Saturday, October 10, 2020

Once Upon a Diamond by Prince Dimitri


Once Upon a Diamond, A Family Tradition of Royal Jewels ($80) is one of those rare books that sparkles from the moment you lift it out of the box.  This is a truly beautiful book written by a noted jewelry expert and designer who happens to be a prince as well.

Prince Dimitri of Yugoslavia is one of a set of twins (he has a brother Prince Michael), the sons of the late Prince Alexander of Yugoslavia and Princess Maria Pia of Italy.  He is as passionate about his family's history as he is about royal jewelry.  For many years he served as senior vice president of jewels at Sotheby's before he left to start his own jewelry design firm.

Rizzoli is the publisher of Once Upon a Diamond, A Family Tradition of Royal Jewels.   The New York-based publisher specializes in high-quality art books, which means excellent photographs of the jewels and, of course, the family photographs.  The book opens with a chapter on Grand Duchess Vladimir, who was born Duchess Marie of Mecklenburg-Schwerin, a late 19th-century social influencer at the Russian court,  Her jewel collection was the envy of all.

The Grand Duchess' best-known piece of jewelry,  the Vladimir tiara,  now in the possession of Queen Elizabeth II.

Marie and her husband, Grand Duke Vladimir, a younger brother of Alexander III, had three sons and a daughter, Helen, who married Prince Nicholas of Greece.  They were the parents of three daughters, Olga, Elisabeth, and Marina.  Olga married Prince Paul of Yugoslavia.  Their son, Prince Alexander was Dimitri's father.

The Vladimir tiara was the inspiration for the Leeds Cartier tiara, which was made in 1913 by Cartier for the very wealthy American widow, Nancy Leeds. In 1920, Nancy married Prince Christopher of Greece and Denmark.   A full-page photo of the Leeds tiara follows the discussion of the Vladimir tiara.  

Each page turn brings another delight, whether it a pearl and diamond brooch or the Sapphire & Diamond Kokoshnik, which Marie's son, Grand Duke Kyril, head of the Imperial House, and his wife, Grand Duchess Victoria, sold to Victoria's older sister, Queen Marie of Romania in the early 1920s.

After offering a detailed description of Marie and her jewels,  Dimitri turns his attention to the "Magnificent Jewels of the Russian Court," worn by female members of the Imperial family including Grand Duchess Ella and Grand Duchess Helen, Dimitri's grandmother, who is photographed in her imperial wedding dress and the Nuptial Wedding Crown.  Turn the page and, a full-page photo of the Nuptial Crown, which is a part of the Russian art and jewel collection at Hillwood Museum in Washington, D.C. 

[I have seen the Nuptial Crown at Hillwood. It is a stunning and true sparkler.]    

Dimitri delves further into family history in  A Tale of Princesses, Their Tiaras, and Crowns, which focuses on the prince's Greek relations including his grandmother, Princess Olga.  He writes about holidays in Tuscany with his grandmother, who would wake up her grandchildren at midnight to view a full moon.  This chapter features photos of Princess Olga and her sisters, Marina and Elisabeth wearing their family's jewels.

The prince also tantalizes us with a selection of photos from The Family Albums of the Grand Duchess Elena Vladimirovna,   Elena was Prince Dimitri's paternal great-grandmother.  She enjoyed taking photos of her relatives, her husband and children, the British royals, and members of the Imperial family. My favorite snaps are the informal photographs from the wedding of Princess Marie Bonaparte and Prince George of Greece and Denmark, one of Prince Nicholas' brothers.

This chapter also features a previously unpublished hand-painted appraisal of Elena's jewels.

The royal jewels journey moves to Italy and The Three Queens of Italy and their Storied jewels.   Queen Margherita, Queen Elena, and Queen Marie Jose, consorts of Kings Umberto I, Vittorio Emanuele III, and Umberto II, all wore impressive, historic, and significant pieces of jewelry.  Margherita adored jewels, but her daughter-in-law, the Montenegrin-born Queen Elena preferred "a more moderate demeanor and appearance," and only wore the important jewels at official events.

It was Queen Margherita who filled the royal jewels coffers with frequent purchases from Italian jewelers. To celebrate the birth of her grandson, the future King Umberto II in 1904, she commissioned the Musy tiara.  This tiara was inherited by Umberto.  His bride, Princess Marie José of the Belgians, wore the tiara at their wedding in 1930.

The Musy tiara remains in the family, but when Umberto's eldest daughter, Princess Maria Pia married Prince Alexander of Yugoslavia in 1955,  she wore the Daisy tiara, once owned by Queen Margherita's mother, the Duchess of Genoa.

The family jewels - from the Russians and the Greeks to the Savoys -- are more than a family history for Prince Dimitri.   The jewels are a connection to the prince's past and an inspiration for his own designs.  The book makes a tactful segue from Dimitri's family history to his own jewel designs.

He writes: "Because I have always found  novelty so exciting, I work with unusual materials and color combinations."

Personally, I am a sucker for pearl and diamond combination, which means I loved the moonstones, pearl, and diamond earrings on page 213.

Prince Dimitri's designs are modern and classic, at the same time, rich in color  -- and true sparklers, a description that also can be applied to several distaff members of his family.

Once Upon A Diamond's combination of royals and jewels offers a broad appeal to readers. Put this book at the top of your wish list!!

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