The Cambridge emeralds, like many pieces in the Royal Collection, have a strong connection to Queen Mary, the grandmother of the present Queen. Queen Mary was noted for her love of many beautiful things and was an avid collector, to say the least. During her visits to the great houses of England, many a smart hostess knew to put away her most treasured and valuable possessions for Queen Mary was not above strongly hinting at how much she might like to possess a particular item that caught her fancy. As you can imagine, it was quite difficult to deny the Queen!
Queen Mary appears in black and white photos and grand portraits as an imposing figure draped in jewels. It was often said that she was one of the few women who could wear a treasury of gems and not be in the least overwhelmed by them. In fact, Queen Mary could be imposing, but she had a softer side as well. Many American servicemen stationed near Badminton House, her home in the country through the duration of World War II, can attest to her spontaneous hospitality - often picking them up and taking them home for dinner as she encountered them along the road. The Queen was also known for another secret passion - pulling down ivy from trees in the forests surrounding Badminton. Many were shocked to come across the dowager Queen, billhook in hand, working among the trees with her personal staff and detectives.
The Cambridge emeralds were passed from Queen Mary's Aunt Augusta, whose husband the Duke of Cambridge had one them in a raffle in 1818. Favorites of the present Queen, the emeralds can be seen in necklaces, brooches (of which this is one) and earrings. Most spectacularly, the emeralds are found as drops in the Vladimir tiara, so named for it's original owner, the Grand Duchess Vladimir of Russia. This tiara was one of the many pieces of jewelry "acquired" by Queen Mary after the fall of the Romanovs. Originally containing pearl drops, Mary had interchangeable drops created from the Cambridge Emeralds. The Queen today wears this tiara with either the emeralds or, when more appropriate, the pearls.