18 March 2014

Victoria Melita's Emerald Wedding Tiara

Victoria Melita wears the emerald tiara on her wedding day in 1894 [1]
So far, we've seen diamonds and sapphires from the collection of Princess Victoria Melita, who was at various times during her life a princess of Edinburgh and of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, a grand duchess of Hesse, and a grand duchess of Russia. Today, we're going to shine the spotlight on the emerald tiara she wore on her first wedding day.

Victoria Melita [3]
The diamond and emerald tiara was a wedding gift to Ducky, either from both of her parents (the Duke and Duchess of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, who were a British prince and a Russian grand duchess) or from just her mother. She wore the tiara on the day she married her first cousin, Grand Duke Ernst of Hesse, in 1894. The match was heavily promoted by their families, and even though they didn't dislike each other, some sources suggest that Victoria Melita was actually already smitten with her second husband (and cousin), Grand Duke Kirill Vladimirovich of Russia, before she married Ernie. Let's just say that there were warning signs that this royal marriage wasn't going to work out from the start.

Regardless, the couple went through with the ceremony, much to the delight of their mutual grandmother, Queen Victoria. The bride's aunt Vicky (who was then the Empress Frederick of Germany) noted that Victoria Melita wore "a light slender diadem of emeralds with a sprig of orange blossom stuck in behind" as a bride, pairing the emerald tiara with a veil owned by the groom's late mother, Princess Alice [2]. (You can see her wedding jewels in the photograph at the top of this post.) The emerald tiara is similar in design to an aquamarine diadem that belonged to Ernst's sister, Grand Duchess Ella; however, the two are distinct pieces.

The emerald tiara was part of a suite of emerald jewels given to her by her parents on the occasion. She also received a "necklace of pearls and emeralds" (which seems to be the necklace she wears in the photograph on the left above) and a "bracelet set with a large emerald" on the day [4]. Although her marriage was not a success (for all sorts of complicated reasons), she continued to wear her wedding emeralds even after her divorce from Ernst was finalized in 1901.

The tiara, along with many of the other jewels owned by Ducky's mother and sisters, was displayed in Coburg in 1903 as a part of a charity exhibition of the family's possessions [5]. And she was also photographed in the tiara with her second husband, Grand Duke Kirill, which means that it was still in her possession in 1905. After that, it falls off the map. In her write-up on the emeralds, Ursula speculates Ducky had the tiara broken up sometime after her second marriage, using the stones to create a larger emerald parure. Ultimately, very few of Ducky's jewels are still around today, largely because the family had to sell many of their most valuable possessions after the Russian revolution. I think it's safe to say that her emerald wedding tiara has also left the family's collection, one way or another.

1. Cropped and edited version of the Hesse wedding photo, which is now in the public domain; you can see a full version of the photograph here.
2. Vicky's comment, made in a letter to one of her daughters, is quoted at Ursula's site.
3. Cropped version of an image in the public domain; source here.
4. Lists of Ducky's wedding gifts from the Illustrated London News and the Graphic are excerpted here.
5. Ursula has a feature on the 1903 Coburg exhibition; you can see the emerald tiara here.