The Illustrated and annotated personal inventories of jewelry and bibelots of Grand Duchess Ksenia Alexandrovna

The two lavishly illustrated inventories belonging to Grand Duchess Ksenia form an itemised record of jewellery received between 1880 and 1912. While the slimmer volume contains earlier and more modest personal donations presented by close family, the heavier tome details large-scale presentations made from the year of her wedding; to the Grand Duke Alexander Mihailovich,(1894) onwards. Presented together, the 925 entries provide a fascinating insight into the private wealth of the Romanovs, their personal taste and family relationships. In the albums, we find notations likely to be in Ksenia’s own hand of pieces given to her daughter. Later gifts to her sons and other family members are also noted. The albums illustrate the manner in which important occasions were marked, and offer a crucial link to proving attribution and provenance for so many pieces later gifted, sold on by the Grand Duchess or seized by the Soviet authorities. 

Following the discovery of Nicholas II’s jewellery albums featuring more rudimentary illustrations, Alexander von Solodkoff offered further insight into Grand Duchess Ksenia in The Jewel Album of Nicholas II, Ermitage, 1997. As the daughter of a reigning monarch, Ksenia’s wedding celebrations marked one of the last times the Crown commissioned jewellery from the Treasury. Alexander III ordered four complete parures several years before the wedding, visiting the repository of the Imperial Cabinet to select emeralds. This administrative institution’s principal purpose was to oversee the care of Imperial jewels, pay for purchases ordered by the Tsar and for goods supplied to the court. Here were stored the most beautiful loose stones collected over the years by various Tsars and which belonged to the Treasury. Following the Imperial visit, Fabergé, Bolin and Ewing were each commissioned to design a parure for the wedding from which the Tsar finalised a choice. Nicholls and Ewing of Nevsky Prospect created an astonishing parure of emeralds and diamonds consisting of a necklace formed as a series of oval and rectangular cabochon emeralds, each surrounded by circular-cut diamonds, from each of which hung a pear-shaped cabochon emerald, a floral designed coronet entirely set with diamonds supporting pear-shaped cabochon emeralds and a large brooch with cabochon emeralds mounted in a double ring of diamonds, which could also be used as a centrepiece in the necklace. The inscription for No. 51-53 in the album reads ‘from Mama and Papa for the wedding’.

At the same time, Bolin worked on an important commission from Ksenia’s mother, Maria Feodorovna, to create a parure consisting of a tiara, necklace and large brooch in diamonds and rubies (No. 37-39). The stones which were particularly rare and carefully matched in colour also came from the repository of the Imperial Cabinet. Their selection was entrusted to Bolin with the collaboration of Ewing.

In addition, the Tsar and Tsarina presented their daughter with two large diamond rivière necklaces and a wonderful tiara also created by Bolin, entirely decorated with briolette-cut diamonds which quivered with every movement of the head. There was also a diamond brooch that included three pear-shaped diamonds reminiscent of some owned by the Empress (No. 35). Her parents’ gifts were completed by a parure of cabochon sapphires and diamonds and a five-stranded pearl collier de chien with a large button pearl clasp. The groom presented a splendid collier russe (No. 34) in diamonds by Bolin which could also be worn as a tiara. It was accompanied by a brooch with a naturalistic design of two vine leaves in diamonds which supported a drop cabochon emerald. The brooch (No. 36) was later given by Ksenia to her daughter Irina when she married Prince Felix in 1914. 

In this image of Grand Duchess Ksenia at the Boyar Ball of 1903, she wears jewelry received for her wedding. Around the neck, her two diamond rivière necklaces are arranged as a collier de chien with a string of large white oriental pearls in the centre. Also visible is the collier russe given by Sandro. Her emerald and diamond necklace has a large emerald and diamond brooch en-suite as its centrepiece. The cabochon emeralds from the tiara in the parure with the necklace are sewn to her headdress. Further precious stones enrich the embroidery on the brocade of her dress. 

Grand Duchess Ksenia at the Boyar Ball of 1903

Other entries in the albums, while less lavish, provide a crucial insight into what was in vogue and illustrate forms no longer in use, such as the chatelaine and adornment set into elaborate coiffures. While St. Petersburg looked to Western Europe for stylistic influences, the Grand Duchess’ personal jewels show designs that have been interpreted through the prism of Russian taste. Red gold was favoured over the yellowish hues and often densely set with cabochon sapphires, rubies or emeralds. These are more often represented in the albums than faceted stones. Semi-precious stones such as moonstones and mecca stones are in evidence as are those typical of the Russian territories. Agate with moss-like inclusions were popular and diamonds were usually tightly set rose-cut borders around a larger stone (No. 45). 

Pearls were considered particularly valuable and are only present in a few of the illustrations. In a rare instance amongst the notations, Grand Duchess Ksenia expands her pencil entry for a necklace by carefully recording the number of pearls per row. Alongside the extravagant wedding emeralds and prized pearls are dozens of entries featuring enamel. These were valued for their technical mastery and were synonymous with Fabergé. 

Grand Duchess Ksenia Alexandrovna of Russia wears her pearls

Cloisonné is noticeably absent and champlevé is incorporated into a design for a brooch in the form of a flag. The lavish hues of translucent enamel over engine-turned ground speak to the unmistakable signature of Fabergé guilloché work. As the albums evolve, so too do the stylistic influences as Art Nouveau takes hold. The taste for languid forms inspired by plants and animals travelled into Russia from Darmstadt when a Jugendstil colony was founded there in 1899 and gained an international foothold during the Paris Exposition Universelle in 1900. Still further into the inventory, the Art Deco style is represented in the rectilinear geometry of early 20th century design. 

Both inventories illustrate that the Grand Duchess appreciated the symbolism of jewellery. Her interest in the language of stones is evidenced by opening notes in the smaller album attributing birthstones to their respective months. Designs drawn from such diverse sources as the Monomach Cap, Imperial Eagle, Royal Standard and crowned cyphers support the Imperial provenance but auspicious, romantic and other metaphors such as the horseshoe, clover, swastika, owl and elephant show Ksenia fully in step with the fashion of her times. Private in-jokes and references employ bibelots as couriers. A curiously shaped object (the Fabergé potato charm) presented by ‘Georgi’ resembling a potato, issued to all members of the ‘Potato Society’ at Gatchina Palace is documented and serves as a sort of visual shorthand for the secret society which counted Ksenia and her brother among its members. Further research should uncover the meaning of some of the most private and perhaps evocative of Ksenia’s trinkets and talismans.

Fabergé potato charm

It was in 1914 that Ksenia’s only daughter, the 19-year-old Princess Irina, married Prince Felix Yussupov. Xenia gave the bride her own emerald brooch with diamonds and rubies; she also bought her sapphires, three pearl sprays and a diamond chain from Cartier.

Princess Irina with her mother Grand Duchess Ksenia and in 1913

Her two jewelry albums, were a souvenir of former times that she bequeathed to her children.

Jewels passed down and eventually sold at auction:

References:

https://www.bonhams.com/auctions/18991/lot/155/

https://www.bonhams.com/magazine/6252/

Once a Grand Duchess: Xenia, Sister of Nicholas II

Van Der Kiste, John

Published by Sutton Publishing (2002)

ISBN 10: 0750927496 ISBN 13: 9780750927499

Kremlin Gold: 1000 Years of Russian Gems and Jewels

Kremlin Gold: 1000 Years of Russian Gems and Jewels [Hardcover] by Anon

Published by Harry N. Abrams (2000)

ISBN 10: 0964034808 ISBN 13: 9780964034808

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