Prince Dimitri Nicholas Paul George Maria of Yugoslavia is one of the most extraordinary people I ever had the good fortune to encounter. I count him as family and indeed have the honour and the privilege to consider, as we always say “The brother I wish I had” .
Dimitri is close to my heart and with our shared philosophical values, he became my natural choice to be Godfather to my second daughter Altea.
Born in Boulogne-Billancourt, Paris in June 1958, Prince Dimitri was raised in Versailles (fittingly) and he attended private boarding schools in France and Switzerland naturally aiding his formation.
The good Prince ranks as an esteemed member of the cadet branch of the Royal House of Yugoslavia, descending from Prince Regent Paul of Yugoslavia. He is a third cousin of Alexander, Crown Prince of Yugoslavia.
The founder of Dimitris dynasty is Djordje Petrovic, known as Karadjordje.
Through his father, Dimitri descends from kings George I of Greece, Alexander II of Russia, and Christian IX of Denmark.
Through his mother, Dimitri descends from kings Umberto II of Italy, Albert I of Belgium, and furthermore from Nicholas I of Montenegro and Miguel I of Portugal.
Prince Dimitri and Prince Michael of Yugoslavia are the first set of twins born to Prince Alexander of Yugoslavia and Princess Maria Pia of Savoy, the eldest daughter of Umberto II of Italy in 1958.
His mother had a second set of twins, Prince Serge and Princess Helene of Yugoslavia in 1963.
They also have a younger half-brother, Prince Dushan of Yugoslavia, from their father’s second marriage to Princess Barbara of Liechtenstein.
In a word Dimitri yields a legitimate descendancy to no less than four royal houses .
Yet despite this long line of royal blood and attendant formation through ascendant lineage and the rigours of high standards of academia including notably the university of Paris with degrees in business and law Dimitri has an enlarged world view that while not denying his impeccable
pedigree has embraced the virtues of the “ Shinning city on the hill” … America and all the glories of this God blessed nation and its codified allowance for the pursuit of happiness and pure oxygen of freedom.
Originally pursuing a career on Wall Street, he decided that his sense of history and implicit native taste was better suited to the creative arts. As such he very quickly ascended into the design and manufacture of refined jewellery and was invited to join Sotheby’s jewellery department, eventually rising to senior vice president.
During his sixteen year tenure with Sotheby’s, he became an expert appraiser and gemologist.
Prince Dimitri began slowly designing jewellery in 1999, with a collection of gemstone cufflinks that were marketed and sold at Bergdorf Goodman and Saks Fifth Avenue.
He also designed a line of women’s jewellery for Barneys, New York and Neiman Marcus.
In 2002, he moved to the Phillips de Pury & Luxembourg auction house to head their jewellery department and finally culminating in his own “Pursuit of happiness” by forming his own SOCIÉTÉ -the Prince Dimitri company, which opened its first salon in Manhattan.
He has become a prominent figure in the international world of jewellery design and is known for his exquisite creations often borrowing on his own natural pedigree as a marked sense of taste. A fusion not seen since maisons of haute jewellery worked hand in hand with European Royal households and foreign potentates.
In addition to his work in the jewellery industry, Prince Dimitri is also involved in serial philanthropic activities. He is active in amongst others The Versailles Giverny foundation, in Casita Maria and in the Savoy Orders of Saints Maurizio e Lazaro and the Holy Annunciation and Knight Grand Cross in both orders.
Yet to those that know him best being an american is citizen is a more fulsome reflection of who he is…. royalist at heart yet a passionate defender of freedom and textured believer in all America stands for… a modern day de Tocqueville. With all the impeccable manner and haute reserve he was born unto with a real touch of Davey Crockett to boot.
On any given day he can be found pouring over family archives on jewellery designs while a history book or two including the classics like the Federalist Papers and the like share his space and resolve to conquer ignorance of thought with a true burden of responsibility as a true patriot with all the attendant virtues one would expect of a Washington or a Jefferson.
This is not a man of the unnatural but a man of taste and moral conviction with a streak of unyielding generosity and gratitude and again devout patriotic fevour.
Here then are some questions I recently put to Prince Dimitri to understand better his life and his work and indeed his values.
Can you tell us about your background and how it has influenced your career as a jewellery designer?
Growing up there was a lot of jewellery around and I was fascinated by it as well as with stones and gems. I always admired my mother’s and my grandmother’s jewellery and also the jewellery shops in Paris.
What inspired you to pursue a career in jewellery design, and how did you get started in the industry?
Because I was always fascinated by it, designing jewellery came naturally. It all started when a friend showed me some cufflinks he bought in Brazil. The stones were great, but the mountings were too thick. I told him to get rid of them and mount the stones through the centre by inserting a diamond or a ruby or a sapphire or an emerald. It looked amazing and we did a whole collection of cufflinks that quickly were at Bergdorf Goodman and then an entire ladies collection followed.
What is your creative process like when designing a new piece of jewellery?
It depends. It can start with a stone or with an idea like a shape from the decorative arts. After that, sometimes it matures slowly with many changes and hesitations and improvements until I’m happy. And sometimes it happens quickly.
Can you share with us some of your favourite pieces that you have designed and why they are special to you?
I made a lot of pieces that I really like. My favourite is a brooch that looks like a topiary in a cache-pot like the ones in the orangerie in Versailles where are used to go growing up there.
How do you stay up to date with the latest trends and techniques in the jewellery industry while maintaining a link to your sense of history?
The link to history is part of my DNA but staying up to date is easy in this day and age. There is so much information around today, but I’ve noticed that I instinctively seem to tap into it.
You have designed pieces for many high-profile clients, including members of royal families. can you tell us about some of your most memorable experiences working with these clients without of course any of the inappropriate indiscretion?
They were all memorable. I’ve done things for heads of state and fashion icons, and it was always great to deal with them as they were all so nice.
In addition to your work in the jewellery industry, you are also involved in philanthropic activities. Can you tell us about some of the causes that are important to you and why?
I’m involved with the institutions I mentioned above because through them I can help the arts which I find to be the basis of our civilization and I also can help very disadvantaged people by giving them back their dignity by allowing them to have an interesting and productive life where they become independent and feel self-realized. I have always felt that work is the essence of human beings and of their dignity.
What advice would you give to aspiring jewellery designers who are just starting out in the industry?
I would tell them “be a jewellery historian and be a gemologist, then be different”
What are your future plans and goals for your career as a jewellery designer?
For the moment it’s about expanding slowly
I remember one day in December few years ago we were walking on the beach early morning talking about our lives and while submerged in our stories we spoke about the idea of writing a book describing your incredible life ,family and talent. Can you please talk about your incredible book and how you came to convert the personal and intimate into the practical commercial success it is?
One day Rizzoli sent me a message on my Instagram suggesting we do a book… we then spoke, we then met, we then agreed on a concept and it took us two and a half years to make the book. It was like a puzzle. In the beginning we had no idea how we were going to make it happen. We put everything on the table and little by little it all fell into place.
Tell us about your journey both emotionally and practically in becoming an American citizen
After all these years I felt a bit American and one day when I heard someone bad mouth this wonderful country that had welcomed me with open arms as an immigrant in 1983, I decided to become a citizen. I applied online and ten months later I had my passport. It was a very happy day
Can you share with us something about yourself, that most people may not know?
I’m very shy.
There in a nut shell is the man, his manner of understatement, his professionalism and the joy of knowing him as those of us fortunate enough to do so.
I would urge all of us to leaf carefully through his book – it is an invitation into a world gone by brought alive by his talent and generosity to share his history with all of us.