Today marks the 160th Anniversary of the Birth of Queen Olga of Greece, who was born on this day in 1861! The Russian Grand Duchess who married the first Greek King and was the grandmother of the Duke of Edinburgh among Royals from Greece, Spain, the United Kingdom, Romania, Serbia, and Italy, Queen Olga possessed many magnificent jewels as Queen for almost five decades. To mark the anniversary of her Birth, we are featuring the splendid Greek Emerald Parure, which remains one of the Royal Family’s most spectacular Heirlooms!
The Emerald Parure is now composed of of a Tiara of seven round, cabochon emeralds in a diamond scroll frame, as well as a pair of pear-drop cabochon emerald earrings, and a corsage brooch that features five more detachable pear-drop cabochon emeralds, which are usually worn from Queen Alexandrine’s Diamond Sautoir Necklace.
The Emerald Parure likely originates from Grand Duchess Alexandra Iosifovna of Russia, who likely gave the Emeralds as a Wedding gift to her daughter, Grand Duchess Olga when she married King George I of Greece in 1867.
Since they were not in their own setting, Queen Olga studded her gowns with the numerous cabochon emeralds, wearing them in loose settings on a fabric Kokoshnik, as a necklace, as well as a mass of brooches for a variety of portraits.
Her son, Prince Christopher remembered the Emeralds:
My mother had some beautiful jewels. Her rubies were famous, for my father had delighted in collecting them for her, saying that of all stones they suited her white skin best. My mother possessed some perfect emeralds, including a cabochon as big as a bird’s egg. When I was eighteen, I borrowed it to wear at a masked ball in Athens, to which I had been invited. The guests came in historical Polish costumes and the jewel was an important accessory. She gave me the stone, warning me several times to take great care of it. I had fastened it as brooch to my hat. The last notes of the mazurka played and I was talking with my friends, when my sister-in-law, Princess Nicolas came over to me and said: ” The emerald on your hat is the largest I have ever seen. Can I look at it?” As soon as she took it from my hands, the stone came apart from its brooch setting and fell to the ground. Emeralds, unlike diamonds, are very fragile jewels and can shatter like glass. We stood stiff as stone as we watched the jewel roll on the carpet, toward the marble floor and feared the worst. Words cannot describe, how relieved I was, when I saw it stop its course, unharmed.”
A year after being widowed when King George was assassinated, Queen Olga decided to reset her Emeralds at Cartier in Paris in 1914, to be given as a Silver Wedding Anniversary gift to her elder son, King Constantine I, and his wife Queen Sophia. Again, Prince Christopher wrote:
My mother’s jewels seemed fated to undergo adventures in my hands. Many years later she and I were staying in Paris when she was obliged to return to Greece sooner than she had expected. I was to join her there a week later, stopping in Rome on the way. At the last moment she remembered that her famous emerald parure was at Cartier’s in Paris being reset, and begged me to take charge of it as soon as it was ready and bring it to her in Athens. “Tam going to give it to Tino for his silver wedding . . . so whatever you do, don’t lose it” . . . she besought me… . “It is not even insured,”
Before I left Paris M. Cartier delivered the jewels over to me, andI put them into my small valise, which J decided not to let out of my hands on the journey. I was not altogether at peace at the thought of travelling alone with jewels to the value of hundreds of thousands of pounds, and more than relieved to arrive in Rome without adventure. The first thing I did when I walked into the Grand Hotel was to deposit the precious package in the safe in the manager’s office.
I was to continue my journey to Athens next day, travelling by boat from Brindisi.
I was settling myself comfortably into my seat while the train steamed slowly out of the station when I made the dreadful discovery that I had forgotten my mother’s jewels !
They were perfectly safe, of course, in the custody of the hotel, but knowing how disappointed she would be, I felt that I could not arrive in Athens without them and confess my carelessness. I was racking my brains for a way out of the difficulty when I thought of my friend the special detective.
I summoned him into the carriage and told him what had happened. As I had guessed, he was a person of resource. He immediately suggested that when we arrived in Brindisi he should go back to Rome, collect the jewels and bring them on to me in Athens. This seemed 2 good plan, and we carried it out, I watched his departure with a sinking heart. He was my one hope ! Of course, my mother’s first question was: “ Where is my emerald parure ?” I regret to say that I lacked the courage to make a truthful reply and only mumbled something about it not being ready and being sent on by a special messenger. Fortunately she was contented with that.
But I was more than thankful to see my little Italian detective make his appearance at the Palace, forty-eight hours later, smiling and efficient as ever, carrying a white package which he placed in my hands. The sum I had to part with for railway fares, to say nothing of the gold watch with which I presented him as a souvenir of the occasion, made me regret my lapse of memory!
Queen Olga spent much of the First World War in her native Russia, at her brother’s Pavlovsk Palace, making a tumultuous escape, with only the swift actions of her companion, Anna Egorova, managing to save her jewels from the Bolsheviks, who ransacked the Palace. Prince Christoper wrote:
To her intense relief she was able to get her jewels out of Russia through the clever muse of her lady-in-waiting, Miss Baltazzi. It was by no means easy, for jewels were being smuggled over the frontiers almost every week, either by escaping nobility and their friends (usually foreigners attached to one of the embassies) or by thieves, who worked in regular gangs.
Their method of getting hold of the jewels was most ingenious. They had spies whose business it was to keep a watch both on the great families known to possess beautiful jewels and on the various Commissariats. Thus they knew more or less who was under suspicion and they would wait their opportunity until the house was raided and arrests made. Then in the confusion one or two of their number would enter it disguised either as soldiers or servants and get possession of the jewels, whose whereabouts they had previously ascertained. It was a risky proceeding, for the punishment was death, but their organisation was so close that they went undetected for a long time. They generally worked in conjunction with professional smugglers, usually Poles or Finns, who were willing to take their plunder out of the country for a share in it. But after a while their activities were observed and a close watch was kept on every frontier.
My mother had to be particularly careful as her jewels, especially one magnificent set of emeralds, were known to be of great value and had therefore probably been marked down. The lady-in-waiting made a box for them herself, not daring to trust it to anyone else. One day a Greek student called at the house to see Miss Baltazzi with a package of books which were exactly the same size and shape as the box of jewels. When he left he still carried his package, but the box was in it and the books left behind.
He went straight to the Danish Legation and delivered over the jewels, which were sent to Copenhagen.
Some time after the Wedding of King George II of Greece and Princess Elisabeth of Romania in 1921, the Emerald Parure was given to Queen Olga’s grandson, King George II, to be worn by Queen Elisabeth, who put the cabochons in a series of bandeau tiaras before setting them in a Russian-inspired Kokoshnik frame, made of inter-locking ‘E’s by the late 1920s. Despite her big design contribution to the Parure, Queen Olga’s Emeralds remained with King George II after their divorce in 1935.
The Emerald Parure was next seen on Queen Frederica in the late 1940s, soon after the accession of her husband, King Paul, who had inherited the Emerald Parure from his brother, King George. The Emeralds were debuted at the Wedding of Queen Elizabeth II and Duke of Edinburgh (a grandson of Queen Olga) in 1947 with Queen Olga’s Diamond Rivière and the Tiara was worn as a Necklace with Queen Sophie’s Diamond Tiara for the Wedding Ball and the Wedding of her brother, Prince Ernest Augustus of Hanover, and Princess Ortrud of Schleswig-Holstein-Sonderburg-Glücksburg in 1951.
Queen Frederica usually wore the Emerald Tiara as a necklace with Queen Sophie’s Diamond Tiara, which became her trademark look for the 1940s and 1950s, worn for numerous portraits and gala events, and the piece continued to be worn as a necklace through to the 1960s, including for the Greek New Year’s Reception in 1964.
Queen Frederica also occasionally wore the piece as a Tiara, most notably on the Greek State Visit to France in 1956, on a State Visit to Germany the same year, the Greek Monarchy Centenary Gala at the Royal Palace of Athens in 1963, when Queen Ingrid of Denmark had to borrow Queen Sophie’s Diamond Tiara, the Greek State Visit to Thailand in 1963 and the French State Visit to Greece in 1963.
The following year, following the death of King Paul, Queen Frederica gave the Emerald Parure, along Queen Olga’s Ruby Parure, as a wedding gift to Princess Anne Marie of Denmark when she married her son, King Constantine II of Greece, and it was displayed with their other wedding gifts in Athens.
The new Queen Anne Marie first wore the Greek Emerald Parure for her First Official Portraits taken in the days leading up to the Wedding and then for her spectacular Wedding Ball at the Royal Palace of Athens, which was one of the century’s biggest gathering of Royalty.
Queen Anne Marie frequently wore the Emerald Parure for portraits, and events like the Greek New Year’s Reception and the Christening of Crown Prince Pavlos of Greece in 1967, during the short years of King Constantine’s Reign.
The Emerald Parure was taken into exile when the Greek Royal Family fled Greece in 1967, being worn a few weeks later at her sister, Princess Benedikte’s Wedding Gala and later for King Frederik IX’s 70th Birthday in 1969 and the Celebrations marking the 2500th Anniversary of the Persian EMpire in Persepolis in Iran in 1971.
The Greek Emerald Parure has remained a favourite of Queen Anne Marie for the most formal occasions throughout her exile, being worn for Queen Margrethe and Prince Henrik’s 25th Wedding Anniversary in 1992, Princess Benedikte’s 25th Wedding Anniversary in 1993, King Carl XVI Gustaf’s 50th Birthday in 1995, Prince Joachim’s Wedding Ball in 1995, Queen Margrethe’s Silver Jubilee in 1997, and the Wedding of Princess Alexandra of Sayn-Wittgenstein-Berleburg and Count Jefferson von Pfeil und Klein-Ellguth in 1998.
In more recent years, the Emerald Parure has been worn by Queen Anne-Marie for Queen Margrethe’s 60th Birthday in 2000, the Wedding of Crown Prince Frederik of Denmark in 2004, the Norwegian Independence Centenary Gala in Copenhagen in 2005, Queen Margrethe’s 70th Birthday Gala in 2010, Queen Margrethe’s Ruby Jubilee Banquet in 2012, and Queen Margrethe’s 75th Birthday Banquet in 2015, with pieces from the Parure last making an appearance at King Harald and Queen Sonja’s 80th Birthday Gala in 2017.
In 2022, we were outside Christiansborg Palace as Queen Anne Marie arrived for Queen Margrethe’s Golden Jubilee Banquet, seeing the spectacular Emeralds glow in the light of the setting sun like flashlights. There is no doubt we will continue to see these splendid Royal Heirlooms for years to come!