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The Count of Many Crystals and His Queen
by Margie Goldsmith

Having tea in the Palm Court at the Ritz Hotel in London, I sat by myself under the glittering chandeliers watching waiters in starched uniforms hover over the guests and serve them steaming hot tea, finely cut sandwiches, and freshly baked scones with jam and clotted cream.

Two tables away sat a bizarre couple. The woman, in her eighties, was dressed like a 1920's movie star. She wore a white mink stole over a bright blue dress, the same color as her dazzling necklace which had two rows of huge sapphires framed in diamonds. Her lipstick was bright red, her cheeks heavy with rouge, and her eyelids thick with blue eye shadow. Her golden blond ringlets were undoubtedly a wig, but the cherry-sized sapphire and diamond earrings and rings seemed real, as did her glittering matching crown.

The man was much younger, mid-forties with a chiseled face and pinkish glow--or was that just the rose-colored lighting of the Palm Court? He had intense green eyes, a mustache that curled up at the ends like a villain in a silent movie, and dark brown hair that hung straight down to the middle of his back. In place of a tie he wore some sort of bib made completely of diamonds and crystals. He also wore gigantic sparkling rings.

Talk about puttin' on the Ritz. Who were these people? I was dying to go talk to them, but afraid it might not be appropriate--after all, this was London, not Manhattan. Still, I couldn't stop staring. I signed my check and headed towards the exit, then suddenly turned back and approached their table.

"Excuse me," I said, "but I'm fascinated by your jewelry, and especially your crown." I found it hard to believe that she could possibly be to the manor born, but I asked anyway, "Are you royalty?" The woman looked slightly gaga. She smiled but said nothing.

He answered. "I am Count Alexander von Beregshasy, and this is Lady de Winter. Every jewel she is wearing is my design." Lady de Winter bobbed her head up and down happily.

"So you're a jewelry designer?" I asked.

"Yes, and Lady de Winter is my best client. We met ten years ago, and since then, we've come to the Ritz every Thursday for tea. Won't you sit down?" He stood to pull a chair up for me, and I noticed he was wearing a long black formal coat with tails. His pants were tucked into knee-high black leather boots.

"Are you a British Count?" I asked as I sat.

"Oh no. I am of Austro-Hungarian heritage, just like Count Dracula from Transylvania. I can trace my lineage back to the year 800."

"Do you have a castle there?" I joked.

"Yes, I have a castle of seventeen rooms." He was serious.

"What do you do with your castle?"

He shrugged. "Nothing. It sits empty."

He paused, then volunteered, "Lady de Winter's jewels are triple-plated in palladium, a rare precious metal closely resembling platinum and set with Austrian Swarowski Crystals. I also use the best Cubic Zirconia stones from St. Petersburg."

"You mean they're not real?" I couldn't believe it.

"Even Marie Antoinette's jewels were made with foil-backed crystals," he told me. "I make jewelry for the Queens of Europe and princesses of Saudi Arabia because they don't wear their real jewels abroad." His eyes twinkled. "You don't have to spend it to look it. My Zirconium stones represent 'D' flawless white diamonds, and they are cut just like diamonds, in Amsterdam." He grinned. "Pear shapes or square shapes, these rocks don't lose their shape because diamonds are a boy's best friend."

Lady De Winter hadn't spoken a word but continued to nod and smile at everyone who looked her way. Everyone did. I half expected her to do the Royal wave. "How did you meet?" I asked.

"Ten years ago I was here in the Ritz and Lady de Winter tripped and landed on me. She wanted to know where my jewels came from. She thought I was an actor, but I was only a Count. I'd much prefer to be King." He smiled.

"How did you get into jewelry designing?" I asked.

"I've always been attracted to anything that glitters and sparkles," he replied. "I'd like to bring back the lost romantic beauty and give people a little sparkle in their modern lives."

"And what does a Count do all day?" I asked.

"I count my diamonds. After all, I'm the Count of Many Crystals. I have more tiaras than the Queen of England, 70 of them, more jewels than I can wear in one evening."

"And what do you call that which you're wearing?" I asked. "A bib?"

"It's a jeweled bodice ornament," he said. "Unisex. Of course, you have to be a brave and bold man to wear it. I'm completely exhausted because of the weight of my diamonds but I believe you have to suffer to be beautiful."

And they were beautiful, like a couple in a fractured fairy tale, the Count of Many Crystals and Lady de Winter and, having tea at the Ritz.

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