The Russian Jeweler With the Sweet Royal Connection

I’m writing this post from Geneva, where the revered watchmaker Patek Philippe is hosting a weeklong 175th anniversary celebration. Tonight, I’ll join 300 of my media colleagues at the company’s manufacture for the unveiling of what’s sure to be an extraordinary mechanical timekeeping device—or several. Patek has kept the big reveal unusually close to the vest, so whatever happens tonight is sure to be a big surprise. Stay tuned for next week’s blog to read my take on the presentation.

The week kicked off in earnest for me on Wednesday night, when I joined the jeweler Alex Soldier and his lovely daughter and executive director of his firm, Maria Soldier, at the Princess Grace 2014 Gala Awards. For the first time since 1988, the gala was held in Los Angeles as opposed to New York City. When I arrived at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel, the sight of well-coiffed women in floor-length ball gowns—including a very pregnant Princess Charlene, who’s expecting twins with her husband, Prince Albert, in December—told me I was in the right place.

As we took our seats, actress Jane Lynch, the hostess of the ceremony, pointed out that some of the past century’s most famous actresses were in the audience, including Eva Marie Saint and Tippi Hedren. It was a subtle reminder of the era in which Philadelphia-born Grace Kelly first came to Hollywood, before she married Prince Rainer III and became the Princess of Monaco.

Following the princess’ untimely death in 1982, her bereaved husband established the Princess Grace Foundation-USA to award scholarships, apprenticeships, and fellowships to emerging talents in theater, dance, and film, thereby helping to further Princess Grace’s commitment to giving emerging artists a leg up in the competitive arts world.

Alex Soldier has played a vital role in the awards gala every year since 2009, when the Princess Grace Foundation-USA commissioned him to create a statute to be presented to the Prince Rainier III Award recipient: a celebrity in the arts who has made it his/her personal mission to give back.

Soldier created a unique piece of art that combines symbols representing the three disciplines honored by the foundation: theater, dance, and film.

Courtesy Princess Grace Awards Foundation

Prince Rainier III Award created by Alex Soldier

A master jeweler and sculptor originally from the Russian city of Perm, Soldier had a distinguished designing career long before he emigrated to the United States. In 1981, he was named the chief designer of the largest jewelry factory in the Urals region.

When Soldier arrived in New York City in 1990, he began to develop his passion for creating one-of-a-kind jewels and objets d’art that earned him awards and professional recognition from the likes of the Platinum Guild and the American Gem Trade Association.

I can’t recall the exact year that Soldier’s name and work came to my attention, but I know that I was drawn to it, as well as to our shared Russian history. I’ve visited his atelier in Manhattan’s Times Square and shared caviar and blini with Maria, who travels the country—especially now, as we enter the thick of trunk-show season—to promote his jewelry to retailers and consumers.

You’ll find Alex’s signature pieces—like his enchanting snail rings, distinguished by their unique textured metal and extraordinary attention to detail—at a few key Neiman Marcus locations as well as high-end independent retailers such as Darren McClung Jewelry in Palo Alto, Calif., where Maria was headed the morning after the gala.

 

Courtesy Alexsoldier.com

One of my favorite Alex Soldier originals, a snail ring in silver that features a fine and proprietary texturing technique, with accents of rose gold and diamonds

I included Alex in a recent New York Times essay about men’s jewelry because he has a new collection of stylish men’s pieces launching this fall at select retailers around the country.

Courtesy Alex Soldier

A group of pendants from Alex Soldier’s new men’s jewelry collection

But I hadn’t seen Alex for at least a year or two until we found ourselves sitting next to each other at the Princess Grace Gala, where we watched the foundation present awards to up-and-coming artists in theater, dance, and film. The night’s big prize—the Prince Rainier III Award—was being presented to Hollywood legend Dick Van Dyke (he was introduced by Conan O’Brien).

The white-haired Van Dyke walked onstage following a highlight reel that included clips from two of his best-known films, Mary Poppins and Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. Though both films came out a little before my time, they provided soundtracks to my childhood. Seeing him onstage, still spry and cracking jokes, was pure delight.

“I saw on the news today that the average life span of the American male is 78.8 years,” Van Dyke told the audience. “I’m turning 89 years old in December. My God, I’m playing with house money!”

The gala ended with a brilliant performance by the Tenors, a Canadian quartet, singing Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah.” The song left me feeling a little sad (Jeff Buckley’s amazing rendition always comes to mind) and a lot grateful. Thanks to Alex and Maria and the organizers of the gala for a glamorous night!