ileana said:”It was both beautiful and splendid, but my children were in need. As it stood, it neither fed us nor clothed us nor warmed us. I could not even wear it.” The Kokoshnik was probably broken up and has disappeared into the pages of history.