About the Diamond Fund
In 1719, Emperor Peter I "the Great" (reigned 1682-1725), founded the earliest version of what we now know as the State Diamond Fund of the Russian Federation. Peter I had visited other European nations, and introduced many innovations to Russia, one of which was the creation of a permanent fund to house a collection of jewels which belonged not to the Romanov family, but to the Russian State. Peter declared that the state holdings were inviolate, and could not be altered, sold, or given away - and he also decreed that each subsequent Emperor or Empress should leave a certain number of pieces acquired during their reign to the State, for the permanent glory of the Russian Empire. Peter left all of the pieces used in the coronation ceremony to the Diamond Fund, as well as many important pieces of 15th, 16th and 17th century jewelry. The pieces were housed in a special secure room in the Winter Palace in St. Petersburg, first called the Renteria, and subsequently called the Diamond Chamber.
Peter's daughter Elizabeth I (reigned 1741-1761) had a voracious taste for jewelry, and a number of the most beautiful pieces of the Rococo period date from her reign, such as the remarkable Earrings in the form of garlands of flowers with bees.
Elizabeth was succeeded by her nephew Peter III (reigned for six months in 1761-1762) before he was overthrown by a coup dÉetat and replaced on the throne by his wife Catherine II "the Great" (reigned 1762-1796). Catherine, in addition to becoming one of Russia's greatest rulers, added many pieces to the State jewelry collections--some of which she purchased herself, but some of which were gifts, such as Caesar's Ruby, which was a gift from King Gustav III of Sweden on a state visit in 1777.
Catherine's son Paul I (reigned 1796-1801) made many changes to Russia's empire, including forbidding women from ever taking the throne. Paul did continue to fill the diamond chamber, however, and many of the pieces in the exhibition belonged to him and his wife, the Empress Mariya Fyodorovna, including the extraordinary Blue Diamond Stickpin which was originally a ring. The diamond itself may be a chip off of a famous blue diamond from the eighteenth century which bleonged to the French Royal family. After the French revolution, the stone disappeared, and was recut twice, losing almost 20 carats in size. This 7.6 carat diamond may have come from the stone when it was recut. The famous Le Tavernier was renamed after its final cutting, and is now called the Hope Diamond--on view at the Museum of Natural History, Smothsonian Institution, in Washington, DC.
Under Alexander I (reigned 1801-1825), Nicholas I (reigned 1825-1855), Alexander II (reigned 1855-1881), and Alexander III (reigned 1881-1894), the collections grew still more and with pieces such as the Bracelet in the Neo-Gothic Style, and the 260.37 carat Sapphire Brooch, the Russian Imperial State Jewels were arguably the most Important and largest collection of jewelry in the world.
In 1914, with the threat of a possible German invasion due to World War I, the entire collection was carefully packed, and sent from St. Petersburg to Moscow, where it was placed in vaults beneath the Kremlin for safety. But Russia's political troubles, including the Revolution in 1917 and the ensuing Russian Civil War made the history of the State Jewels even more complicated. The jewels were forgotten for a time, and it was not until 1926 that they were found in the Kremlin, and the pieces opened, catalogued, and photographed in their entirety. An enormous selection of the pieces were sold to an American consortium, and the pieces, which comprised close to 70% of the original collections, were sold at Christie's Auction house in London in 1927. The pieces which were sold were dispersed all over the globe, and many of their locations are now unknown.
The remaining pieces, which are the historically and artistically most important from the collections include the coronation regalia, and a spectacular collection of eighteenth and ninteenth century jewelry. The pieces went on display for the first time in 1967 as a commemoration of the 50th Anniversary of the revolution, when they were displayed in a special vault beneath the Kremlin to high-ranking officials and foreign dignitaries. Since the fall of communism, the pieces are on display to the public, who can buy tickets to visit the diamond fund when they go to the Kremlin Armory Museum in Moscow.
The history of Russian jewelry goes back over one thousand years. Many of the earliest pieces of Russian jewelry are very similar in style to pieces which were worn at the court of the Byzantine Empire. As ancient Rus' and Kiev grew into what we now know as Russia, the style changed very little. It was not until Emperor Peter I "the Great" that real innovations and exchanges with the west changed Russian jewelry style for ever. The steady influence of foreign jewelers, combined with the Russian jewelers own creativity ended up establishing a Russian jewelry industry of great size and importance. Many famous jewelers worked in Russia, and some, such as Fabergé have become household names.
Biography of Nicholas B.A. Nicholson
Mr. Nicholson was born in New York City, and recieved a degree in Art History and Russian Studies from Kenyon College. Mr. Nicholson travelled extensively in Russia and worked as a dealer of central and eastern european neoclassical furniture and objects of art before joining the staff of Christie's as a Graduate trainee in European Furniture. Mr. Nicholson went on to become a specialist in the Russian Works of Art department, and since leaving Christie's in 1996 has worked as the American Coordinating Curator for the exhibition Jewels of the Romanovs. Mr. Nicholson is a published translator and author of children's books, and writes and lectures frequently on Russian topics.