“Czarist Jewels in Dazzling Array”
(originally appeared in The New York Times on 26 Aug 1922)
|Detail of the Great Imperial Crown from
the Coronation Book of Czar Alexander II
He puts a square foot of incandescent fire on the table. Diamonds, diamonds, and diamonds, with two rows of pearls over the middle milk-white iridescent. Above, a red stone, uncut but surmounted by a diamond cross.
|Detail of imperial sceptre
from Alexei Antropov’s
portrait of Catherine the
Great (ca. 1760s)
Then they showed us Catherine’s golden sceptre, a yard-long rod of fine gold encrusted with diamonds, with a knob of glittering brightness—the historic Orloff diamond, the third-greatest in the world, set six inches from the top. Orloff, on his return from Persia, gave it to Catherine as a New Year’s gift when the rest of the horrified courtiers gave bouquets of flowers. It won back for him the waning favor of his Imperial Mistress, who repaid the gift in honors and palaces that made the Orloff family one of the mightiest in Russia.
|Ears of Wheat tiara|
The next was the diadem of the Empress Elizabeth, daughter of Peter the Great, which was worn by the late Empress at her coronation. One huge oblong rose diamond in the centre weighs 125 karats and is without peer outside the fabled treasures of an Indian Rajah. Its full fire is lost because it is set in a gold locket, which the tradition of the imperial dynasty forbade to alter. Above it there is a row of diamonds as big as a fingernail, and below a second row of pear-shaped pendants, of which one is missing.
|Detail of Alix of Hesse
wearing the nuptial crown
from Laurits Tuxen’s
Wedding of Nicholas II
and Alix of Hesse (1885)
Then a small “wedding crown,” with a gold pin to hold it in the Empress’s hair. Diamonds surmounted a cross—six big stones. Its 280 carats are scattered over a base of royal purple velvet in six half hoofs.
|The Shah Diamond on a Soviet
postage stamp (1971)
They showed Catherine’s stomacher of glittering diamonds linked in two pieces, and then came the work of Pauzie of Geneva, bouquets and sprays of colored gems arranged to imitate flowers. The expert literally danced with excitement.