The jewels we know today as the Yugoslavian Emeralds actually started their journey at the Court of Imperial Russia.
When Grand Duke Sergei (the fifth son of Tsar Alexander II) married Princess Elizabeth of Hesse and by Rhine (a granddaughter of Queen Victoria) in 1884, a suitably magnificent wedding present was required.
Sergei’s mother, the Tsarina Marie gave Elizabeth (known as Ella) a suite of Emeralds from her own personal collection. The stones were sent to the Imperial Court Jeweller (Bolin) who set them into the traditional headdress of the Russian court, the Kokoshnik.
Bolin also created a matching necklace, earrings, brooch and stomacher worthy of the newly renamed
Grand Duchess Elisaveta Fyodorovna.
Sadly, Ella’s life in Russia was not to be a happy one. She was deeply religious and the endless grand parties given by the Russian aristocracy soon lost their appeal. When her husband Sergei was brutally assassinated by anarchists in 1905, Ella gave up all her worldly possessions and became a nun.
She sold most of her belongings to set up her new Convent but her Emeralds were given to her adopted niece, Grand Duchess Maria Pavlovna when she married Prince Wilhelm of Sweden 1908. (They divorced in 1914 and Maria returned to Russia)
In 1917, Russia finally exploded in to Revolution. While many royals did managed to escape, Ella was not to be one of them. She was murdered by the Bolsheviks in 1918.
Maria Pavlovna did escape however, using her Swedish identity papers. Settling in Paris, she began an embroidery shop to support herself. According to legend, lacking the necessary funds to fill an order for the designer Coco Chanel, Maria Pavlovna was forced to sell her Emeralds.
The buyer was none other than King Alexander I of Yugoslavia.
Needing a wedding gift for his new bride, Princess Marie of Romania and encouraged by his new mother in law Queen Marie (who was a first cousin to Grand Duchess Elizabeth and a great collector of jewellery) King Alexander bought the Emeralds.
The new Queen Marie wore the necklace on her wedding day and the full set to her parents coronation in 1922.
Combining the new necklace with the original Bolin Tiara, the Emeralds became Marie’s jewels of choice and she was photographed and painted with them numerous times.
In 1934, King Alexander was assassinated. Queen Marie gave up all her official duties and retired to a farm in England, taking her jewels with her. It was fortunate that she did as in 1941, Yugoslavia was invaded by Germany and her son, King Peter II, fled to London.
While in London, the young King met another exiled royal, Princess Alexandra of Greece, at an officer’s ball at Grosvenor House. Encouraged by her cousin, Princess Marina, the two fell in love and got engaged. As his future queen, Peter wanted Alexandra to have the family emeralds but it is said that Queen Marie disapproved. This caused a terrible argument and it is claimed that lawyers had to be present when Marie handed over the Emeralds to her son.
Alexandra appears to have only worn the Emeralds once in public at the pre-wedding ball of her first cousin Prince Phillip to the future Queen Elizabeth II in 1947.
Despite the birth of their only child, Crown Prince Alexander in 1945, the marriage was an unhappy one. When the monarchy was abolished in 1947, the Communists seized King Peter’s assets and exiled him from Yugoslavia. With no home and no income, King Peter turned to alcohol and Queen Alexandra suffered from depression. According to her memoirs, in 1953 Peter asked Alexandra for the Emeralds so that he could arrange a loan with Van Cleef and Arpels. Alexandra sent them to Peter via her mother with a request that he not sell them to anyone she knew as she could not bear the embarrassment.
Van Cleef and Arpels eventually bought the tiara (and probably the sautoir but this unconfirmed). They removed and sold the valuable Romanov Emeralds and replaced them with paste stones.
Van Cleef and Arpels will occasionally loan the Tiara to exhibitions and to wealthy ladies for special occasions.
Significantly, they once loaned it to Princess Elizabetha of Yugoslavia for an important event in 2016.
The Tiara is now exhibited at the headquarters of the company in the Place Vendome, Paris.