Arts & Culture

How Queen Elizabeth's Favorite Tiara Made It into the Downton Abbey Movie

The Vladimir tiara has a star turn in the new film.
IMAGE DESIGNED BY MIKE STILLWELL
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At the center of the plot of the new Downton Abbey movie is a royal visit. Upstairs and down, the inhabitants of our favorite fictional British estate are thrown into an uproar by a visit from King George V and Queen Mary. There is much cleaning and brushing up on protocol, but all efforts are rewarded by a suitably grand party, complete with tiaras.

And not just any tiara—Queen Mary (the present Queen's grandmother) wears the storied Vladimir Tiara, which would go on to be among her granddaughter's favorites.

It could be said that the story of the Vladimir tiara is worthy of a James Bond movie. Stashed in a wall in a palace in St. Petersburg, where it would be safe during the Russian Revolution, and then secretly smuggled out of Russia—by British intelligence officers dressed as either workmen or old ladies, depending on the tale you believe. Whichever of those disguises were actually employed to save this Romanov jewel, one actually worked.

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The Vladimir tiara made it out of Russia—possibly the last treasure to do so—and into the hands of the Grand Duchess Vladimir’s children by 1921. At the time, however, they needed the money more than diamond and pearl tiaras, so they sold it to Queen Mary (who could never have enough). Soon after acquiring the tiara (and five years before the action of the Downton Abbey movie), Mary decided it needed some refashioning; it also needed a repair; escape from Bolshevik revolutionaries can be hard on a stone.

She had it redone so that the pearls could be switched out for her collection of Cambridge emerald drops when she was gripped by the urge to go green. She used 15 of the famed gems to make the change.

These stones, part of a stash won by her grandmother, the original Duchess of Cambridge, in a lottery, almost left the royal family forever when Queen Mary’s brother bequeathed them to his mistress. Queen Mary quickly took care of that.

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Mary of Teck, Queen Consort of George V, wearing the tiara circa 1936
Photo by PHOTO BY THE PRINT COLLECTOR/PRINT COLLECTOR/GETTY IMAGES.

And so, as you watch the Downton Abbey movie and witness a fictional 1927 royal visit to Downton Abbey by Queen Mary and King George, focus on her emerald and diamond Vladimir tiara and the Delhi Duhrbar necklace and suite, also created with the Cambridge emeralds. These true royal jewels were painstakingly replicated under the eye of Downton costume designer Anna Robbins. She told T&C how it all happened, and got into all the gritty details of how you go about making a copy of one of the Queen’s most favorite tiaras.

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Geraldine James as Queen Mary
Photo by COURTESY OF FOCUS FEATURES.

THERE ARE SOME GREAT JEWELS IN THE ROYAL VAULTS. HOW DID YOU CHOOSE THE VLADIMIR?

For all the royal jewels depicted in the movie, we wanted pieces that the audience might recognize from our current royals that also worked in terms of style and proportion for the costumes. We were careful to choose pieces that were owned and in the possession of the characters depicted wearing them at the time.

HOW DO YOU MAKE THE COPY?

The replica royal jewelry was made by my model maker Martin Adams. It was a painstaking process to make each as faithfully as possible and took many hours.

DID THE QUEEN HAVE TO SAY OK?

We went through a clearance process as we do in films for anything that might need permission. It turned out we didn’t need specific permission to recreate these pieces.

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The Queen wearing the Vladimir Tiara three ways
Photo by GETTY IMAGES.

SO, REALLY, HOW DOES THE VLADIMIR IN THE MOVIE COMPARE TO THE REAL THING?

When fitted with its pendant emeralds, the Vladimir tiara forms part of a parure of jewelry collectively referred to as the Cambridge Emeralds, which for the film comprises tiara, necklace, earrings, bracelet, and brooch. The tiara is composed of fifteen intersecting circular components, set on a base ring and linked with an undulating band, all cast in lead-free pewter, mounted, and electroplated in silver. Swarovski foil-backed stones represent the diamonds.

For this version of the tiara, the circles are set with a total of just over 370 main stones, the base ring with approximately 92, and the "waves" are set with around 150. These range from 8mm diameter down to 3mm. In the original tiara, there are tiny stones that fill the gaps where every circular stone meets its neighbor, and range from 2mm diameter down to less than half a millimeter across. In the entire tiara, these total approximately a further 1,200 stones. In my version, for the sake of expense, and because the tiara would not be seen in any extreme close-ups, there are only around a quarter of these additional tiny stones.

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Vladimir tiara with pearls
Photo by JOHN PHILLIPS / GETTY IMAGES.

The fifteen pendant "emeralds" are cast in pigmented epoxy resin and polished to a high shine. These are mounted in the pewter cast and plated leaf-shaped "caps" (also set with Swarovski stones, totaling approximately 180) which are linked to the tiara so that they can hang freely within the circles of the tiara. Total estimated number of stones in the original: approximately 1,900. Total estimated number of stones in my version: approximately 1,100.

*This story originally appeared on Townandcountrymag.com

*Minor edits have been made by the Townandcountry.ph editors

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