Although situated in the same building as the Armory Museum, the Diamond Fund is a separate institution, run by the Ministry of Finance. Admission to the Fund is a little complicated (see information below), but well worth the effort to see the fabulous collection of Russia's state jewels on display inside.
The idea of collecting jewels that belonged specifically to the Russian state - rather than to the ruling family - originated with Peter the Great, who had seen similar collections on his travels in Europe. He issued a proclamation that ordered each of his successors to leave a number of their jewels to the state, and declared that the state's fund was inviolate: the jewels could never be sold, altered or given away.
The fund was housed in the Winter Palace in St. Petersburg, in a secure room called the Diamond Chamber, and grew rapidly, with a particularly large contribution from Peter's granddaughter, Empress Elizabeth, who was notorious for her love of expensive costumes and jewelry.
With the threat of German invasion looming, the collection was transported from St. Petersburg to Moscow in 1914, to be kept safe in vaults beneath the Kremlin. There it languished half forgotten during the years of the Civil War, and the vault was only reopened in 1926. The next year, over two thirds of the priceless collection were auctioned off at Christie's Auction House in London, to raise funds for the struggling Soviet economy. The whereabouts of many of the items is now unknown.
What was left, which included the most important pieces of state regalia, was kept in the Kremlin, and eventually went on display in 1967, although only for high-ranking officials and visiting dignitaries. It wasn't until the fall of communism that the fund was opened to the public. Now, although there are still strict rules governing visits, this extraordinary collection is open to everyone, and ranks among the world's most spectacular displays of jewels.
Highlights of the collection include Catherine the Great's stunningly lavish coronation crown (also called the Great Imperial Crown), the world's largest sapphire, the famous Orlov Diamond, and, of course, numerous Faberge eggs.
Opening hours: Excursions daily from 10:00 to 17:00 at twenty-minute intervals. Closed between 13.00 and 14.00. Closed on Thursdays. Tickets available in the foyer.