A PRINCE IN NEW YORK. Prince Dimitri of Yugoslavia, is founder, president and creative director of the jewellery firm which bears his name, Prince Dimitri. He lives and works in New York, where Prince Dimitri was formerly senior vice president of the jewellery department of Sotheby’s auction house.
Prince Dimitri, your Italian mother, Princess Maria Pia, was the daughter of the last king of Italy, King Umberto II, and granddaughter of King Albert I of Belgium. You are related to most European royal families. Originally you studied law. How come you changed from law to jewellery?
I have always liked jewellery, even as a child I was fascinated. After my baccalaureate I studied law, but I was pessimistic about the future of France in 1984, so I moved from Paris to New York. I ended up staying here. I liked the freedom and positive energy you find in New York. To get a visa I had to apply for a job. I did a year’s training programme on Wall Street but it was not really for me, so I went to Sotheby’s and asked if there was an opening. There was only one, in the jewellery department. When I said that jewellery is my passion I had an interview, and they determined that I knew enough to join them. They sent me to the GIA (Gemological Institute of America), so I did gemology school at the same time as working at Sotheby’s.
For how many years now have you been doing your own jewellery?
I spent sixteen years with Sotheby’s, two years with Phillips, and two years with a pearl dealer in New York for whom I designed a collection called ‘The New Look of Pearls’, but I was also doing my jewellery at the same time. I started my company Prince Dimitri in 2007.
Many royal people don’t have a job, but you are a real worker. Who gave you this backbone?
I always knew that I had to work in life. The parents of my best friend at school were involved with sociology and science and were serious inventors, and they were very helpful and considered me almost a son. Whatever they said I listened to, because my family were not at all interested in work.
Do you sell in jewellery stores?
I used to have a line of cufflinks and other things that sold at places like Bergdorf, Neiman Marcus, Sachs and Barneys. Now I do high-end special orders that I sell from my studio here in New York. 90% of what I do now is specific commissions from private clients. I like to do one-of-a-kind pieces. I also transform old jewellery that people bring to me because they don’t like it any more.
“Earrings and necklaces are close to the face and the most visible and the most flattering to a woman.”
THE EXPLOSION OF COLOR NECKLACE by PRINCE DIMITRI.
The center Amethyst of 42.44 carats originating from the Russian imperial mines, was part of a collection given by Tsar Alexander III to Queen Elena of Italy. Next to it is a collection of multicolor gems (peridots, aquamarines, lavender spinel, heliodor, mandarin garnet, red tourmaline and pink tourmaline with small moonstones, diamonds, rubies, emeralds and sapphires around them) and black pearls, all mounted in gold and some hanging from a knot of Savoy attached to a leather cord.
Who are your clients?
70% are Americans, from all over the States, and 30% are people from around the world.
Are there celebrities among your clients?
It is a confidential situation. My business is mostly by word of mouth, but I post a lot on Instagram. Every month I get new clients from Instagram. My friends in interior design also get a lot of clients with Instagram. The influence of Instagram is quite extraordinary.
Do people buy jewellery for pleasure or investment?
For pleasure. I don’t consider jewellery an investment, unless it is rare stones like coloured diamonds or Burmese rubies. Prices fluctuate and a jewellery collection is a very long term investment. The jewellery market is strong for me right now. In America people are spending again.
Do you like living in America?
I love New York, it’s really an independent little country in the middle of America. So many foreigners and visitors come here, every month there are friends to see. I feel a little bit American after all these years.
Where do you buy your stones?
At auction sometimes, mainly in the diamond district on 47th Street. I don’t need to travel anywhere to buy.
Do you still have family links with your countries of origin, like Yugoslavia, Belgium and Italy?
Yes, we are still in touch with each other, less than if I lived in France because of the proximity, but I still have the link. I am closer with my siblings now than we used to be thanks to email and WhatsApp, which keep us in touch every day. I still visit Europe four or five times a year.
What does it mean to be a member of an exiled royal family like yours, which was exiled from Italy?
From a practical point of view it means that you have to work and make a living for yourself. We were always told as children not to forget who we are. Because we had a title we had to be a role model as a royal duty, even as a child. In a reigning house you are brought up to do your duty and to perform in public, in exile you still have to be a role model, nicer than everybody else, more polite. My parents and grandparents were very clear that you have to be very well behaved, always, especially in public.
You were born in Paris. Is your mother still attached to Italy?
She prefers to be in Paris. For my mother it feels awkward to be in Italy, but I was born in exile so it is easier.
When you go to Spain or England or Holland or Belgium do you pick up the phone and call the king or queen and say I am here and want to come to lunch?
(he laughs) In Spain and Belgium I can do that. In Holland I know the queen very well, she’s from Argentina – she’s lovely, she used to live in New York. There are actually two queens in Europe who wear my things.
“90% of what I do now is specific commissions from private clients.”
What languages do you speak?
French with my brother, Italian with my mother, and I used to speak English with my father. I also speak Spanish and a little Portuguese. We didn’t learn Serbo-Croatian growing up. In those days we thought the Russians would probably conquer the rest of Europe and so my grandparents and my father decided it was a waste of time.
Who are the designers and jewellers that you admire and have most influenced you?
Many. I have a passion for Russian jewellery, because it was so modern, so bold and chic; and then I have a passion for the Edwardian and Art Deco periods. After that, the Sicilian born Duke Fulco di Verdura was the last great one. I didn’t meet him, I was too young, but my mother knew him – he was imaginative and so different.
What do you like to make most?
Earrings and necklaces, which are close to the face and the most visible and the most flattering to a woman. You have to be careful to bring light to a lady’s face, and it is a challenge.
Does Prince Dimitri jewellery have a distinctive look and feel?
Like any artist my style evolves over time and I am different from everybody else. For some reason you can tell who has designed jewellery. I like to work with everything; every stone, every metal. I love to combine wood, Damascus steel, precious and semi-precious stones – like moonstones, which are unusual – and to do asymmetric things of odd colours.
Do you make jewellery for all ages?
Yes, and for every price point also. If you give me a budget I will figure out a way to make it look great for that budget. I have recently designed a rather large bridal collection for Swarovski, who are now doing jewellery using sustainable gold. Which means it is gold sourced in such a way that it doesn’t endanger the environment. They make certificated diamonds in the laboratory using the technology that started in the 1920s. 80% less expensive than natural stones, these diamonds are man-made from pure carbon crystallised through pressure. Unlike synthetic rubies and sapphires, it is absolutely impossible to see the difference.
What has changed in, for example, engagement rings over the years?
This Swarovski collection is diamond and white gold. For one engagement ring I took the Knot of Savoy, also known as The Knot of True Love, designed in 1350 as the symbol of chivalric love. In 1435 the Duke of Savoy made it the symbol of the House of Savoy with the motto: ‘It binds but does not constrain.’ Another is the ‘dancing halo’, a solitaire ring with a gold ring around it. The dancing halo symbolises the love and glamour of the beautiful woman who receives it. The collection has everything for the bride and groom and their family. We will launch it in September across at least 400 shops as ‘Prince Dimitri for Atelier Swarovski’.
You are used to making bespoke pieces but this is a custom range?
Yes, and with very strict price points, so it was a fun challenge. I made about 50 different things, and they took 30 models in total.
The flame and fire Amber earrings by Prince Dimitri, in rubies, yellow diamonds and garnets, sapphires and rubies and 9.16 carats of yellow diamonds with 28 carats of colored stones. Mounted in 18K yellow gold.
The bubble bath ring by Prince Dimitri. In 18K white gold with a Kashmir sapphire of 3.26 carats and numerous round and briolette diamonds weighing 5.23 carats.
The Knot of Savoy engagement ring by Prince Dimitri with a 3.62 cts H VVS2 old mine diamond mounted in platinum.
The front of the Medieval cross by Prince Dimitri, in oxidized silver and 18K gold, moonstones, lavender spinel, diamonds, amethysts, and sapphires. The back of the cross is made of an 18K gold panel with Medieval style angels and demons with rubies.
The “Hommage to Sissi”crystal tiara designed by Prince Dimitri for Swarovski in 2013 for the opera ball in Vienna. Made of white metals and Swarovski crystals.
The emerald tree brooch by Prince Dimitri, inspired by the cachepots of the Orangerie at Versailles, in oxydized bronze and 18K yellow gold. The three emeralds weighing 79.65 carats, the octagonal baguette brown diamond weighing 7.36 carats. Numerous cognac diamonds simulating the earth and roots inside of the brooch are visible when you open the front panel, and carved emeralds simulating leaves.
“I post a lot on Instagram and every month I get new clients from Instagram.”
What do you think about the big name jewellers like Bulgari, Cartier, Tiffany, now having stores like supermarkets all over the world?
I think they stifle creativity because I notice I don’t see anything new. They study their archives and try to redo more or less the same thing.
But isn’t bespoke work very expensive?
Bespoke is always going to be more expensive, but women want to look beautiful. Jewellery is one of the principle components of that, and for men I do very well with pendants and bracelets.
Every piece has its own story?
I am writing a book about my jewellery, my work, and my private family stories. I am telling, for example, how my great-grandmother Queen Elisabeth of Belgium saved Einstein from the Nazi persecutions. Some of the stories are very tragic, some very funny. Every time I tell a story I also show the jewellery they were wearing. François Curiel, now Chairman of Christie’s Europe, is writing the preface, and the book comes out with Rizzoli on September 20th.
Do you still love jewellery?
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