An Important and Historical Pair of Platinum, Emerald and Diamond Pendant-Earclips
- platinum, emerald, diamond
Few jewels in the world can claim such fame for their splendour as those belonging to the Russian Imperial family. Their fabulous and historic stones and masterful execution were unrivalled in all the courts of Europe. The devastation brought by the First World War and the consequent 1917 Russian Revolution saw the end of the Romanov dynasty, its court and its glittering jewels, many of which were lost forever. By December of that year, the abolition of private property and nationalisation of the banks saw jewels belonging to the aristocracy and the wealthiest class meeting the same fate. They were dismantled and the stones sold loose, and their mounts were melted down so that the precious metals could be sold separately - primarily so that they weren't recognised and reclaimed by their original owners. Those that survived were sold at auction to raise money for the new government and subsequently disappeared into private collections.
This situation lit the fuse to an explosion of legends about smuggled, hidden and rediscovered jewels. Sometimes these stories were true; sometimes they were pure invention. This created an aura of mystery and intrigue around all jewels from Russia at this time, but especially around those belonging to the ex-Imperial family - their stories could come from the pages of an historical thriller. But by far the most exciting tale about the Romanov treasure is the true story of the jewels of Grand Duchess Vladimir.
The emerald and diamond ear pendants offered in this sale stem from this collection. Grand Duke Vladimir Alexandrovich (1847-1909) was the second son of Alexander II and brother to Alexander III. He was a member of the Council of Ministers, a Councillor of State and field commander of the guard for the military district of St Petersburg. In 1874, he married Princess Marie of Mecklenburg-Schwerin, who took the name of Maria Pavlovna. Blessed with charm and a strong personality, she would become one of the most important figures in the Romanov family, second only to Tsarina Maria Feodorovna. The couple had four children: three sons, Kyril, Boris and Andrei, and a daughter, Elena.
The Vladimirs' residence on the Palace Embankment in St Petersburg was created for them in Florentine Renaissance style by the architects Alexander Rezanov and Andrei Huhn. The Grand Duke was a highly cultivated man and president of the Imperial Academy of Arts, and the salons soon became the centre of cultural and social life for politicians and diplomats. Concerts and balls saw gatherings of artists, musicians and intellectuals from all parts of Europe.
Maria Pavlovna was famous for her jewelry collection. Her emerald parure - a wedding gift from the Tsar - had no rival in any court in Europe, with the central emerald in the necklace weighing over 100 carats. Her collection was rich not only in historic pieces but also in stunning jewels created for her after she met Pierre Cartier in 1900. Their shared knowledge of gemstones and great sense of style saw the birth of many amazing pieces.
In 1902 the Grand Duchess's daughter married Prince Nicolas of Greece and Denmark. To mark the occasion, the Vladimirs showered Elena with jewels, including some pieces from Maria Pavlovna's personal collection and others created especially, such as the diamond kokoshnik commissioned from Cartier by Grand Duchess Vladimir. Having a predilection for emeralds, she chose the best stones from her vast collection to give to her daughter. She gave her a brooch set with a round cabochon emerald in a diamond cluster and a magnificent pair of ear pendants with round cabochon emeralds and drops.
Elena's marriage was a happy one and produced three beautiful daughters, Olga, Elisabeth and Marina, who regularly visited their relatives in Russia. At the outbreak of the First World War the family was living safely in Greece.
After the abdication of the Tsar in March 1917, Grand Duchess Vladimir left St Petersburg for Kislovodsk in the Caucasus. It was too dangerous to travel with her casket of jewels, so she left it in her palace safe, hoping to return to it at a safer time. This hope was soon lost, after the riots and Bolshevik looting of safes and palaces in St Petersburg intensified.
Thanks to Maria Pavlovna's exclusive social events, her international acquaintances included an English gentleman by the name of the Hon. Albert Henry Stopford, a great friend of Prince Felix Yusupov, who made regular visits to St Petersburg, probably as an unofficial secret agent for the English government. Stopford went to check whether or not the Vladimir Palace had been ransacked, then travelled to Kislovodsk to report to Maria Pavlovna. It was there that the two devised a plot to rescue her jewels.
Stopford, once back in St Petersburg, followed all the directions given to him by the Grand Duchess. In the dead of the night, dressed as a workman and with the help of a loyal servant of the Vladimirs, he entered the kitchen through a small side entrance. There he found the secret passage that led him through a hidden door to the place where the safe was concealed. He carefully wrapped the jewels in newspaper and put them in two old gladstone bags. After that, we assume he took them to the securist place he could: the British Embassy. Next came the toughest part of the plot - smuggling the jewels out of Russia.
Rather than risk transporting the treasure unaided, Stopford took the advice of a friend who was a Commander in the Royal Navy in charge of the Russian Armoured Car Division, soon to be withdrawn from Russia. Returning to England with the Division was one John Stopford, an American in no way connected to Albert. The two swapped identities. Albert seems to have left for England with the Division, via Sweden and Aberdeen, with the jewels in his suitcase. Just before he arrived back in London on 6 October 1917 he discovered that the Vladimir Palace had been invaded by the Bolsheviks. He had rescued the jewels just in time. Albert Stopford deposited the casket in a safe at the bank Cox and Co., under the Grand Duchess's name. It was a great relief for the Grand Duchess to know that her jewels were safe in a bank in England. She was the last Romanov to leave Russian soil, in late February 1920.
Maria Pavlovna never had the chance to see her jewels again: she died on 6 September 1920 in her favourite spa town of Contrexeville in France, in the comforting presence of her family. In her will, she divided her jewels between her four children by colour. Elena received the diamonds and the pearls; she sold the superb interlaced diamond circles and pear-shaped pearl kokoshnik to Queen Mary of England. It is still worn today by Queen Elizabeth II. At the end of the 1920s, Elena would have the emeralds received from her mother remounted in their current setting (see lot xx). She also added an emerald and diamond pendant to her cluster brooch. The pendant was sold with the earrings (lots 686 and 688) at Sotheby's, Geneva, in November 1987, and the brooch at Sotheby's, Geneva, in May 1990 (lot 506).
Elena later divided her jewels between her three daughters. Princess Olga received the emerald and diamond pendent earrings offered in this sale. Their elegant design and the magnificent quality of the stones are befitting of their legendary and illustrious past.
Stefano Papi G.G. International Jewellery Historian, Specialist and Author