Tuesday’s Royal Trinket: Hillwood Mansion and Museum

© The Royal Archivist

It’s not one trinket today. It’s many, so grab a cup of tea and settle in for a few minutes of enjoyment. If you love decorative arts, then you will love Hillwood Mansion and Museum in Washington, D.C. It’s filled to the brim with items of royal connection.

Long before Hillwood was a museum, it was the home of Marjorie Merriweather Post (1887-1973), the heiress to the Postum Cereal Company. Post had a fascination with royalty and a life-long interest in decorative arts. As you can image, I completely appreciate that about her.

During her time in the Soviet Union (she was married to the US ambassador to the Soviet Union), she picked up many interesting pieces at auction. In the image above, you can see that Post purchased watches, cigarette cases, decorative boxes and other trinkets of Romanov provenance. Post acquired items that belonged to the Romanovs, the Orthodox churches and numerous aristocrats. These items are now housed at her home, Hillwood.

We’ve already discussed the eggs and the nuptial crown. Let’s take a peek at a few other items in her house.

© The Royal Archivist

The dining room was designed to house Dutch paintings of hunting scenes. You can spot them on the wall in the photograph above. But what’s most fascinating to me is the nineteenth-century carpet. It was a gift from Napoleon III to the ill-fated Emperor Maximillian of Mexico. It’s ironic because Maximillian would not have been executed if not for Napoleon III.

© The Royal Archivist

The grand staircase in the entry hall is laden with paintings of Russian royals. You can spot Catherine the Great. Alexandra Feodorovna, the last tsarina, hangs right underneath Catherine. Also, you can barely see him, but Alexander III hangs on the right side of the wall. Who else do you recognize?

© The Royal Archivist

And here is a close-up view of the staircase, with a view of the chandelier. The chandelier probably came from Russia’s Gatchina Palace.

I hope you enjoyed today’s peek into a few items at Hillwood Mansion and Museum. If you can’t visit in person, you can always visit virtually.

Thank you for stopping by and have a great new week!

Tuesday’s Royal Trinket: The Blue Serpent Clock Egg by Fabergé

© The Royal Archivist. Photograph from an exhibit at Hillwood Museum. Apologies for the poor picture quality.

It’s always fascinating tracking the history and provenance of Fabergé items. Today’s trinket, the Blue Serpent Clock Egg by Fabergé, is nestled within the gilded halls of the Palais de Monaco. For a short time the egg was almost lost to history. Almost. Even the Grimaldi family was not aware of its provenance.

Here is the background:

Emperor Alexander III commissioned Fabergé for an easter egg as a gift for his wife, Empress Maria Feodorovna. However, the emperor died in 1894 and the Blue Serpent Clock Egg was not finished until 1895.* Instead, the Fabergé item became the very first egg the new tsar, Nicholas II, presented to his mother for Easter in 1895.

The Blue Serpent Clock Egg is a fitting tribute from a deceased husband to his beloved wife because the egg, made of gold, enamel and diamonds, represents love. Trails of roses are entwined on top of the enameled clock. If you look closely, you’ll note that the clock’s hand is a diamond-encrusted snake. A snake is no longer considered romantic, but it used to signify eternity. And if we dig a little deeper, perhaps the egg also alludes to eternal love because true love transcends a scant ticking clock. This egg functioned as a proper clock and was not made to hold a surprise.

After the revolution, the Blue Serpent Clock Egg made its way to the fabled vaults of Wartski. In 1972, Greek shipping tycoon Stavros Niarchos purchased the Blue Serpent Clock Egg from Wartski. It is at this point in time that the egg disappeared from history.

Wartski lost track of the egg until they received a letter in 1990 penned by His Serene Highness Prince Rainier III of Monaco. In the letter, the prince explained that the egg was given to him many years earlier by Mr. Niarchos. The prince was unaware of its imperial provenance until Wartski provided him with a history of the clock. Prince Rainier even loaned it to Wartski for an exhibit.

Today the egg is part of the personal collection of His Serene Highness Prince Albert II of Monaco. It is generally not on view, but you may be able to spot it at exhibitions around the world. I was lucky enough to have seen it at Hillwood Museum in Washington, D.C.

PS. You can find two more Fabergé eggs (with much better photographs) here.

*Earlier reports date this egg to 1897, but today it is certain that it was made in St. Petersburg in 1895.


Wartski: The First One Hundred and Fifty Years by Geoffrey Munn

Fabergé Revealed exhibit at Hillwood Museum

Tiara Thursday: The Chaumet Lacis Tiara

© Chaumet

When Rebecca Bettarini marries her Russian Grand Duke (more about his imperial lineage here) later this year, she’ll be wearing the Lacis Tiara by Chaumet. The tiara, though understated, is quite spectacular. Hundreds of brilliant-cut diamonds, set in white gold, are studded throughout the latticework. There are two center diamonds: one oval cut diamond weighing just over 5 carats and one pear-shaped diamond weighing 2.21 carats.

I can understand why Rebecca selected Maison Chaumet for her nuptial diadem. Before the Russian Revolution, Chaumet had a decades-long relationship with the Romanovs.

© Chaumet

In an interview with Point de Vue, Rebecca said Chaumet presented her with several tiaras. She knew almost immediately which tiara she wanted to wear. The Lacis Tiara reminded her of a kokoshnik, the traditional Russian headdress. Another plus for her is that the tiara has never been worn before (it’s a fairly recent creation).

But there is more to planning an imperial wedding than just choosing a tiara. As part of the wedding preparations Rebecca converted to the Russian Orthodox faith. She also changed her name to Victoria Romanovna. The wedding will take place in St. Petersburg on October 1, 2021.

Rebecca’s nuptial tiara is modern, light and airy; perfect for an evening of revelry and dancing. It’s difficult to judge this tiara as a wedding diadem without first seeing the wedding ensemble, but I trust she will look fabulous.

What do we say, yay or nay?

Another viewing of the Vladimir Tiara

© Royal Collection Trust

We’ve looked at the Vladimir Tiara several times on the blog. Here is another photograph (dated 1887) of Grand Duchess Maria Pavlovna (also known as Grand Duchess Vladimir) wearing the Vladimir Tiara.

The Vladimir Tiara was sold to Queen Mary after Maria Pavlovna’s death in 1920. The Romanov jewel has been with the British Royal Family since 1921 and, at this time, is exclusively worn by Queen Elizabeth II.

Jewels of the Romanovs: Family & Court by Stefano Papi

© The Royal Archivist

As you can probably tell, I love royal jewelry and royal history. And I feed my passion by reading as much as I can on these subjects. One of my favorite books on royal jewelry is Jewels of the Romanovs: Family & Court (2nd edition) by Stefano Papi. The book is not just about royal jewelry, it’s also a Romanov history of sorts.

I can’t rave enough about this book and have read every single word, more than once. Papi manages to tell a mesmerizing story with each jewel (this is the book where I first learned about the Vladimir Tiara and its fascinating origin story). This hefty tome is truly a treat. It’s not just an index of Romanov jewels and their whereabouts, but a history of the last Romanov family.

The coffee-table book is divided in six sections. Papi begins with the story of the last tsar and his tight-knit family, then introduces you to the various family relations. The book ends with the tragic downfall of the last tsar and the dispersal of the royal jewelry.

© The Royal Archivist. Top image is of the Vladimir Tiara.

There are plenty of images to bring the stories to life: photographs of the family and their sumptuous jewels, image reproductions and drawings. Each jewel has its own story to tell and Papi tells it magnificently.

The only downside to this book? The cost. The list price is a hefty $75.00. However, last I checked Amazon had copies for approximately $60.00 or you may even be able to buy a less expensive used copy elsewhere. But don’t forget to check if your library has a copy for you to borrow. I still borrow many of my jewelry history books from the library.

If you are interested in the Romanovs and their jewelry, I highly recommend this book. If you’ve already read it, please let me know your thoughts.

Royal Links of Note

© Anna-Lena Ahlström, The Royal Court of Sweden. Princess Madeleine, youngest child of King Carl XVI Gustaf and Queen Silvia, is wearing the Swedish Aquamarine Kokoshnik.

Happy Friday!

Let’s discuss a few royal links of note on this beautiful Friday.

The Imperial Emerald of Grand Duchess Vladimir of Russia. – We’ve already chatted on the blog about the jewels of Maria Pavlovna (Grand Duchess Vladimir) so you may be interested to read that in 2019 Christie’s sold one of her emeralds for a price that far exceeded the estimate. I hope the lucky buyer wears the jewel often!

An Impressive Diamond Stomacher Brooch. – This week we learned about Empress Eugénie’s elegant 19th century Diamond Bow Brooch. If you are in need of more brooch love, then check out this massive stomacher made by Maison Mellerio and exhibited at the World Exhibition held in London in 1862.

The Glamorous World of a Dazzling Dynasty. – Remember when we chatted about the upcoming Mountbatten auction at Sotheby’s? Well, Sotheby’s just released an amazing video about the family and the heirlooms that are up for auction.

Wedding of Grand Duke George set for 1 October, 2021 in St. Petersburg. – Mark your calendars for an imperial wedding this October.

Free to Use and Reuse: Genealogy. – Not royalty related, but in my quest to figure out some royal family trees, I stumbled across free genealogy resources at the US Library of Congress. Perhaps they’ll be useful for you!

I hope you have a sparkling weekend!

The Russian Field Diadem – The Reproduction

Screen shot of the Russian Field Diadem reproduction from this AP Archive video.

Last week we discussed Empress Maria Feodorovna’s Russian Field Diadem. If you recall, it was sold by the Soviets and never reappeared in public again; most likely it is lost to history. You can catch a glimpse of the tiara in this 1926 British Pathé video.

In the early 1980s Soviet jewelers recreated the tiara for the Diamond Fund. It’s not an exact copy; you can see that the jewelers took liberties with the design as the tiara seems to be filled in a little more than the original. It may be a reproduction, but the tiara is completely set with natural diamonds. Another difference is that the center is set with a large yellow diamond. You’ll recall that the original tiara’s center was set with a sapphire.

I feel that the reproduction honors the spirit of the original and that the original owner, jewelry connoisseur, Empress Maria Feodorovna would approve.

What do you think of the reproduction?

Ring with a miniature of Empress Maria Feodorovna

© Royal Collection Trust

Today’s royal trinket is a gold ring that contains a miniature portrait of Empress Maria Feodorovna of Russia (1759-1828). The portrait is surrounded by numerous bezel-set diamonds. Maria Feodorovna, wife of Paul I, was the owner of the magnificent Russian Nuptial Tiara and the long-lost Russian Field Diadem.

The ring is now owned by Queen Elizabeth II. The Royal Collection Trust cataloged it only in 1952. Perhaps it was lost and collecting dust within its archives. It’s not certain when the ring was created. The Royal Collection Trust gives a conservative estimate: between 1800-1900. Maria Feodorovna died in 1828. Perhaps it was made to commemorate her life. She was a much loved matriarch of her family.


Royal Collection Trust

The Russian Field Diadem


The Russian Field Diadem came to the world’s attention after it was featured in the sales catalogue of the Russian crown jewels. The tiara was created for Empress Maria Feodorovna in the early 19th century. It appears she may have been the only woman to have worn the diadem. The diadem, set in gold and silver, is centered around a large white sapphire and composed of six ears of rye encrusted in diamonds. There are 37 briolette diamonds dispersed throughout the diadem; other diamonds are brilliant and rose cut.

Maria Feodorovna, born Sophia Dorothea of Württemberg in 1759, was a niece of King Frederick the Great of Prussia, and the second wife of Paul I. Her mother-in-law was Catherine the Great. She was also the mother of Tsar Alexander I (if you remember your history lessons, Alexander I embarrassed Napoleon) and Tsar Nicholas I.

Maria Feodorovna painted by Vladimir Borovikovsky.

Maria Feodorovna led quite an eventful and full life after the death of Paul I. She acted as matriarch to her family and advisor to Alexander I. Whether her children were near or far she kept in contact with them, advised them as she saw fit and made sure her children were financially provided for. She appreciated and cultivated the arts within Russia. She was also a patron of charities; she even founded an institute of learning for children. Each successive empress took over her institute until its closure in 1917.

The Dowager Empress loved and appreciated her homes, the Russian countryside and her gardens. She was overjoyed whenever her beloved daughter, Anna Pavlovna, Princess of Orange and wife of the future William II of the Netherlands, sent her bulbs and plants for her gardens. Therefore, it makes sense that Maria Feodorovna would have commissioned a tiara with a motif that embodied the Russian fields. After her death in 1828 the diadem was sent to the Diamond Fund. It remained there until the revolution.

Wikimedia Commons. Inventory table of confiscated Romanov jewels.

Sadly, after its auction sale in 1927, the tiara disappeared. Perhaps we’ll see it again in a future auction. Though that may be doubtful as the last documented sale was the one by Christie’s in 1927. In an era when monarchies fell like dominos and stock markets crashed, wearing tiaras may not have seemed appropriate. It’s possible the seller pulled the tiara apart for its stones; perhaps even reconfigured it to wear as smaller, individual brooches. Only time may tell.


Chère Annette: Letters from Russia 1820 – 1828

Christie’s: The Jewellery Archies Revealed by Vincent Meylan

Jewels of the Romanovs: Family & Court by Stefano Papi

Russia’s Treasure of Diamonds and Precious Stones by Alexander Evgenevich Fersman

Empress Alexandra’s Siberian Aquamarine Brooch

Image from Stefano Papi’s book, Jewels of the Romanovs.

What better way to begin March than by talking about aquamarines!

Today’s aquamarine is a beautiful brooch of imperial provenance. The Siberian Aquamarine Brooch (seen above) is set in an intricate border with a diamond-set trellis motif. It was made by Fabergé’s workmaster Henrik Wigström.

The aquamarine has a happy beginning but ends with a tragedy. The brooch was purchased by Tsar Nicholas II as an engagement present for his bride, Alix of Hesse, in 1894. It cost 1,100 roubles and was one of her many engagement gifts.

Wikimedia Commons. Empress Alexandra Feodorovna (Alix of Hesse).

Alexandra must have loved the brooch dearly because she took it with her when she, along with her husband and children, was taken to The House of Special Purpose. The brooch must have brought her comfort and perhaps reminded her of happy memories. Alexandra was wearing the jewel up until the minute she was murdered.

The Bolsheviks sold the brooch. Today the jewel is owned by Wartski.


Jewels of the Romanovs: Family & Court by Stefano Papi

Wartski: The First One Hundred and Fifty Years by Geoffrey C. Munn