The inventorizing and safekeeping of treasures in Russia dates back to the time of Peter the Great. Coronation regalia, jeweled ornaments belonging to members of the royal family and all kinds of jewelry made with rare gemstones, diamonds, gold and silver, as well as unique nuggets, were placed in a special fund for precious metals and stones.
In 1920, the Bolsheviks set up the State Depository of Valuables (Gokhran of Russia). It held not only the crown jewels, but also nationalized masterpieces of jewelry confiscated from the nobility and landed gentry. Gokhran still exists and regularly replenishes its collection of fine jewelry and examples of the stone-cutter’s art with contemporary items. Today, the collection’s most important masterpieces are on display at the Diamond Fund in the Kremlin. These are its most impressive exhibits.
Court jeweler Georg Friedrich Eckart and diamond craftsman Jérémie Pauzié created this masterpiece for the coronation of Catherine the Great in 1762 in just two months. The main Russian Imperial emblem of royalty is adorned with 75 pearls and 4,936 diamonds and topped with a rare red spinel weighing almost 400 carats.
During a coronation, an emperor would usually place this crown on the head of his consort. There were several such crowns and some were sold off by the Bolsheviks to the West. This one, according to researchers, was made in 1801 for the consort of Emperor Alexander I, Elizabeth Alexeievna. It includes 48 large and 200 smaller diamonds.
One of the main symbols of regal power, the scepter, is a gold rod almost 60 cm long. This one, commissioned by Catherine II, was made in 1762 by Leopold Pfisterer. It is particularly valued for its legendary Orlov diamond weighing 189.6 carats. The stone was purchased for the empress by her favorite, Count Grigory Orlov, in 1774.
Another very important item of regalia is the orb, a symbol of the Kingdom of Heaven. Jeweler Eckart made it for the coronation of Catherine the Great. The orb is topped with a Ceylon sapphire weighing almost 200 carats.
The Order of Saint Andrew the Apostle the First-Called, established by Peter the Great, was the highest state decoration in the Russian Empire until the 1917 Revolution. The medal is in the form of a blue diagonal cross, or saltire, with the figure of Saint Andrew crucified. The cross is set on the coat of arms of the Russian state - a two-headed eagle under an imperial crown - composed of diamonds.
A diamond chain, badge and star of the Order of Saint Andrew the Apostle the First-Called were made for the coronation of Catherine II.
Subsequently, they were worn by Russian emperors on the day of their accession to the throne.
In Russia, the 18th century is considered the century of diamonds. Several empresses were on the throne and their jewels were real works of art. The Large Bouquet adorned the Empress Elizabeth Petrovna’s ceremonial dress. Arrangements of colored diamonds take the form of briar rose, iris, daffodil and forget-me-not flowers. The leaves are composed of emeralds.
This posy holder from 1770 was the female equivalent of the buttonhole on a man’s lapel. It is a small flower holder that was pinned to a woman’s dress. Water could even be poured inside the miniature “vase”. A ribbon of diamonds tied with a bow entwines a bunch of gold stalks covered with green enamel.
This unique stone of historical importance is a rich green Colombian emerald with a delicate light bluish play of color, weighing 136.25 carats. The stone, set in a diamond mount of vine leaves, adorns a brooch dating from the second quarter of the 19th century. It belonged to Grand Duchess Alexandra Iosifovna, the consort of the son of Tsar Nicholas I.
‘Russian tiara’ is what such kokoshnik-style diadems were called in the West. The fashion for them endured at the Russian Imperial Court from the beginning of the 19th century to the early 20th century. This tiara belonged to Maria Feodorovna, the consort of Emperor Paul I. Its centerpiece is a rare 13.35-carat pink diamond.
This gold bracelet in Gothic style with emeralds and enamel was made in France in 1820 and is regarded as a real masterpiece of the jeweler’s art. The miniature depicting Emperor Alexander I is painted on ivory. It is overlaid with a 27-carat diamond - the biggest portrait diamond in the world.
The USSR’s top military decoration was instituted in 1943 and only 17 people were ever awarded it, including foreign commanders of allied forces. The medal is made of platinum and gold. Its ruby star is edged with diamonds and on a blue enamel background there is a depiction of the Kremlin wall with the Lenin Mausoleum and Spasskaya Tower. It is inscribed in white enamel with the words “USSR” and “Victory”.
This award was presented to marshals of the Soviet Union and also admirals of the fleet. The five-pointed star is made of platinum and gold and is encrusted with five round diamonds. In the center is a design made of diamonds in the form of the five-pointed Soviet star. A depiction of the Marshal’s Star even ended up on a USSR postage stamp.
A large quantity of the most varied precious and semi-precious stones are mined in Russia. Spinel, topaz, lazurite and jasper crystals are among those displayed at the Diamond Fund. The Urals emerald deposits are also particularly celebrated. Two raw emeralds weighing around a kilogram were found in 1969 and 1978.
The Diamond Fund has a collection of diamonds which are known under individual names. One of the biggest (it is also the biggest jewelry-grade diamond in Russia) is this lemon-yellow diamond weighing 342.57 carats. It was found at the Mir kimberlite pipe in 1980 and was named ‘26th Congress of the CPSU’ to mark a memorable occasion - the congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union held in 1981.
A highly productive gold deposit was discovered in the Urals in 1745 and, in the course of the succeeding 19th century, Russia was to become one of the world leaders in gold extraction. More often than not, valuable finds are melted down, but the most interesting examples are kept for study. Over 100 of the most unusually shaped nuggets are kept in the Diamond Fund (for instance, ‘Mephistopheles’, ‘Hare’s Ears’). This nugget, dubbed ‘The Camel’ and weighing 9 kg 300 g, was found at the Kolyma gold fields in 1947.
Platinum nuggets are encountered fairly rarely in nature and the Diamond Fund collection has some extremely rare examples. One of the biggest is the ‘Urals Giant’ weighing in at 7.8 kg. In appearance, it looks like an ordinary stone. And this unusually shaped nugget which is reminiscent of a pair of jaws weighs 4.7 kg. It was discovered in the Urals in the first half of the 19th century.
This tourmaline shaped like a berry or a bunch of grapes was presented to Catherine II by King Gustav III of Sweden in 1777. The stone is likely to have originally come from Burma, after which it made an extensive tour of the jewel houses of European monarchs before being taken by the Swedes from Prague in 1648. The gem’s weight is 260.86 carats and it measures 4 x 2.7 x 2.3 cm. The green enamel leaves on a gold backing accentuate its unusual color.
An experimental jewelry laboratory was set up at Gokhran in 1965. A team of five craftsmen worked on the restoration of rare Diamond Fund exhibits, from crowns to Soviet-era decorations and awards. In 1970, jewelers Viktor Nikolayev and Gennady Aleksakhin made the hugely intricate ‘Rose’ brooch from 1,500 Yakutian diamonds. They took their inspiration from a photograph of a similar item that had belonged to last Empress Alexandra Feodorovna.
This diadem of platinum, gold, diamonds and 25 large pearls is also based on a historical prototype. A similar tiara in the form of a kokoshnik headdress was ordered by Emperor Nicholas I for his wife Alexandra Feodorovna in 1841. After the Revolution, it was sold abroad and, at the present time, it is most likely in the Philippines. In 1987, Diamond Fund jewelers produced this accurate version of the lost diadem originally made by Carl Bolin.
A sprinkling of diamonds was used to make a whole map of Russia. Moscow is marked with a red corundum-ruby, the Urals are denoted with green crystals and the town of Mirny, the capital of the Russian diamond industry, is a black diamond. A separate crystal also marks the Arkhangelsk diamond fields.
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