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The Imperial Crown of Russia, also known as the Great Imperial Crown, was used by the monarchs of Russia from 1762 until the Russian monarchy’s abolition in 1917. The Great Imperial Crown was first used in a coronation by Empress Catherine II the Great, and it was last worn at the coronation of Emperor Nicholas II. It was displayed prominently next to Emperor Nicholas II on a cushion at the State Opening of the Russian Duma inside the Winter Palace in St. Petersburg in 1906. It survived the 1917 revolution and is currently on display in Moscow at the Kremlin Armoury’s State Diamond Fund.

The Great Imperial Crown

By 1613, when Michael Romanov, the first Tsar of the Romanov Dynasty, was crowned, the Russian regalia included a pectoral cross, a golden chain, a barmas (wide ceremonial collar), the Crown of Monomakh, sceptre, and orb. Over the centuries, various Tsars had fashioned their own private crowns, modeled for the most part after the Crown of Monomakh, but these were for personal use and not for the coronation.

Crown of Monomakh

In 1719, Tsar Peter I the Great founded the earliest version of what is now known as the Russian Federation’s State Diamond Fund. Peter had visited other European nations, and introduced many innovations to Russia, one of which was the creation of a permanent fund (фонд) to house a collection of jewels that belonged not to the Romanov family, but to the Russian State. Peter placed all of the regalia in this fund and 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.

Catherine II the Great

From this collection came a new set of regalia, including eventually the Great Imperial Crown, to replace the Crown of Monomakh and other crowns used by earlier Russian Tsars and Grand Princes of Muscovy, as a symbol of the adoption of the new title of Emperor in 1721.

The court jeweller Ekart and Jérémie Pauzié made the Great Imperial Crown for the coronation of Catherine the Great in 1762. The beautiful crown reflects Pauzié’s skilled workmanship. It is adorned with 4,936 diamonds arranged in splendid patterns across the entire surface of the crown. Bordering the edges of the “mitre” are a number of fine, large white pearls. The crown is also decorated with one of the seven historic stones of the Russian Diamond Collection: a large precious red spinel weighing 398.72 carats (79.744 g), which was brought to Russia by Nicholas Spafary, the Russian envoy to China from 1675 to 1678. It is believed to be the second largest spinel in the world.

In formally adopting the Western term “Emperor” for the ruler of Russia, Peter the Great also adopted Western imperial symbols, including the form of the private crowns (Hauskrone) used by the Holy Roman Emperors (of which the only surviving example is the Austrian imperial crown of Holy Roman Emperor Rudolf II, the Imperial Crown of Austria), in which a circlet with eight fleur-de-lis surrounds a mitre with a high arch extending from the front to the back fleur-de-lis.

Already in Austria some baroque representations of this type of crown found on statues of the saints had already transformed the two halves of the mitre into two half-spheres, and this is the type of imperial crown used in Russia. Emperor Peter’s widow and successor, Empress Catherine I, was the first Russian ruler to wear this form of imperial crown.


In the Great Imperial Crown which the court jewellers Pauzié and J. F. Loubierin made for Empress Catherine II in 1762, these hemispheres are in open metalwork resembling basketwork with the edges of both the hemispheres bordered with a row of 37 very fine, large, white pearls. They rest on a circlet of nineteen diamonds, all averaging over 5 carats (1.0 g) in weight, the largest being the large Indian pear-shaped stone of 12⅝ cts in front, set between two bands of diamonds above and below. Posier showed his creative genius by replacing the eight fleur-de-lis with four pairs of crossed palm branches, while the arch between them is made up of oaks leaves and acorns in small diamonds surrounding a number of large diamonds of various shapes and tints running from the front pair of crossed palms to the back pair of crossed palms, while the basketwork pattern of the two hemispheres are divided by two strips of similar oak leaves and acorns from the two side pairs of palm branches stretching up to the rows of large pearls on their borders.

At the center and apex of the central arch is a diamond rosette of twelve petals from which rises a large red spinel, weighing 398.72 carats (79.744 grams), one of the seven historic stones of the Russian Diamond Collection, which was brought to Russia by Nicholas Spafary, the Russian envoy to China from 1675 to 1678. It is believed to be the second largest spinel in the world.

This spinel, in turn, is surmounted by a cross of five diamonds, representing the Christian faith of the Sovereign, the God-given power of the monarchy and the supremacy of the divine order over earthly power. Except for the two rows of large white pearls the entire surface of the crown is covered with 4936 diamonds and is quite heavy, weighing approximately nine pounds (by contrast, the Crown of Monomakh weighs only two pounds). It was unfinished in time for Catherine’s coronation and the original colored stones (e.g., emeralds in the palm branches and laurel leaves) were replaced with diamonds for the coronation of Emperor Paul I in 1797. It was used at every subsequent coronation until that of Emperor Nicholas II in 1896 and was last in imperial period at the State Opening of the Duma in 1906.