One of the most beautiful Royal tiaras in Europe, and certainly the one with the most interesting provenance, is the Vladimir Tiara, originally from Russia, and now the property of Queen Elizabeth II.
Grand Duchess Maria Pavlovna was the aunt of Tzar Nicholas II, and wife of the Grand Duke Vladimir Alexandrovich. Her most spectacular piece of jewellery was an exceptional tiara of fifteen diamond set circles with a ribbon of diamonds to the top and bottom, and hung with Oriental pearls. It was made in 1874 by Carl Edward Bolin, the court jeweller to the Tzar, and cost 48,200 rubles.
When she fled St. Petersburg in 1918 following the revolution, the Duchess hid it in the vault at Vladimir Palace. It was later smuggled out of Russia by Albert Stopford, a British art dealer, friend of the family, and secret agent. Disguised as a workman, he sneaked into the palace and emptied the safe. He took the jewels to London, awaiting the Duchess.
In January in London, Garrards (the jewellers to the British Crown) performed an inventory of the Duchess’ jewels. The list showed that the tiara was damaged during its journey from Russia to England, with some of the pearls and diamonds missing.
The Duchess was reunited with the jewels, and died in 1920 in Paris. The Tiara passed to her daughter, Princess Nicholas of Greece. The Princess sold it in 1921 to Queen Mary for the sum of twenty eight thousand pounds.
Mary owned a fabulous set of forty cabochon emeralds, originally of Indian royal provenance, and auctioned at a charity ball in 1818. She added, in 1924, fifteen of the emeralds (now called the Cambridge emeralds) to the tiara as a alternate to the dangling pearls. Today, the emeralds and pearls are stored in numbered pouches to maintain the order, and swapped out as needed by the Queen’s jewellery curator. It takes approximately an hour to change the stones over.
Upon the Queen’s death, the tiara passed to her granddaughter, Queen Elizabeth.
The tiara, by then a century old, was completely remade in 1988 by Garrards.
One of her favourite tiaras, when the Queen visited Ireland in May 2011, she wore the tiara to the State Banquet hosted in her honour.