If there's evidence that the ultra-affluent are recession-proof, it can be found with Prince Dimitri. A member of the Yugoslavian royal family, Dimitri launched an exclusive jewelry salon on a very tony block of 57th Street in New York in September of 2008-just as the U.S. financial crisis was getting into full swing and reverberating through the global economies, in case you forgot. Eighteen months later, the salon is not only open but thriving, and it's frequented by a select list of clientele who appreciate the extraordinary vision and unflagging commitment to quality that is Dimitri's hallmark.
"I was born with a passion for gems ..."
You might say his venture into bespoke jewels was an occupational hazard of sorts. After a long career as a gemologist and appraiser with the auction house Sotheby's, Dimitri made a casual suggestion to a friend who had returned from Brazil with stones for a line of cufflinks-to remount the smaller stones in the center of the larger stones. The technique was unconventional, but proved visually satisfying, and a career was launched when upscale retailer Bergdorf Goodman picked up the line. Shortly thereafter, the prince was asked to help the company Assael, a well-known purveyor of pearls, reinvent itself for a more contemporary marketplace and they embarked on a joint venture, "The New Look of Pearls," an exclusive line for Neiman Marcus. Dimitri's innovative work pairing traditional pearls with precious and semiprecious stones and inventive designs did not go unnoticed; he was one of the few modern designers to be featured in a jewelry exhibit at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London.
"Beauty and rarity will always grow in value ..."
The new atelier is a cozy but undeniably hip space conceived by renowned architect-designer Daniel Romualdez and complemented by an impressive view of the Manhattan skyline. As we spoke over strong French press coffee and dry roasted Marcona almonds, Dimitri reflected on his lifelong passion for gems and the influence of his extended family's history with celebrated jewels.
In his own words, Dimitri strives to deliver craftsmanship on the order of Fabergé, in part because Fabergé was the jeweler to the imperial family of Russia, his forebears, but also because the historic jeweler remains unmatched in today's world of jewelry. Dimitri is unequivocal when he discusses his philosophy-a fusion of the decorative arts and the highest quality materials and craftsmanship-to deliver beauty, functionality and historic value.
At no shortage for ideas and inspiration, he draws from the many languages and cultures that form the mosaic of his personal experience, citing sources as varied as Greek geometry, African tribal arts, Indian fertility symbols, Islamic motifs-even the cachepots in the Orangerie at Versailles. Closer to home, however, are those designs that incorporate aspects of Russian Orthodox icons or the nearly forgotten portrait cut, a thin layer of diamond similar to a pane of glass used by royal families to protect a miniature portrait of a loved one. Suffice it to say, Dimitri's creations are one-of-a-kind.
"Great beauty is always a good investment ..."
The Prince Dimitri showroom is filled with his sketches, colored pencil drawings of bracelets, necklaces, earrings and brooches that draw the eye. But they pale in comparison to the actual pieces, not simply because humans relate to three dimensions better than two or because the jewels are rich and bursting with color, but because each piece is a tiny work of art. Each item has an abundance of interesting details-and at least one secret. Some items convert easily from one form to another, say a brooch that doubles as either a pendant or a hair ornament, offering the wearer some unexpected flexibility. Other pieces have hidden elements, gemstones and metalwork both startling and delightful so that the wedding ring he lined with alternating rows of rubies and amethysts, for instance, is as beautiful on the inside as it is from a distance.
I admired a modified Celtic cross studded with olive-size gems strung on a wide swath of silvery mauve "fabric" woven using a new technology recently developed in Italy. When he put it in my hands, I turned it over to find an intricate metal tracery adorning the back that was as spectacular as the front. Next came an enormous brooch shaped like a paisley, the multicolored design brought to life with yellow diamonds, emeralds, rubies and orange sapphires. On the reverse were small, interlocking paisleys in rose gold that created a pattern and texture all their own. Each piece holds a surprise, a secret and a special and unanticipated detail that completes it in Dimitri's unusual and distinctive way.