Fabergé Mosaic egg and surprise, 1914
The 'surprise' inside is a jewelled and enamelled miniature of the silhouettes of the Tsar and Tsarina's five children, l - r in order of birth: Olga, Tatiana, Maria, Anastasia and Alexei. The designer was the Finnish Alma Theresia Pihi, who worked for Fabergé.
Fabergé silver, amethyst and diamond brooch, c.1909
This brooch was given to Princess Mary, later Queen Mary, in 1909 by the Tsar Nicholas II and the Tsarina Alexandra during their visit to Cowes to enjoy the regatta. Their whole family was there; it was to be the last time that the twoRoyal families met before the First World War broke out. They dined on each others' yachts.
Siberian amethysts are famed for their intense purple hue as you can see from the example above. It is a hexagon with a diamond framed border and a diamond bow at the top. It can be worn as a brooch or as a pendant.
Fabergé cigarette case, 1908
enamelFabergé cigarette case with a sinuous two colour gold snake decorated with brilliant and rosé cut diamonds grasping its tail in its mouth was given to King Edward VII by his mistress, Mrs Keppel in 1908. The snake holding it's own tail is a symbol of everlasting love. It is noticeably plainer than most Fabergé objects we see associated with royalty - but it is supremely elegant. - as, indeed was Mrs Keppel.
After his death, Queen Alexandra returned the cigarette case to Mrs Keppel, who remained on the Dowager Queen's guest list. That changed when Queen Alexandra died in 1925. Court life under Queen Mary and King George was much stricter (and possibly duller) and Mrs Keppel was firmly dropped. Then, in 1936, Mrs Keppel returned the cigarette case to Queen Mary so that it could always stay in the Royal Collection.
An interesting move and I can't help wondering why she did it. I don't altogether buy the 'official' reason.
Vladimir tiara made by court jeweller Bolin for the Grand Duchess Maria Pavlovna, wife of Grand Duke Vladimir, 3rd son of Tsar Alexander II, 1874
This beautiful tiara is made of interlocking diamond circles set in gold and silver with pear-shaped pearl drops. It also has an extraordinary story. The Grand Duchess Maria, the first owner of the tiara, was living in the sumptuous Vladimir Palace in St Petersburg when the Russian Revolution broke out.
In 1917, things got too hot and she fled, leaving her jewels hidden in her bedroom. But exile was expensive and she soon needed money. At the point, the story began to remind me of the Edwardian anti-hero, Raffles, creation of the novelist E. W. Hornung. Raffles, an ex-public school and gentleman burglar with bags of charm, is invited to various country houses, accompanied by his ex-fag, Bunny as his valet, where he steals the other guests'jewels.. Naturally he gets away with it.
The Grand Duchess's son, Boris, accompanied by a British friend, Bertie Stopford, an art dealer with diplomatic ties (or, in some versions, a spy) came up with a highly dangerous plan. Disguised as workmen, they managed to gain access to the Vladimir Palace, get into the Grand Duchess's bedroom, retrieve the jewels and smuggle them out in the diplomatic bag. The jewels were taken to London but, en route, some of them were damaged.
In 1920, Maria was the last Grand Duchess to escape from Russia; her journey, via Italy and France, was traumatic and she died a few years' later, leaving her jewellery to her daughter, Elena, Queen of Greece and Denmark - and, incidentally, Prince Philip's aunt.
Queen Mary, who loved collecting objects once owned by her murdered Russian relations, bought a number of jewels from Elena, including the Vladimir tiara. It was in a bad state and needed restoring. Queen Mary wanted to make it more adaptable and it now has emerald drops as well as the original pear-shaped pearls.
So, dear reader, if you want an idea for a novel, you could do a lot worse than go for the story of the Vladimir tiara.
The exhibition, Russia: Royalty & the Romanovs, is on at the Queen's Gallery until 28th April, 2019. It is well worth seeing and it certainly has the 'Wow!' factor.
I did a companion blog on the exhibition itself on 18th November, 2018 on my http://elizabethhawksley.com website. I have listed it under 'Exhibitions', 'Royal Connections', 'Celebrating the Arts' and 'Victorian Age' categories.
Photographs: courtesy of the Royal Collection Trust, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, 2018