19 July 2014

Saturday Sparkler: Alexandra Feodorovna's Emerald Tiara

Detail of Bodarevsky's 1907 portrait of Alexandra Feodorovna (source)

This July marks the 96th anniversary of the assassination of the last tsar of Russia, Nicholas II, and his family. In the century that has nearly passed since their deaths, the court of the tragic Romanovs has become the stuff of history and legend, and the jewels that adorned the Romanova women have become objects of significant fascination. Today, we're looking at an emerald tiara that was created for the country's last empress: Alexandra Feodorovna.

The tiara, pictured in Fersman's Russian jewel catalogue (source)

The emerald and diamond tiara was part of a larger parure that Alix ordered from a pair of famous Russian jewelers -- Bolin and Faberge -- in 1900. Sophia Schwan, a jeweler working for Bolin, was responsible for creating the parure's tiara and necklace, while Oscar Piel, working for FabergĂ©, made a large coordinating devant-de-corsage. The tiara is also sometimes referred to as a "coronet" or a "circlet," because it piece forms a complete circle. In Jewels of the Romanovs, Stefano Papi notes that the tiara and necklace were "made in great haste" by Schwan, but doesn't clarify the reasons why.

The necklace, pictured in Fersman's Russian jewel catalogue (source)

The diamonds used in the tiara were sourced from South Africa; some sources have suggested that the large emeralds used were from Colombian mines. (You'll sometimes see this called the "Colombian tiara" for that reason.) The largest emerald is the one set in the front of the circlet; Papi notes that this "quadrangular sugarloaf cabochon emerald" measures approximately "23 carats." The tiara includes alternating ribbon and scroll motifs, with emerald and diamond floral elements set in the center of each scroll. The necklace, pictured above, also featured ribbon and scroll designs.

The Bodarevsky portrait (source)

Alix was painted in the tiara and devant-de-corsage from the parure in 1907 by Nikolai Bodarevsky. (She did not wear the complete parure in the portrait; the Bolin necklace is not included.) Although this portrait is perhaps the only extant image of the tsarina wearing pieces from her emerald parure, we know a little bit more about the circlet's eventual fate.

The Soviets' 1922 inventory of the imperial jewels

Sadly, the tiara and the necklace are visible among the pieces pictured on the famous "table" inventory illustration made by the Soviets in 1922. (The emeralds are the sixth set of jewels from the left. The devant-de-corsage is probably among the rest of the pieces depicted.) Nearly all of the jewels on the table were either auctioned or broken up. The emeralds haven't been seen in public since they were photographed and catalogued in the mid-1920s by A.E. Fersman. It would be nice to hope that they're lurking somewhere in the shadows, hidden away in a private collection. Unfortunately, though, I think it's much more likely that they were eventually dismantled.