Thursdays are a little brighter when you add a tiara, don’t you think? This month, we’re taking a refreshed look at some of the pieces we’ve featured in the past. First up: a personal favorite, the Prussian Meander Kokoshnik.
The tiara was designed and manufactured in 1905 by Koch, a German-based jewelry firm. Robert and Louis Koch founded their jewelry house in Frankfurt in 1879, and within a few short years, they were supplying jewels to the major royal and princely courts of Germany, as well as to foreign monarchs in Russia and Italy. Robert and Louis worked with the firm until their deaths (Robert in 1902 and Louis in 1930), and their descendants ran the company until World War II. Under different ownership, the firm closed for good in 1987. But the beautiful tiaras created by the brothers for European royals are still regularly worn today, a testament to the skill and endurance of their craftsmanship.
In 1905, the Prussian royal family turned to Koch for a tiara intended to be worn by a future Empress of Germany. The jewel was commissioned as a wedding gift for Duchess Cecilie of Mecklenburg-Schwerin by her new husband, Crown Prince Wilhelm of Germany. Crown Princess Cecilie wears the tiara in the romantic portrait above, painted three years after her royal wedding by the Swiss artist Caspar Ritter.
Cecilie’s new tiara was shaped like a traditional Russian kokoshnik headdress, with Greek key designs bordering delicate lattice webs of diamonds. Large diamond brilliants are set in the center of each lattice panel. Why would a Russian-style tiara be made for a German crown princess? Probably because Cecilie was a part of the extended Romanov family. Cecilie’s mother, Grand Duchess Anastasia Mikhailovna, was a granddaughter of Tsar Nicholas I of Russia.
When Cecilie married Crown Prince Wilhelm, the eldest son of Kaiser Wilhelm II, it was fully expected that he would one day inherit his father’s throne and reign as Emperor of Germany. The younger Wilhelm held the title of crown prince for thirty years, until World War I changed everything for the Hohenzollern family. They lost their throne permanently. Wilhelm and Cecilie’s marriage, already rocky, became even more separate. He followed his father into exile in the Netherlands for a time, while she was permitted to remain permanently in Germany with their children.
In the spring of 1938, Wilhelm and Cecilie’s second son, Prince Louis Ferdinand, reinforced the family’s Romanov ties by marrying Grand Duchess Kira Kirillovna of Russia. She was the daughter of Grand Duke Kirill Vladimirovich of Russia, a son of Grand Duke and Grand Duchess Vladimir and a first cousin of the late Tsar Nicholas II. Her mother, Princess Victoria Melita, was a granddaughter of Queen Victoria.
Grand Duchess Kira’s bridal ensemble recalled the splendor of the Romanov court in days past. She wore the grand silver brocade wedding gown that had been made for her maternal grandmother, Grand Duchess Maria Alexandrovna of Russia, in 1874. Kira herself wrote an article for the Associated Press describing the gown. She explained, “It is an old court dress of heavy silver brocade richly embroidered; cut low off the shoulders, very slim at the waist; the long sleeves slit open so that the arms are free,” adding, “It lay for many years without coming to the light of day. The first time it was worn again after the war and revolation was 12 years ago when my sister, Grand Duchess Marie, Princess of Leiningen, was married in it. Now it is to be worn once more; hardly any alterations or touches were necessary to make it fit.”
While the dress was a Romanov treasure, the tiara with which Kira secured her bridal veil came from her new husband’s family. Crown Princess Cecilie loaned her own diamond kokoshnik tiara to Kira to wear with her gown. The Russian-style tiara coordinated beautifully with the traditional court gown.
Prince Louis Ferdinand was poised to become the head of the family one day, following the renunciation of succession rights by his older brother, Prince Wilhelm. Accordingly, Louis Ferdinand and Kira were married in a series of glittering ceremonies. A German civil ceremony and a Russian Orthodox wedding were held first, followed by a grand reception at Crown Princess Cecilie’s home in Potsdam. And then, the family journeyed to the Netherlands for a Lutheran wedding ceremony at Huis Doorn, home of the exiled Kaiser Wilhelm II. The former emperor is pictured above with the bride during that celebration. It was to be the last great family celebration for the Hohenzollerns before the outbreak of World War II.
Prince Louis Ferdinand and Grand Duchess Kira’s descendants still own the diamond kokoshnik tiara today. Over the past several years, we’ve seen two family brides wear it on their wedding days. Princess Sophie of Isenburg, wife of Prince Georg Friedrich of Prussia, wore the tiara for their wedding reception in August 2011. More recently, Princess Viktoria Luise of Prussia (pictured above) wore the tiara for her wedding to Hereditary Prince Ferdinand of Leiningen in September 2017.