“The old queen sat in state near the center of the room, back erect, her white wig crowned with the Vladimir tiara and ropes of pearls and diamonds covering her large-bosomed front from neck to waist.” In Royal Service to the Queen
Mary of Teck: Victoria Mary Augusta Louise Olga Pauline Claudine Agnes, the present day queen’s grandmother, became queen consort to King George V when he came to the British throne in 1910. The Imperial Durbar to welcome their new Emperor, King George, was held the following year in Delhi.
It was clear from the start, both at her husband’s coronation and the Delhi Durbar that May of Teck was a woman who adored fine jewels. The Delhi Durbar Parure with its emerald and diamond necklace, earrings, stomacher, brooch and tiara highlighted Mary’s passion of precious gems in a thousands facets of brilliant light. But the new queen’s favorite tiara∼the one she wore to dinner∼ had yet to come her way.
The Vladimir tiara was originally owned by the Grand Duchess Vladimir (also known as Grand Duchess Maria Pavlovna of Russia, wife of the Grand Duke Vladimir Alexandrovich) and the aunt of Tsar Nicholas II, who was murdered alongside his family in 1918 by the Bolsheviks. Her private collection was renown for its exquisite workmanship and exceptionally fine stone.
In her day Queen Mary had rather a dicey reputation when it came to expensive and beautiful things. She was extraordinarily acquisitive, to the point of ruthlessly plundering her wealthy friends for little ‘gifts.’ So much so that it was often thought that she had tendencies toward kleptomania. At any rate if Queen Mary was coming to stay at your stately home if you had any sense at all you hid your treasures in case she pressured you into making her a gift of them.
While the old queen was known for her personal frugality in giving her friends laughably inexpensive gifts and economizing on household expenses to a degree of discomfort, she was ruthless in her pursuit of acquiring a collection of exquisite jewelry which passed on to her granddaughter: Queen Elizabeth II when she died
The Vladimir tiara was originally made up of fifteen intertwined diamond circles strung together with a diamond ribbon and hung with articulating pearl drops. The Grand Duchess Vladimir hid this exquisite tiara and other fine pieces in the vault of her palace in 1918 when she fled St. Petersburg in the wake of the revolution. It remained hidden away until a friend of the family who happened to be a member of the British Secret Intelligence Service dressed himself up as a worker, although one version states it was as an old woman, smuggled her jewels out of Russia for the Grand Duchess, tucked away in a plain bag.
With her jewels finally returned to her, the duchess split them up amongst her four children before she died in Paris in 1920. The tiara went to her daughter, Princess Nicholas of Greece who had to sell all her jewels to benefit both her exiled family and Russian charities for displaced Russian nobles.
Many people at the time believed that Queen Mary swindled her poor exiled relatives under the guise of ‘helping’ the exiled family ‘sell off’ their stunning family jewels. Whether this is strictly true will never be known, but it is noticeable that Mary snapped up the Vladimir at a very reasonable price.
Passionately in love with her new tiara Mary set about improving it a little. She had in her possession the Cambridge emeralds, a group of around 40 cabochon emeralds which had originally belonged to Indian royalty but had made their way into British hands before being auctioned at a charity ball in 1818. The winner of the auction was Queen Mary’s grandmother, the Duchess of Cambridge. Once acquired by Mary, the emeralds were incorporated into new and existing royal pieces, including the emerald drops that are sometimes seen in the Vladimir tiara. Depending on mood, state occasion the tiara can be worn three ways: with pearls or emerald pendants, or without.