Conspiracy theories, revolts, grandeur, murder and cover ups are only the start to describe a book that explains how some of the Russian family jewels were saved! It is a relatively short book of 143 pages of text, the drawback at first glance is the few photos and even fewer colored photos in this book. The way the book started out also caused some early doubts about how good the book would be. I didn’t really have any set notions about how the story should go but the intro talking about the unmarked grave in Paris of a man I never heard of in all my reading on Russian Royal History caught me off guard. The photo of him (only one that seems to be publicly available) seemed a bit spooky. (Note: The photographer of the photo below is Cecil Bateman which was a name I know).
If I had not loved the jewelry of the Russian Royal Family (specifically Faberge) I might not have continued on. That would have been a mistake. The man in the picture above is Albert Stopford, born in England to a family of modest means. Albert left to pursue a job selling jewelry of Cartier and Faberge at his shop in London. There he got to be involved with the high society of London. When World War I was starting his connections soon put him in a position to spy for the Allies and members of the Royal family to see what was the state of the war front. The major contact that is important for this story is Albert’s connection to Grand Duchess Vladmir aka Maria Pavlovna (pictured below). Maria was married to the Czar Nicholas’ Uncle, Vladmir.
For those that do not know the history of the Russian Revolution it is worth taking a deeper look into. The book describes life in Russia for Albert as he watches what is happening to the Czar and the Russian people. I want to just focus mainly on the two chapters in the book about saving the jewels and the fate of the jewels once recovered. The Russian royalty was under strict watch and subjected to searches of their living quarters in hopes of finding jewels and other valuables. Maria was not located in the place that housed her jewels, so she got help from her sons, other royal relatives and Albert to sneak back in and claim her jewels. In the meantime, her sister the former Queen Alexandra,(her husband King Edward was dead at this time), got her son King George (current Queen Elizabeth’s Grandfather) to help get his Aunt out of the country to save her from a soon to be death. Sneaking back into the palace was no easy task, it was guarded and watched by outsiders. A story in the book told of a royal family member hearing of their palace getting ransacked because the maid forgot to turn off the lights when she left the palace that evening and suspicions were raised about who was in there. Once the men snuck past the guards, Maria’s details of where they could find her jewels was perfectly described. This made it easy for the men to locate where they should be and thankfully were found untouched. Albert and the group wrapped up the jewels in newspaper and placed them into Albert’s two Gladstone bags. I found a photo of what a Gladstone bag for a gentleman in the early 1900’s would look like. (below)
Maria is not reunited with her jewels until she gets to London, much later. Albert puts them in a London bank vault until she is safe and able to deal with them. Albert also does not do this for money but out of a sense of friendship and duty.
With the end of the Russian Royal family it also marked an era of amazing wealth and glamorous social scene. I want to share an except from the book talking about Maria’s jewels and how she enjoyed them. The first account is by Consuela Vanderbilt who visited Maria Pavlovna at Saint Petersburg : ‘She [Maria] had a majestic personality, but could be both gracious and charming. After dinner she showed me her jewels set out in glass cases in her dressing room. There were endless parures of diamonds, emeralds, rubies and pearls to say nothing of semi-precious stones such as turquoises, tourmalines, cat’s eyes and aquamarines.’ What a night that would be! It seems Russian etiquette called for the hostess show off her jewels to honored female guests. Not what would be called tasteful by others but I would be ok with seeing jewelry at a dinner party!
The other account of Maria and her jewels describes her relationship with her granddaughters. ‘The glass cases were set into four corners of her dressing-room, with red stones (rubies), blue (sapphires), green (emeralds), and white (pearls) in each corner, giving the room an almost octagonal appearance. Her grandchildren remembered their visits as small girls to the Vladimir Palace, and especially the inner sanctum of their grandmother’s dressing-room. To amuse the girls Maria would often invite them to choose what jewels she should wear for her next formal occasion. Red, perhaps? Or blue, green, or white? Olga, the eldest [granddaughter], usually made the final choice.’ Sounds like a typical day spent with a grandmother, lots of fun and laughter playing with grandma’s treasures!
So what became of these jewels? The Russian royals were left with little more than the clothes they came with. Maria needed to sell many of her jewels to continue to live a comfortable lifestyle. Many jewels were discreetly sold to other members of Europe’s royal family, but most were sold far below there true value. An example of a jewel that stayed within a royal family is the Diamond and Pearl Vladimir Tiara, a favorite of Maria’s.
You can see on the far left, in the photo above,Maria is wearing the tiara which was purchased later by Queen Mary who was Queen Elizabeth’s grandmother and passed this crown onto her.
Another look at the tiara worn by Queen Elizabeth (below) shows it missing its pearl drops.
Queen Mary had a set of Emerald drops made that could be interchanged with the pearls or just plain as shown. It is nice to have options right? A close up of the tiara with both pearls and emeralds (below).
Which look do you like better?
Another jewel that went through a few hands was a set of emeralds. Maria is shown wearing them in a head dress (I got a close up and colored in the emeralds green to highlight), that was converted into an emerald necklace. Remember that center stone with the six sides, in the next set of photos.
The next owner was Van Cleef & Arpels that sold them to heiress, Barbara Hutton. She had them as a necklace and then converted them into the iconic tiara that is shown on her. It was also shown in my last review of Famous Jewelry Collectors. You can read more on that transaction through this Sotheby’s article.
Hutton’s emerald’s were then sold again and used in a set of jewelry by Bulgaria that was bought and famously worn by none other than Elizabeth Taylor!
I remembered the name of her jewelry being called the Grand Duchess Vladimir Suite in some articles and saw that many of these emeralds were indeed from Maria’s collection. Bulgari bought back the collection when Dame Elizabeth’s jewels hit the auction block in 2011.
A photo combining the British royalty and Hollywood royalty was found online from the later 1970’s when Taylor was married to Senator John Warner. I like seeing the jewels out and enjoyed!
My Final Thoughts
Albert Stopford’s sacrifices to help save these treasures are still being appreciated today even if many are unaware of his story. I highly recommend this book. It does jump around at the beginning trying to establish different characters stories but it all ties up as the revolution plays out. With the recent world events there were some passages about the people over throwing the ruling family and the struggles of surviving in this paranoid, desolate and divided society as a product of the revolution that had some difficulty for me to focus on the history and not see some current parallels to the modern day current events. That makes this book all the more necessary to read, so history is learned from the past and not repeated! Check back soon for more book bling!