A good book is a portal. Inside its covers is a world waiting to be explored. A rare book is a portal that opens up whole worlds of wonder. Once Upon a Diamond (Rizzoli) is one of those rare books. Prince Dimitri of Yugoslavia is your guide, leading you through his family’s history using their astonishing jewelry collection as the jumping off point.
This isn’t a cocktail book to leave around and flip though occasionally. (Though, of course, you can do that.) It is a rich and vibrant series of stories, charmingly told with pictures that capture your imagination and take your breath away.
Pre-revolutionary Russia was brutal for the masses but astonishing for the privileged when glimpsed though the jewelry collection Prince Dimitri’s family amassed. The portraits invite daydreams. Turning the pages, you’ll feel as if you have stepped back in time. Especially when looking at the 16 pages of an annotated family album of photographs taken by Grand Duchess Elena of Russia (later Princess of Greece and Prince Dimitri’s great-grandmother). Included are never before seen intimate personal photos of the Russian imperial family, their court, and their many European royal family members and friends in informal settings.
The inclusion of a special section of a previous unpublished hand painted jewelry notebook featuring the Grand Duchess’s jewels is a treasure itself.
Many of us have a fairy tale relationship with tiaras and there are so many lovely examples in Once Upon a Diamond to invite longing starting with the famous Vladimir Tiara that now belongs to Queen Elizabeth II. Seeing it on its first owner and how well it suits her, means you’ll never see it the same way again on a modern royal.
There are so many breathtaking pieces to peruse and study; among them the Résille Cartier necklace, the diamond Feather Aigrette, and La Regent, the extremely large pearl Napoleon gave Josephine which wound up owned by Princess Zinaida Yusupov. The portrait by Cecil Beaton of Prince Dimitri’s grandmother, Grand Duchess Elena wearing her emerald earrings is simply breathtaking.
The joy of this book is the combination of seeing the vintage photos accompanied by anecdotes shared by the descendant of the women who owned these extraordinary pieces.
When you’ve had enough of the past, the book invites you to explore jewels that Prince Dimitri has himself designed. Influenced by his family and their treasures, his pieces are a combination of regal beauty and bold creativity. With a painter’s eye, he combines unusual colors while never abandoning elegance.
“The jewels I grew up staring at fascinated me because they possessed this mysterious ability to create a halo of light, an aura of glamour around the wearer. With these jewels came the privilege of beauty that placed she who wore them above the rest of us common mortals. I was the lucky witness of magic. The feeling always stayed with me and when I design. I try to re-create it,” he says of his designs.
To study them and all the magnificent photos and read the stories in the book is to glimpse some of that magic.
M.J. Rose is a New York Times bestselling author; her most recent novel, Cartier’s Hope, (Jan 28th, 2020) has been called “A bold, satisfying tapestry. Smart, fierce, lovely, and intricate,” Kirkus (Starred Review)