The Romanovs’ Favorite Tiara Is Back On Trend
Part of the beauty of a kokoshnik tiara is just saying the name out loud. Kokoshnik. It conjures a lost Nicholas and Alexandra world of bodies dripping in old mine-cut diamonds doesn’t it? One more time: Kokoshnik.
Say it again, if you’d like, when you spot someone wearing one this fall. It could happen: Chanel High Jewelry showed two new kokoshnik-shaped tiaras for sale at their most recent presentation in Paris. One is a diamond and pearl kokoshnik called the Sarafane that can transform into a necklace. The other—the “Ble Maria” tiara—is a more modified kokoshnik in yellow gold, pink spinels, Mandarin garnets, and colored tourmalines.
The collection, known as “Le Paris Russe de Chanel,” suggests Coco Chanel’s Russian ties—the designer was deeply enthralled with Sergei Diaghilev, and also reportedly with one Grand Duke Dimitri, first cousin of the last Czar. But before we move past Imperialist Russia into late Victorian England and onto 21st century Paris, a definition might be in order.
"The kokoshnik is a traditional Russian head ornament that is broad and high on the forehead.
For that we turn to Daphne Lingon, a senior vice president at Christie's and head of jewelry there. "The kokoshnik is actually a traditional Russian head ornament, typically very broad, which sits high on the forehead. The shape inspired 19th and early 20th century jewelers to produce tiaras in this taste. Kokoshniks are often designed as a fringe of tapering diamond-set bars or a continuous chevron-shaped panel," she explains.
The uniquely Russian style has its origins in traditional folk dress. “The kokoshnik’s heavy, helmet-like form embodies majesty, though the ornament is borrowed from the traditional Russian peasant headdress, which is a disc-shaped halo made of cloth and typically embroidered with colored beads and fastened by ribbons," says Fernando Bustillo, managing partner of Upper East Side’s F.D Gallery, which specializes in rare and collectible jewels.
"This style was adopted by the Russian royals in the early 17th Century but it was around the time of Nicolas I, who encouraged the ‘Russification’ of the imperial court, when the kokoshnik became a mandatory part of the costumes worn by the Empress and her ladies.”
If you feel as if you have heard the term kokoshnik more recently than pre-revolutionary Russia, you are correct. On October 12, 2018 Princess Eugenie married Jack Brooksbank in the Greville Emerald Kokoshnik. The tiara was created by Boucheron in 1919 but had not been seen in public in almost a century. It was thought to be part of the royal treasury since being gifted to The Queen Mother by Margaret Greville. Eugenie's wedding might mark the first time the tiara has ever been worn by a royal.
It is a literal wall of diamonds. It is not only blindingly beautiful but it has a rich history.
Margaret Greville was a legendary hostess who married well, spent well, and was widowed early. She left her formidable jewelry collection, including a diamond and emerald necklace made from stones once owned by Marie Antoinette, to the royal family. The Emerald tiara was a part of the treasure trove. In addition to proving to the world that the royal family still owned the Greville Emerald Kokoshnik, Princess Eugenie's wedding also brought the term back into the lexicon.
The Greville Kokoshnik is not the only one in the family treasury. “The preeminent example of this style would be Queen Alexandra’s Kokoshnik Tiara, which today resides in Queen Elizabeth II’s collection,” says Bustillo. “It’s quite a fender, a literal wall of diamonds. It is not only blindingly beautiful but it has a rich history."
The tiara, Bustillo explains, was presented to Alexandra on the occasion of her 25th wedding anniversary in 1888 by the 365 peeresses of the United Kingdom, regarded as the "Ladies of Society." "The design was inspired by a much-admired tiara belonging to Alexandra’s sister, Minnie, also known as the mighty Empress Maria Feodorovna of Russia," he says.
The whereabouts of Minnie’s tiara is unknown, but it likely was dismantled after the revolution. "She was often painted and photographed wearing a tiara of solid diamond bars in the sunray shape of a peasant’s headdress. Alexandra’s kokoshnik is one of Queen Elizabeth's most frequently worn tiaras, and it was a favorite of her grandmother Queen Mary, from whom she inherited it in 1953. Its simple, classic design makes it feel just as modern now as it did more than a century ago.”
Designed by Garrard, the Queen Alexandra Kokoshnik proves a favorite among people who pick favorites of these sorts of things. “Garrard looked more to the halo-like quality and architecture of kokoshniks for inspiration for this piece,” says Fred Leighton’s Rebecca Selva. “It’s the most extraordinary diamond halo—and I love that Queen Elizabeth loves to wear it."
Selva also points to the Westminster diamond and blue enamel kokoshnik by Chaumet: “it’s an exquisite jeweled interpretation of the Russian traditional fabric headdress and its ornamentation. Love the use of plique a jour blue enamel as the ‘fabric’ which is adorned by diamond forget me knots, diamond vines and silver weeping willows. Beyond gorgeous!”
Now that you have a brief history of the kokoshnik and a "Where To Buy a Kokoshnik Guide" (that would be Chanel), the final question is who actually wears a tiara such as this? “We see a variety among our tiara buyers, but primarily they are private individuals who are purchasing a tiara for the first time, usually for a wedding,” says Lingon. “The other attraction is that these pieces can often be kept in the family and lent to other family members for their weddings. We also see buyers collecting tiaras of various styles to be exhibited in their private exhibition spaces. Similarly, museums and galleries occasionally purchase pieces to add to their existing collections.”
For now, maybe just repeat after me one more time and revel in the regal pleasure of the word: kokoshnik.
*This article originally appeared on Townandcountrymag.com
*Minor edits have been made by the Townandcountry.ph editors