Art & Culture


The book that’s covered in a thousand diamonds
– and looks a million dollars

Words by Georgie Young

12 March 2024


A bookbinder, a birdcage, and Bentley & Skinner: this is the story of the $1.5 million rebirth of Breakfast at Tiffany’s.

When someone says, ‘Breakfast at Tiffany’s’, your mind will likely go one of two ways: Audrey Hepburn with a chignon and a cigarette holder or the chorus of Deep Blue Something’s 1993 hit.

But if you’re artist bookbinder Kate Holland, your mind will go to diamonds, birdcages, and the grid-like streets of New York City. And that’s what she’s made into a reality with her diamond-covered rebinding of Truman Capote’s classic story, produced to mark the centenary of his birth this year.

(L) The $1.5m rebinding of Breakfast at Tiffany’s | (R) One of David Attie’s original photomontages

‘I was trying to get away from the film where you see a Holly Golightly-style woman with a cigarette holder and a cat on the cover,’ she says. ‘The book itself is such a love story to New York City – that’s why I felt having New York on the cover was really important.’

Before it became the now-iconic film starring Audrey Hepburn, Breakfast at Tiffany’s started its life as a short story by Truman Capote, published in Esquire magazine in 1958. It charts the friendship between an unnamed American writer and his socialite neighbour, Holly Golightly, who sparkles and schmoozes her way around New York City before flying the nest – and the law – at the end.

‘It’s all about domestic servitude, female emancipation, and sexual freedom,’ says Kate. ‘It’s really about Holly flying the birdcage.’

As an award-winning artist bookbinder, Kate is no stranger to transforming classic novels into beautifully bound works of art. She’s got books in the British Library, is a regular binder to the Booker Prize, and has a portfolio including a crystal-studded edition of Siddhartha and a gold-tooled version of The Picture of Dorian Gray.

But she’s never set a book with thousands of white diamonds. Until she teamed up with US-based Dragon Rebound and a team of British craftspeople, that is, and set about transforming a signed, first-edition of the story into an extraordinary one-off art piece that’s on sale for $1.5m.

The book is set with 1,000 white diamonds and comes with a full set of David Attie’s original photomontages.

Her design has a 1950s New York street map in platinum across the cover, with the streets pavé set with over 1,000 white diamonds from Bentley & Skinner (also behind the making of Damian Hirst’s diamond-encrusted skull, For the Love of God). She’s added a single sapphire to mark Tiffany’s flagship store – Holly Golightly’s favourite place – and hand-tooled images of a cat and a bird in flight on the doublures.

Excitingly for collectors, the book also comes with a full portfolio of photomontages by photographer David Attie, who originally produced them to illustrate the story for Harper’s Bazaar. Bazaar eventually rejected the story, citing it as too risqué for its 1958 audience, which is how it ended up in Esquire – although with just one of the 12 photomontages alongside it. But that’s not all.

‘We made an amazing book with diamonds, but then we were like ‘let’s make it a whole experience’,’ says Kate. ‘With bindings this extravagant, you can’t put it on a shelf or in a box. You want it out in the open for everyone to walk around it and appreciate it.’

So, she worked with glassmaker Jade Pinnell to create a glass plinth that the book could rest on as if in flight, and with master cabinetmaker Dom Parish to make an ebonised birdcage – inspired by the book’s recurring motif of a vintage birdcage. It also comes in a custom vintage trunk inspired by Holly’s luggage-filled apartment in the story.

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'The more we go down into the infinite of the internet, the more people want that tangible experience of holding a really fine, beautifully bound book.'

- Kate Holland

A diamond-encrusted book designed to be displayed? It sounds like the ultimate example of ‘bookshelf wealth’ – a TikTok-powered trend where homes are filled with stacked bookshelves to give the impression of years of collecting. But it turns out that people who buy rare books like this are doing so because they genuinely love the stories told within them.

‘The people who buy collectable, rare books aren’t buying them for an aesthetic – they’re buying them because they want to own these books.’ I’m speaking with Oliver Bayliss, the founder of Bayliss Rare Books who sources and sells rare, collectable, and first-edition books and paraphernalia for collectors.

‘Quite a lot of dealers do books by the metre, and these are leather-bound books that give you the feel and aesthetic of an amazing old library for a fraction of the price,’ he continues. ‘But when you’re buying a £100,000 book, you would have already read it and loved it – you’re buying the rare book as an object to admire rather than something to read.’

Although perennially popular, he’s seen interest in rare books increase with every passing year, with a particular upswing after the pandemic.

‘In lockdown, I think people were really crying out for authentic experiences, and book collecting gives you such a wonderfully amazing connection to the rest of the world,’ he says. ‘There have also been some amazing auctions that have ended up in the press, and that’s driven a lot more people to start thinking about collecting and seeing it as a serious vehicle for investment.’

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The entire piece is housed in an ebonised birdcage and custom-made vintage trunk.

In Kate’s view, the increased interest in rare or collectable books is a direct response to our increasingly digital world.

‘It’s a protest against the digital,’ she says. ‘The more we go down into the infinite of the internet, the more people want that tangible experience of holding a really fine, beautifully bound book – holding it and smelling it and hearing the pages rustle. It ticks all the senses.’

She envisages the person who will appreciate all those things – and more – buying her version of Breakfast at Tiffany’s. ‘I see it in the home of someone with taste, where it can be a conversation piece, allowing a viewer to enjoy it intimately on a one-on-one basis or with a group of other art lovers.’

The other prerequisite for a buyer will come as no surprise: ‘someone who really, really loves Breakfast at Tiffany’s’ – diamonds, birdcages, and all.

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Words by
Words by

Georgie Young

As our Digital Editor, Georgie writes about all types of luxury – whether that’s deep dives into London restaurant trends, interviews with famous faces, or travelogues from all over the world.

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