Monday, March 29, 2021. Rainy and wet, yesterday in New York, and cooler: in the 50s; after a sunny, warmer Saturday. The fair weather has been spoiling us New Yorkers, after that long, quite cold, blank winter.
Back On Track with the city beginning to open up. I spent the better of yesterday getting caught up in a book I had no intention of reading: Once Upon a Diamond: a Family Tradition of Royal Jewels by Prince Dimitri (of Yugoslavia – which is now part of another country. Christopher Walling, the jewelry designer who has a shop at 58th Street and Park Avenue, hosted a book signing for Dimitri last Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, and packed the place (it’s very small shop but still …)!
Dimitri and I are social friends, the kind that we have with many in a city where the circle is vast. A knowledgeable, charming, goodlooking, well-mannered real honest-to-God European prince, he is sophisticated to the point where he is comfortable with one and all. What our politicians “acquire” (or hope to) when they gain position. Dimitri’s are real. You could also describe him in the very American nice-guy.
His business background is jewelry. He was a vice-president at Sotheby’s in that department. Several years ago he opened his own business with his own designs. I was not familiar with much simply because it’s not a subject I follow out of personal interest. But I’ve been told his work is very popular.
So there was this book. The cover is intriguing because it suggests another time and place, a faded photo, of another era, with a young woman wearing a tiara. Accompanied by a Technicolor piece of jewelry of rubies, diamonds, and gold.
So, I say to myself: Dimitri’s book about Diamonds are beautiful just to look at, with the mixture of graphics and words. A highly attracting subject for those who are eternally interested. For some. It looked like a coffee table book. Expecting a book of images, I was immediately caught up in the history of the characters. It begins with Russia at the end of the 19th/beginning of the 20 century when the Tsars were losing power fatally. Bur this is also a story with its roots in history, our history of Western culture.
First hearing about the book and the history of diamonds in the royal families of Europe and Russia, I assumed it would be a kind of promo for Dimitri’s business. Well, maybe that’s true, but this book is rich on its own. It is another view of our civilization of the past five or six centuries right up to today. It is central to our behavior as a society, and yet often escapes the historian’s summation. In this story it is about royals and all their luxury and treasures (and power), and about their decline almost to obscurity today. But mainly it is a unique insight into Who We Are and How We Get There as a civilized society.
I found myself rapt with interest in the Family; one of power and wealth and revolution and loss. It’s our history, laid out before your eyes and sparkling; simply a view of it all, from another perch, one that belongs to all of us.
For those compelled by the subject of diamonds, there are many pages of photographs of pieces designed for this princess or that empress. Catherine the Great, for example, “was reputed to be completely enamored with diamonds.” During her reign she spent vast fortunes on acquiring “presentation jewels” which were “deeply political, as they have the empress the incomparable aura of majesty. This set her apart from her subjects; it ensured that whenever she entered a room, everyone present would be awed by her greatness.”
Revolutions are also the end result of too many diamonds for too few. But diamonds, you could conclude from Prince Dimitri’s history and personal background, are in fact forever.
In the last quarter of the 19th century, there was a Russian Grand Duchess Vladimir, a German princess who at age 20 married the senior grand duke of the House of Romanov. As Grand Duchess Vladimir who became a huge collector of diamonds, rubies, sapphires and emeralds, including a pair of diamond earrings that belonged to Marie Antoinette. The earrings lasted more than one owner until the late 1920s when the Communists had taken over Russia and were selling a lot of the royal jewels to pay government expenses, the earrings were purchased by Marjorie Meriweather Post, the cereals heiress who often wore them on fancy dress balls. Eventually a gift to one of her granddaughters, they were then donated to the Smithsonian as a record of another time and place and political power.
Prince Dimitri drew a very big crowd over the three day reception. Among those who came by Christopher Walling’s shop to see their friend Prince Dimitri and see what his book is up to were: Susan Gutfreund, Jill Spalding, Amanda Rubin, Istanbul’s “Queen:” (and Omer Koc’s mother) the incredible Cigdem Simavi, Alejandra Cicognani, Barbara Tober, Margo Langenberg, Pia Getty, Cecile David Weill, Charlotte Ford, Diana Feldman, Sean Gilson, Elbrun Kimmelman, Sharon Novak, Frank Lavervin, Amy Fine Collins, Judith Agisim, Jennifer Crandall, Liliana Cavendish, Judi Harvest, Susanne Klevrick, Richard and Geanne Zaroff, Rebecca Koven, Jeffrey Podolsky, Linnard R. Hobler, Dr. Edward Seidel.