Made by Cartier in 1911, it was purchased three years later by Prince Felix Youssoupov as a wedding present for his bride, Irina (Nicholas II’s niece).
This tiara is unusual because the bottom part of the kokoshnik is made of rock crystal topped with platinum and diamonds. That big diamond in the center of the top row is a nearly flawless, pure white 3.66 carat honker. This was one of three rock crystal tiaras that Cartier created at the time, a trend that didn’t seem to catch on. Click here to see one of the others.
Irina wore this tiara on her wedding day in February of 1914, along with a veil from her mother (Grand Duchess Xenia) that once belonged to Marie Antoinette. I don’t know about you, but a veil worn by a woman who was murdered by her countrymen wouldn’t have been my first choice, but maybe some people don’t fear bad juju. Tsar Nicholas II walked Irina down the aisle, giving her a bag of 29 uncut diamonds as a wedding present. I got silverware and salad bowls, in case you were wondering.
At the time of the wedding, rumor had it the Youssoupovs were wealthier than Nicholas himself. Just how rich were they? Let’s just say that they put out bowls of polished gemstones as table decorations for their dinner guests to play with. Sometimes, you could even win a handful as a door prize.
Anyhoo, here’s Irina on her wedding day:
So Tell Me about This Felix Guy
You might be familiar with his work, even though you don’t know it. Felix was one of Rasputin’s assassins – and probably the mastermind. He was also a bisexual who enjoyed wearing women’s clothing. When he started dating Irina, he fessed up to his wild past and socially inconvenient tastes. According to Felix, she took it like a champ:
I concealed nothing in my past life from her, and, far from being perturbed by what I told her, she showed great tolerance and comprehension.
Because Felix wasn’t royal, Irina had to give up her right to the throne to marry him. She didn’t seem to mind, and they left for a long honeymoon in Europe and the Middle East. Would have been perfect, except for that time a World War broke out and they got stuck in Germany when Irina’s cousin the Kaiser refused to let them out.
How to Have the Worst Weekend in the World
But all wasn’t well in the kingdom when they finally did get home. A Siberian holy man named Grigori Rasputin had become the BFF of Tsarina Alexandra, thanks to his seemingly magical ability to ease the pain of her hemophiliac son. He’d wormed his way into her confidence, to the point where she was believed to be dictating the country’s military and foreign policy based on his advice. That wasn’t actually the case, but since his credentials were as solid as an online degree from the University of Phoenix, people were pissed. Felix Youssoupov and several of his friends and relatives decided to do something about it.
On the night of Friday, December 16, 1916, Felix invited Rasputin over to shoot the shit, possibly using Irina as bait. Rasputin had never met her before, and a hot 21-year-old princess was probably all the motivation he needed to accept Felix’s invitation. Others believe there was something going on between Felix himself and Rasputin. We’ll probably never know. In any case, little did Rasputin know that Irina wasn’t even home. Felix had originally wanted her in on the plan, but she freaked out and refused to come home from the Crimea:
I know that if I come, I shall certainly get sick…I want to cry all the time. My mood is terrible…I don’t know myself what’s happening to me…Don’t be angry with me…May the Lord protect you.
Felix went ahead with his plan, which is straight out of Criminal Minds. Or it would be, if we had any non-contradictory accounts of what the hell actually happened. In general, here’s the most popular version of the story. Felix brought Rasputin into his basement, which had possibly been soundproofed beforehand. He served Rasputin tea and snacks that may have been laced with cyanide. After the tea, they drank some booze, probably wine from Felix’s own vineyards in the Crimea. When Rasputin was good and tipsy, Felix went upstairs to get a gun. He came back down and gave Rasputin a gut shot at point-blank range.
This is where shit really started to go haywire.
Felix left the body in the basement and went upstairs, probably to tell the co-conspirators that the deed was done. Like a dumbass, he realized he forgot his coat downstairs and went to retrieve it. Rasputin woke up, realized what was happening, and tried to choke the shit out of Felix. (Less salacious version: Felix didn’t come back down; Rasputin woke up alone and realized he had to bail, like, now.) However it happened, Rasputin made it up the stairwell to the ground floor. He got out through an unlocked door and made for the front gate.
One of the co-conspirators shot at Rasputin from inside the house. One bullet sliced through Rasputin’s kidney and embedded itself in his spine. He hit the ground. This time, the conspirators carried the body back inside. (More salacious version: They beat the shit out of the body with clubs.) At some point, the body moved as if Rasputin were still alive, and someone shot him in the head.
This time, they wrapped the body in some cloth and drove to the frozen Neva River. They dumped it into a gap in the chunked-up ice below. They expected it to sink. It didn’t. The voluminous coat Rasputin wore kept his body afloat, and the corpse got stuck on a chunk of ice and floated down the river.
On Monday morning, the police discovered the body – 140 meters downriver from where it had been dumped. An autopsy showed the third bullet, the one to the head, was what killed him. Here’s a police photo of the body being pulled away from the river – it doesn’t show much, so if you’re faint of heart, you can still take a peek.
Felix was exiled to a remote family estate for his part in the murder. Irina went with him. Exile meant they were out of St. Petersburg (then called Petrograd) when the revolution happened in 1917.
During and After the Revolution
In the period between Nicholas II’s abdication and the Bolshevik takeover, Felix and Irina were able to get some of their jewelry and art out of their palace. This included two Rembrandts, now in the National Gallery in Washington, DC. Then they went down to the Crimea, a convenient port from which to get the hell out of Dodge. In 1918, retreating German troops offered to take them with, but Felix, Irina, and their collected families told the Germans to go fuck themselves. Russia and Germany were still at war, remember. Instead, they hitched a ride on a British warship that had come to pick up Irina’s grandmother.
They settled in Paris, selling off art and jewels as needed to pay for their lifestyle. In 1934, they won a shitload of money in a lawsuit against MGM for a movie called Rasputin and the Empress, which depicted Rasputin seducing the tsar’s nice. Since the tsar only had one niece, it wasn’t hard to tell they meant Irina, even though the character’s name was “Natasha.” Movie trivia buffs, take note: This is the only film in which all three Barrymore siblings appear together. I don’t know about you, but I’m way more interested in Alan Rickman’s turn as Rasputin in Rasputin: Dark Servant of Destiny.
The money from the suit didn’t take them as far as they hoped, however. The latter part of their lives were spent in greatly diminished circumstances, as they’d say on Downton Abbey. Felix died in 1967. Irina died three years later in 1970.
Something Extra Creepy, Just Because
That’s actually Felix and Irina in the video below. This interview, taped in 1967, aired as part of a French TV movie depicting the murder of Rasputin. It was the only film production Felix gave his cooperation to. The video below is just a teaser and it’s in French, but the video notes have an English transcription. It’s notable just because you get to see their faces. The entire movie may be available on YouTube – I haven’t gone that far down the rabbit hole (yet).
Where Is This Tiara Now?
This was not one of the jewels that made it out of Russia. They hid it before they left, hoping to be able to come back for it, but it never happened. The Bolsheviks found it and added it to the rest of the Imperial family’s jewels they collected, some of which were auctioned off later.
You can see this tiara in the picture the Bolsheviks took of confiscated jewels in 1925, but no one knows what happened to it afterward.
Your guess is as good as mine.
How Would I Wear It?
I love the rock crystal and the perfect diamond up top. I wish I could see how the crystal looks when it’s on. Is it semi-transparent? Would you be able to see my grey hairs through it? Note to self: Visit salon before wearing this tiara. This seems like one of the most wearable of the entire canon of tiaras. It’s got just enough sparkle without being overwhelming, like, say, the Braganza tiara.
Because of the crystal and the relatively small size, I’d make this my casual Friday tiara. What is a casual Friday tiara? Ask Torah Cottrill. It’s all her doing.
This sucker could definitely go from the office to dinner to drinks to the club, assuming you have enough energy to make all those things happen. I do not, but if I did, this is the tiara I’d choose for its versatility and its beautiful shape. I’m a sucker for kokoshniks. And Cartier. And stuff with a Russian origin story. And diamonds.
Want to Suggest a Tiara?
Drop its name or a photo link into the comments. I’ll do my best to find something interesting in its history for a future Tiara Tuesday.
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Visit the archives to read about more royal shenanigans. And by shenanigans, I mean war, revolution, betrayal, lust, murder, diamonds, and Princess Stéphanie’s chafing dish.Get Your Sparkle On
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