Prince Dimitri of Yugoslavia has a notable pedigree. His lineage, which includes Catherine the Great, also encompasses the deposed royal families of Italy, Russia and Greece — and his mother is Princess Maria Pia of Bourbon-Parma, known for her fabulous collection of emeralds.
“I would see her getting ready to go out,” the prince recalled, “wearing her jewelry, especially her emeralds. They were beautiful.”
Thanks to those early visions, he said, “I’ve always been fascinated by gems.”
The prince, 63, now lives in New York City. His apartment, between exclusive Sutton Place and Beekman Place, is filled with family photographs of elegant women in gowns and tiaras. It is not surprising that Dimitri — as he prefers to call himself rather than using Karageorgevich or other transliterated versions of the family name — would be inspired to design jewelry. “Gems are my No. 1 passion,” he said.
Initially, however, he earned a business law degree from the University of Paris and after moving to New York in 1983, worked for the brokerage firm EF Hutton.
Then he could no longer resist. He studied at the Gemological Institute of America and began working in the jewelry department at Sotheby’s, rising to senior vice president in charge of all jewelry auctions. In 2002, after 15 years at Sotheby’s, he moved to the New York office of what was then Phillips, de Pury & Luxembourg, an auction house where he was head of the jewelry department.
“After 20 years working in auctions,” he said, “I know what’s out there, and I know what’s not out there.” And so he was poised to fill a gap or two.
In 1999 he debuted a collection of cuff links, which demonstrated his design aesthetic. “The stones speak to me,” he said. “I hold a stone and think, ‘What am I going to do with it?’”
In this case, he decided the gems did not want mountings. So he had his workshop drill a tiny hole in the center of each citrine, peridot or amethyst so a post could hold the gem to the cuff link, leaving the stone’s edges and back free.
Today he uses the same approach for his signature Lazy Ring: A chunky gem, like an amethyst, is attached to the ring through a center hole, but otherwise the stone can move from side to side.
“It rolls on your finger,” Dimitri said. “It’s super glamorous. It reminds you to be in the present moment,” one of the principles of Buddhism, which the prince has studied (he meditates every day.) The ring also includes “two little diamonds hiding in the back. Whimsy is chic.”
What also is chic: mixing high and low. “My mother had a sandalwood and gold bracelet by Cartier,” Dimitri recalled, and it inspired him to use wood in his designs, creating, for instance, bird’s-eye maple earrings inset with spinels.
The prince and his business partner, Todd Morley, founded Prince Dimitri Jewelry in 2007, and it quickly became popular among the social set.
“I met him years ago through our mutual friend Carolina Herrera, right after he opened his atelier on 57th Street,” Judith Price, president of the nonprofit National Jewelry Institute, wrote in an email. “At that time you could buy his creations or bring stones for the design of bespoke pieces.
“Dimitri remains a darling for haute joaillerie of the fashionable ladies who lunch,” she said, adding, “His more affordable bijoux still express that sense of classic style. In spite of his title and circle of famous clients, Dimitri is both charming and down to earth.”
Although known mostly for creating the sort of opulent jewelry his ancestors might have worn — his Masterpiece collection, which ranges from $150,000 to $1.2 million — a few years ago Dimitri started to produce lower-priced lines. They often are inspired by his love of history, decorative arts and various cultures, as the stacks of books sharing space with family photographs on the tops of antique side tables in his living room attests.
“I love Damascus steel, which was used in the swords of the crusaders during the Middle Ages,” he said, so he used it for series of crosses. The knot of Savoy, “a symbol of true love,” is another motif that appears in slender gold bracelets and earrings, while the paisley of India influenced the gracefully curved outline of a pendant.
The designer named the collections with the shared wording The New Look of, followed by Chic, Love, Cool and Glamour. Pieces range from $190 to $20,000. (Neiman Marcus is selling a number of the New Look pieces, featured in its 2021 Christmas catalog.)
Luca Lo Sicco became a fan after seeing a tiara that Dimitri had created in an exhibition at the Victoria & Albert Museum in London. A professor at Savannah College of Art and Design at the time, he invited Dimitri to visit the school for a week in 2017 to mentor students in fashion marketing and management.
“He shared his knowledge of the managerial process,” he said. “He was so kind and nice.”
And so Dimitri was invited to return the following year. “For the jewelry department, we did a project on luxury jewelry,” Dr. Lo Sicco said. “We selected three companies: Verdura, Bulgari and Prince Dimitri. The students who chose him as a company worked on a hypothetical approach, which Dimitri took on board.”
The students redesigned his website, adding e-commerce and featuring the New Look lines to “show I can design in every price point,” Dimitri said.
The website also sells his book, “Once Upon a Diamond: A Family Tradition of Royal Jewels,” written with Lavinia Branca Snyder. Published by Rizzoli in 2020, the book has a foreword by Ms. Herrera and an introduction by François Curiel, Christie’s chairman for Europe. The book, sold by Neiman Marcus and other outlets, is in a second printing.
“He’s been kind of a secret name, a cult classic,” said Marion Fasel, founder of the jewelry website the Adventurine. “It’s time for this underground name to be well-known. Maybe now that he’s put his whole story together in a book, he’s ready for a new chapter.”
But lest anyone forget his roots, the Prince Dimitri logo features a crown.