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Updated: Apr 3

Duchess Marie of Mecklenburg-Schwerin Portrait Colourised by Claudia D'Souza

The Vladimir Tiara survived revolution and upheaval to become one of the most iconic diadems in the world.

original portrait before restoration and colour

This tiara was first owned by the Duchess Marie of Mecklenburg-Schwerin, (pictured here) a German princess, who became part of the Romanov family after marrying Grand Duke Vladimir Alexandrovich of Russia, a son of Emperor Alexander II, in 1874.

Marie who as the great-granddaughter of Grand Duchess Elena Pavlovna of Russia, also had Romanov heritage of her own, decided to honor her Russian great-grandmother, Marie and adopted the name “Maria Pavlovna” after her wedding in St. Petersburg.

To the larger world, she became known as “Grand Duchess Vladimir.”

Around the time of her marriage, the Russian imperial court jeweler, Bolin, made an intricate new diamond and pearl tiara for Maria Pavlovna. The piece is interestingly flexible with removable pearl pendants. (The tiara is described as “widowed” when worn without its pendant stones.)

The Vladimirs promptly became a central part of the Russian imperial world, even establishing a sort of rival court of their own where Maria Pavlovna wore her tiara at several; events specially on occasions that required the elaborate traditional court dress preferred by the Romanovs.

In 1909 however, the Grand Duke Vladimir died, and in 1917, the Russian Revolution targeted the imperial family. After her brother in law the emperor’s abdication, Maria Pavlovna was advised to leave Saint Petersburg for good.

She fled Vladimir Palace for a villa in Kislovodsk, leaving her jewels, including the tiara, hidden in a secret safe in her bedroom at the palace.

When the government became suspicious of her correspondence, she was placed under house arrest, and her financial situation became progressively uncertain.

So, that summer, Maria Pavlovna’s son, Grand Duke Boris, and a friend, Bertie Stopford, hatched a dangerous plan to retrieve her jewels. Stopford was an aristocratic British art dealer who also had diplomatic ties. He and Boris disguised themselves as workmen, and with the help of a palace caretaker, they snuck into the Vladimir Palace and smuggled out the contents of Maria’s secret safe. The Vladimir Tiara and her other jewels were placed in a pair of Gladstone bags, and Stopford managed to sneak them out of Russia. He took the jewels to London, where they were placed in a safety deposit box.

In January 1920, Garrard created an inventory of Maria Pavlovna’s jewels. The list shows that the Vladimir Tiara was damaged during its journey from Russia to England; some of the pearls and diamonds were missing from the piece. That February, Maria Pavlovna boarded an Italian steamer that took her to Venice, and from there, she made her way to France, becaming the last Romanov grand duchess to escape from Russia. The journey took a serious toll on her health, and she died only a few months later. The Vladimir Tiara was inherited by her only daughter, Grand Duchess Elena Vladimirovna, who had become Princess Nicholas of Greece and Denmark when she married into the Greek royal family in 1902.

Duchess Marie of Mecklenburg-Schwerin, Queen Mary and Queen Elizabeth II wearing the tiara

In 1921, Elena decided to sell some of her mother’s jewels. She quickly found an interested royal buyer: Queen Mary of the United Kingdom. Mary purchased the damaged Vladimir Tiara and ordered Garrard to make much-needed repairs to the diadem. Three years later, she commissioned Garrard to work on the piece again. Queen Mary possessed a cache of gems that had belonged to her mother’s family which included the Cambridge emeralds. In 1924, she had the Vladimir Tiara adapted so that it could be worn in a third setting, with a series of fifteen cabochon drops from the Cambridge emerald collection.

When Queen Mary died in 1953, the tiara was inherited by her granddaughter, who had recently ascended to the throne as Queen Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom. Elizabeth has worn the tiara throughout her entire lengthy reign. #tiaratuesday

"what Meghan wants, Meghan gets"

On a different note, this is also the tiara Megan had wanted to wear on her wedding day, with the emerald setting. When she expressed her interest, Prince Harry reportedly declared "what Meghan wants, Meghan gets".

However, the Queen swiftly intervened and denied her the emerald-studded piece. According to The Sun, she told her grandson: “She gets what tiara she’s given by me."

A source told the publication the Queen ultimately chooses who has access to the royal collection, to which the tiara belongs, adding the reason she contested Meghan's request was due to family rank.

They added she was "not impressed" with some of the former actress' behaviour due to her status as a "new" member of the family at the time. "It is at the discretion of the Queen and trusted advisers which items in the Royal Collection she chooses to loan out and to whom."

"Aspects of Meghan’s behaviour, including before the Royal Wedding, caused resentment with forces within Buckingham Palace. "To be perfectly honest, the Queen herself was not impressed with some of Meghan’s demands, especially as a new member of the family.

"As a result, Buckingham Palace decided that not all items from the Queen’s Royal Collection would be opened up to Meghan."

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