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Monday, 14 April 2014
Looking beyond Faberge: The Great Russian Jewelers of the 19th Century
Topic: Jewels


Copyright Notice: The following article was originally published in the April 13th, 2014 edition of Russia Beyond the Headlines. The author Marina Obrazkova, owns the copyright of the article presented below.

The whole world has heard of jeweler Carl Fabergé, purveyor to the Russian Imperial Court and the creator of the celebrated Fabergé eggs. Yet the 19th century produced many other talented jewelers in Russia, and though they are not household names, their works are no less valuable.

Until the mid-19th century, jewelers in Russia were considered to be ordinary craftsmen. It was only when they began to take part in international exhibitions that their names turned into commercial brands.
Stockholm syndrome

The Bolins, a family of Swedish jewelers, first came to Russia in the early 19th century, several decades before Fabergé. Overall, they served six Russian emperors. That was no easy work. Among other things, their duty was to design and make trousseaux, or bridal outfits, for tsars' daughters. A wedding set alone could cost as much as a house in the center of St Petersburg. It usually consisted of a wedding crown, several diadems, a necklace, and bracelets. On top of that, there were also rings and earrings to be made. On the eve of a wedding, the princess's new jewels were displayed for everyone to see. That was an old custom, as the value of a bride was determined by how much her trousseau had cost.

The House of Bolin operated in Russia up till World War I. At its outbreak, the then-owner of the firm, Wilhelm Bolin, happened to be in Germany. He tried to get back to Russia via Sweden but got stuck in Stockholm, where he subsequently opened a store and soon began to work for the Swedish royal family. That is to say, he exchanged one monarch for another.

Turning heads, Russian style

The jewelry workshop of merchant Pavel Sazikov dates back to 1793. His son Ignaty brought to the Great Exhibition of 1851 in London a collection of works inspired by the traditional peasant lifestyle. The items on display featured a bear with its tamer, a milkmaid, a candelabrum commemorating the Battle of Kulikovo in 1380 and other works inspired by folk themes. The candelabrum received a silver medal at the exhibition, and Ignaty returned to Russia a famous man.

Customers back home took Ignaty's recognition in London as an ultimate seal of approval and followed suit. The courtiers who were now bombarding Ignaty with their orders were dealing not just with some craftsman or other but with a jeweler who had been admired in London!

Russian aristocrats, who often spoke French better than they spoke Russian, could thus underline their belonging to Russia. It is therefore not surprising that the Russian style enjoyed such lasting popularity. Europeans fell in love with style “à la russe” too. At the Vienna Exhibition in 1873, jeweler Ivan Khlebnikov created a sensation with his samovar and tea set. The samovar stood on rooster feet and had handles in the form of rooster heads, while the cups in the tea set were decorated with precious stones and enamel. It was a thing of unusual beauty that could not but attract interest and admiration. Khlebnikov returned from the exhibition proud as a cockerel and threw himself into his work with renewed energy.

He took his themes from history and literature: scenes from the lives of Tsar Ivan the Terrible or Russian Orthodox Church saint Sergius of Radonezh, or the poems of Mikhail Lermontov. The most interesting of Khlebnikov's works are his enamels. The State Historical Museum in Moscow has a wine set consisting of a carafe in the form of a rooster and cups in the form of chickens decorated with champlevé enamelling. He also made silver and gold dishes using the same technique.

A social climber

Enamel was the trademark technique of another outstanding Russian jeweler, Pavel Ovchinnikov. He was particularly famed for his filigree, painted and stained-glass enamels. Filigree enamel used to be popular in Kievan Rus, to where it had been brought from Byzantium, but the technique was lost during the years of the Mongol invasion of Russia. It was Ovchinnikov who revived that lost craft.

His was an unusual life story. Pavel Ovchinnikov was born a serf but already at a very young age he displayed a talent for drawing and was sent to become an apprentice to a gold and silversmith. After eight years of work he managed to save enough money to buy his freedom, made a good marriage and opened a workshop of his own.

By the time Ovchinnikov was just 24, he had an annual turnover of half a million rubles. In today's money, that would be enough to make the Titanic movie. Furthermore, he already had 600 people in his employment at that time. By the age of 35, Ovchinnikov became a purveyor to the Imperial Court and an honorary citizen, and had been decorated with several state awards.

After the Russian Revolution of 1917, jewelers began to leave Russia. They found it impossible to work in a country blighted by hunger and desolation, where jewelry was being expropriated for the needs of the working class. The craft of the jeweler, which was all but lost in this period, was later gradually revived, although it was a different school and had a different aesthetic. These days the high style of the imperial jewelers can be found only in museums and private collections. 
 
© Marina Obrazkova @ Russia Beyond the Headlines. 14 April, 2014
 

 

Posted by Paul Gilbert at 8:02 AM EDT
Updated: Monday, 14 April 2014 8:31 AM EDT
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Tuesday, 8 April 2014
Replica of Russian Imperial Crown Goes on Display in Minsk
Topic: Jewels


A replica of the Imperial Crown of Russia on display at the National Art Museum of Belarus in Minsk
 
A replica of the Imperial Crown of Russia has gone on display at the National Art Museum of Belarus in Minsk, BelTA reports. The display will continue through April 21.

The Imperial Crown of Russia (replica) is also known as the Great Imperial Crown. It is one of the most expensive pieces of jewellery in the world. The Great Imperial Crown was first used in a coronation of Catherine II in 1762, and was last used in the coronation of Nicholas II. The last time the crown was on display was at the solemn opening ceremony of the First Imperial Duma in 1906. Today the original crown is part of the permanent exposition at the Diamond Treasury of Russia.

To create the Great Imperial Crown jewellers used 4,936 diamonds weighing 2,858 carats. Its hemispheres rest on a circlet of nineteen diamonds, all averaging over five carats in weight, the largest being a pear-shaped stone of 12.63 carats in front. The edges of the hemispheres are bordered with two rows of large white matte pearls.

The crown is topped with a diamond rosette of twelve petals from which rises a large red spinel, weighing 398.72 carats, surmounted by a cross of five diamonds. The spinel is believed to be the second largest one in the world. In 2012 the Great Imperial Crown celebrated its 250th anniversary. Smolensk jewellers decided to mark the event by creating its replica. 
 
 For more information on the replica of the Great Imperial Crown, please refer to the following articles;  
 
© Russia Beyond the Headlines. 08 April, 2014
 

 

Posted by Paul Gilbert at 6:06 AM EDT
Updated: Tuesday, 8 April 2014 6:14 AM EDT
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Thursday, 19 December 2013
Replica of Great Imperial Crown on Display at Romanov Exhibition in Moscow
Topic: Jewels
 
A replica of the Great Imperial Crown is now on display at the State Historical Museum in Moscow. Visitors can now view the crown in the hall dedicated to Empress Catherine II in the exhibition, The Romanovs: Portrait of a Dynasty which is currently running in the War of 1812 Museum near Red Square.

The crown on display is a replica of the original worn by the Empress Catherine II for her Coronation in 1762. After her death, the Great Imperial Crown was worn by each successive emperor, from Paul I in 1797 to Nicholas II in 1896. This spectacular replica is the work of more than sixty jewellers, artisans and craftsmen, the white gold crown contains 11,500 diamonds, valued at more than $5 million.

The jewellers were granted access to the original crown, which is stored in the Diamond Fund of Russia in the Armoury, however, they were given only 24 hours to complete their research. They set to work immediately making the necessary inspection and measurements. The process of creating the crown took six months. The most difficult tasks were the repeated symbolic items - the two hemispheres - the unity of East and West; the laurel branches - a symbol of victory and glory, the oak leaves and acorns - a symbol of strength of power. With the help of modern technology, each piece was calculated to the millimetre.

The original Great Imperial Crown of the Russian Empire is under tight security and cannot be removed from the Diamond Fund, therefore this replica now allows museums to display it in a historical context.

The crown will be on display at the The Romanovs: Portrait of a Dynasty exhibition until January 8th, 2014. It is a spectacular finale to the year in which Russia marked the 400th anniversary of the Romanov dynasty.
 
For more information on the replica of the Great Imperial Crown, please refer to the following articles; 
For more information on the exhibition The Romanovs: Portrait of a Dynasty, please refer to the following articles; 

© Paul Gilbert @ Royal Russia. 19 December, 2013


 


Posted by Paul Gilbert at 6:52 AM EST
Updated: Thursday, 19 December 2013 8:14 AM EST
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Monday, 11 February 2013
Grand Imperial Crown Showcased in St. Petersburg
Topic: Jewels

 

 

 

It took six months to make the replica of the Grand Imperial Crown that was showcased at a jewelers’ forum in St. Petersburg. Sixty jewelers from Smolensk made it for the 250th anniversary of the coronation of Catherine the Great and the 400th anniversary of the Romanov dynasty. A total of 11 thousand diamonds adorn the white gold crown.

The Imperial Crown of Russia, also known as the Great Imperial Crown, was used by the Emperors of Russia until the monarchy's abolition in 1917. The Great Imperial Crown was first used in a coronation by Catherine II, and was last used at the coronation of Nicholas II. Since December 20, 2000, the Imperial Crown has appeared on the Coat of arms of the Russian Federation.

It is currently on display in the Moscow Kremlin Armoury State Diamond Fund. No one is allowed even to touch that, and therefore that replica is the only one in the world. Jewelers are confident that a second replica will never be made. The replica will be exhibited in several Russian cities later this year.

© RIA Novosti. 11 February, 2013



Posted by Paul Gilbert at 8:21 AM EST
Updated: Thursday, 19 December 2013 7:54 AM EST
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Monday, 31 December 2012
The Mysterious Disappearance of the Russian Crown Jewels
Topic: Jewels

 

After the 1917 revolution, Russia's new rulers debated what to do with the crown jewels. This 1925 photo shows the collection. However, a 1922 album at the USGS includes photos of four items that are missing from the 1925 photo.

The story of the missing Russian crown jewels begins, as so many great adventures do, in a library.

In this case, it was the U.S. Geological Survey Library in Reston, Va.

Richard Huffine, the director, was looking through the library's rare-book collection when he came upon an oversized volume.

"And there's no markings on the outside, there's no spine label or anything like that," he says. "This one caught our eye, and we pulled it aside to take a further look at it."

Researcher Jenna Nolt was one of those who took a look.

"The title page is completely hand drawn, and it's got this beautiful, elaborate design on it, and it has the date 1922," Nolt says. "When we translated the title, we found out that it was The Russian Diamond Fund."

The Diamond Fund is the name given to the imperial regalia of the Romanov family, the czars of Russia for more than 300 years, from 1613 to 1917.

Huffine knew they were on to something.

"Several of the pictures at the very front of the album are the iconic, known products that you would think of for the Russian Crown Jewels, including the Orlov Diamond in the scepter, and the grand crown, which has the huge stone at the top," he says.

The Orlov Diamond is a 189-carat stone that was famously stolen from the eye of a statue of a Hindu deity in southern India — and that's only one of the stories behind the collection.

These are jewels of almost magical significance, symbols of unbridled power and wealth.

Calling In An Expert

The U.S. Geological Survey librarians called Kristen Regina, the archivist and head of the research collection at the Hillwood Museum in Washington, D.C.

The Hillwood boasts the largest collection of Russian imperial art outside of Russia.

"The crown jewels play an important part in the coronation story," Regina says, "because the czar crowns himself in the coronation, and that is the moment when he takes full power."

The Romanov dynasty came to an end in 1917, amid the chaos of a world war, a revolution and a civil war.

Regina says the fate of the crown jewels raised a furious debate among the Bolshevik leadership, which was badly in need of money.

Some of the revolutionaries saw the jewels as symbols of centuries of exploitation — gems that ought to be sold to benefit the workers.

Historian Igor Zimin says much of the collection was preserved by curators at the Kremlin in Moscow, who were able to convince the leaders that the gems had enormous historical significance.

Zimin, the head of the history department at the St. Petersburg State Medical University, says there are records of auctions of some of the lesser pieces from the collection dating from around 1927. There are even memoranda about Soviet agents being caught while traveling with diamonds in their luggage.

Zimin is skeptical, by the way, about the newly rediscovered book, because it's dated 1922, and an official photographic inventory of the crown jewels wasn't published until 1925.

Differences Between The Two Books

The USGS has a copy of that book, too, and researcher Jenna Nolt has compared the two.

She found that the 1922 volume shows four pieces of jewelry that don't appear in the later official book.

Nolt says the researchers learned the fate of one of the pieces, a sapphire brooch.

She says it was sold at auction in London in 1927, "but the three other pieces, the necklace, the diadem and the bracelet, we have no idea what happened to them."

One person who might have known is the man who acquired the 1922 volume in the first place.

He was an American mineralogist and gem expert who worked at various times for the jeweler Tiffany & Co. and the USGS.

His name was George Frederick Kunz, and his adventures took him to Russia in those dangerous years after the revolution and the civil war.

"If you ever have a chance to read his writings," Nolt says, "he's got this wonderful attitude, and he's traveling in carriages in rural Russia to meet 'the peasant queen of amethysts,' and he's talking about how he's traveling with a pistol over his knees because he doesn't trust the driver of the carriage, so I think — an Indiana Jones figure, definitely."

On View At The Kremlin

The jewels of the Russian Diamond Fund are on display in the Kremlin in Moscow — or most of them, anyway.

The officials in charge of the exhibition declined to comment for this story.

The researchers who've uncovered the story thus far say the rest of the mystery is free for anyone — amateur or professional — to try to solve.

Who knows, it might be time to take a look in great-grandma's jewel case.

||| Click Here to View Video of Lost Russian Crown Jewels Found In US Library |||

© National Public Radio. 31 December, 2012



Posted by Paul Gilbert at 4:44 AM EST
Updated: Monday, 31 December 2012 4:58 AM EST
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Wednesday, 19 December 2012
Photos of Lost Russian Crown Jewels Found In US Library
Now Playing: Language: English. Duration: 6 minutes, 40 seconds
Topic: Jewels

Four previously undiscovered photos of undocumented Russian Crown Jewels were recently discovered in the USGS library. The photos appear in a 1922 album called “Russian Diamond Fund,” that was uncovered in the rare book room of the library.

The four unique photos were originally part of the personal collection of George F. Kunz (1856-1932), a mineralogist and gemologist, gentleman explorer, and employee of the USGS and Tiffany & Co. These four photos are unique because they are not included in the official documentation of the Russian Crown Jewels, “Russia’s Treasure of Diamonds and Precious Stones,” published in 1925. The USGS also has a copy of this 1925 publication in Kunz’s collection.

“Russia’s Treasure of Diamonds and Precious Stones” is considered the most complete inventory of the Russian Crown Jewels and 22 of the photographs from Kunz’s 1922 album appear to be the same images used in the official Russian 1925 publication. The four pieces portrayed in the album discovered by the USGS that do not appear in the later publication include a sapphire and diamond tiara, a sapphire bracelet, an emerald necklace, and a sapphire brooch in the shape of a bow.

Researchers have determined that the sapphire brooch was sold in London in 1927, but the fate of the other three pieces is a mystery to this day.  USGS librarians are trying to trace the history with assistance from experts from around the world.

“This 1922 album contains photographs that document the Imperial Crown Jewels and augments the official 1925 catalog with images of pieces that were not previously known to exist,” said USGS Library Director Richard Huffine. “The USGS has preserved this collection in obscurity for over 75 years, and now that it’s been discovered, we’re excited to share this material with the world to support research and understanding of these rare materials today.”

“Russia’s Treasure of Diamonds and Precious Stones” collection contains 100 unbound plates with accompanying text and was published as the inventory of the Romanov jewels. The USGS Library’s copy of “Russia’s Treasure” is missing two plates, but is otherwise in excellent condition. A different copy of “Russia’s Treasure of Diamonds and Precious Stones” sold on auction at Christie’s in 2007 for £72,000, over $141,984.

The album “Russian Diamond Fund,” however, is believed to be the only copy in existence. The album begins with an exquisitely hand-colored title page, followed by 88 photographs of the Romanov jewelry with descriptive captions in Russian.

The rich history of the Russian people is reflected in the origins of the Imperial Crown Jewels of Russia.  The jewels were worn by the Romanov Royal Family (1613-1917) until they were seized by the new government during the Russian Revolution and secured in secret until 1922.  In 1922 the jewels were unpacked and a full inventory taken. The “Russian Diamond Fund” album dates to the same year and the photographs appear to have been part of the initial inventory.

“These images are unique representations of a bygone era-taken at a key moment for Russia, buried in quiet bookshelves for almost a hundred years, then rediscovered to add one more tiny but important part to the infinite puzzle of history,” said USGS librarian Jenna Nolt.

Research was conducted by USGS librarians in collaboration with the Hillwood Museum and the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C. and the Gemological Institute of America in Carlsbad, Calif. to find additional information on the historical value of the photographs and information on the four photographs of unique pieces from the 1922 album.

© USGS. 19 December, 2012



Posted by Paul Gilbert at 8:04 AM EST
Updated: Wednesday, 19 December 2012 8:14 AM EST
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Wednesday, 14 November 2012
Russian Jeweller Recreates Great Imperial Crown
Topic: Jewels

 A copy of Russia’s Great Imperial Crown, produced by the Smolensk Diamonds jewellery firm was displayed at a Moscow restaurant earlier this week. The original crown was used at the coronation of the Romanov Tsars, starting with Catherine II (the Great) 250 years ago and ending with Nicholas II in 1894.

The copy of the Great Imperial Crown is nearly 200 grams heavier than the original, which is on display at the Kremlin Armoury in Moscow. The new crown is encrusted with 11,500 diamonds compared to 5,000 in the original.

The crown’s frame is made of white gold, diamonds, pearl, and rubellite. The makers themselves are having difficulty in placing a dollar value on their creation.

The crown will be displayed at various exhibitions in Moscow, St. Petersburg and other cities across Russia. Its location at other times will be a closely held secret. The duplicate will probably be auctioned off at some point, although its creators hope it finds a permanent home in a Russian museum.

© RIA Novosti and Paul Gilbert @ Royal Russia. 14 November, 2012



Posted by Paul Gilbert at 5:59 PM EST
Updated: Thursday, 15 November 2012 6:03 PM EST
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Sunday, 6 May 2012
The Grand Duchess Vladimir Tiara at Buckingham Palace Exhibition
Topic: Jewels

The famous Vladimir Tiara, originally owned by the Grand Duchess Maria Pavlovna (1854-1920), the wife of the Grand Duke Vladimir Alexandrovich (1847-1909)  will go on display at a new exhibition hosted at Buckingham Palace this summer.

The Vladimir Tiara, sometimes referred to as the Diamond and Pearl Tiara, was purchased in 1921 by Queen Mary of Great Britain, who bought it from Grand Duchess Elena Vladimirovna of Russia. The tiara was sold to Queen Mary along with a diamond riviere for a price of £28,000 (£984,200). Grand Duchess Elena Vladimirovna, after her marriage to Prince Nicholas of Greece, known always as Princess Nicholas of Greece, had inherited it from her mother Grand Duchess Maria Pavlovna. The tiara had been smuggled out of Russia by a British diplomat during the 1917 Revolution. Over the years Princess Nicholas of Greece sold various pieces of jewellery from her personal collection; as a refugee, she had to sell the pieces to support her family and various charities.

Queen Mary had the tiara adapted to accommodate the attachment of fifteen of the Cambridge cabochon emeralds. The original Teardrop pearls, originally in the Vladimir Tiara, could be replaced easily as an alternative to the emeralds. Elizabeth II inherited the piece directly from her grandmother. The Diamond and Pearl Tiara is almost exclusively worn with the Cambridge and Delhi Durbar Parure, which also features large emeralds. Elizabeth II wore this tiara for her official photograph as Queen of Canada, as none of the Commonwealth realms besides the United Kingdom has its own crown jewels.

Diamonds: A Jubilee Celebration runs from Saturday, 30 June 2012 to Sunday, 7 October 2012 at Buckingham Palace.

© Royal Russia. 06 May, 2012



Posted by Paul Gilbert at 6:58 AM EDT
Updated: Wednesday, 9 May 2012 7:57 AM EDT
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