|Empress Maria Feodorovna's Sapphire Parure|
The Romanovs had one of the most impressive jewellery collections of all times. None of the current Houses, not even the British one, can match the splendour of the Romanov Court. One of the most interesting and, unfortunately, mysterious parures belonged to Empress Maria Feodorovna of Russia, wife of Alexander III and mother of Nicholas II.
The Empress is depicted wearing this parure (most of it anyway) of the famous portrait by Konstantin Makovsky. The sketch for the portrait was actually drawn at the wedding celebrations of Grand Duchess Maria Alexandrovna, the daughter of Emperor Alexander II (and thus Maria Feodorovna’s sister-in-law) who married Prince Alfred, the son of Queen Victoria.
|Maria Feodorovna wearing her sapphire parure|
Based on their style, most elements of the parure, and almost certainly the necklace, were made during the Napoleonic Era. Although the exact date is unknown, it was likely to have been a wedding present to Maria Alexandrovna (Maria of Hesse, wife of Alexander II). As with most of the Russian jewels, virtually every element of the parure was detachable and could be worn in a number of configurations
The sapphire parure consisted of a tiara in traditional kokoshnik style, a necklace, a devant de corsage, and at least two brooches. The tiara was made of one large and eight smaller sapphire surrounded by diamonds, set in a gold frame. The top was adorned with diamonds which were detachable and could be worn as a diamond riviere. The tiara was also decorated with some of Catherine the Great’s diamond dress ornaments. Those ornaments belonged to the Diamond Fund and were also detachable.
|Maria Feodorovna's sapphire necklace|
The necklace was a very elaborate piece consisting of sapphires of varying sizes and shapes, and diamonds all set in gold frame. The largest sapphire weighed whooping 159.25 carats. In addition, there were 15 other sapphires with a combine weight of 150 carats. The necklace also was set with 414 diamonds (of combined weight of 204 carats. The centrepiece sapphire pendant as well as the diamond rivieres on both the upper and lower parts could be removed and be worn separately.
The devant de corsage consisted of a huge cushion-shaped sapphire from which a slightly smaller pear-shape sapphire hung, both were set in a diamond frame. The brooches were composed of a large oval or round sapphire in a diamond frame (quite similar to Queen Elizabeth’s Prince Albert Sapphire Brooch).
|Catherine the Great's Diamond Dress Ornaments that were encorporated into the parure|
Now, as mentioned earlier, Russian jewellers usually created pieces that could easily be dismantled and set in new jewels, or used (removable) decorates from the very vast Romanov collection. That unfortunately makes tracking down some of the jewels virtually impossible.
The tiara, for instance, was almost certainly dismantled to create a new piece; the frame was probably used for one of Maria Feodorovna’s diamond tiaras, while sapphires were incorporated into other pieces. Trying to track down the brooches is just pointless: Romanovs had a great number of very similar-looking sapphire brooches which ended up in the hands of various branches of the family. The devant de corsage presents the same problem.
|The famous photograph of the Romanov treasures taken by the Bolsheviks. Maria Feodorovna's sapphire necklace is marked with red.|
The necklace was the only part of the parure to have survived for some time in its original form: it featured on the famous photograph of the table with the Romanov Treasures taken by the Bolsheviks. What happened to it afterwards is unknown; most likely they the necklace was dismantled and sold off.
The diamond dress ornaments incorporated into the tiara also survived, for the most part: some were sold from auctions, while the others are in museums of the world. Some of the diamond ornaments were attached to the famous emerald tiara of Grand Duchess Ella of Russia (sister of Empress Alexandra, as well as sister-in-law of Maria Feodorovna) that later made its way into the Romanian royal jewellery collection.
|Grand Duchess Ella wearing her emerald tiara with Catherine the Great diamond dress ornaments|
I wish more was known of this parure because it is absolutely breathtaking. But mostly, I wish the Soviet Government wasn't so “effective” in trying to get rid of all traces of the Romanovs, including the stunning jewels that were triumph of Russian craftsmanship.