In an unassuming building, just a short walk from the Acropolis of Athens, there lies a veritable treasure trove – a collection of items so special and beautiful, they are among my favourites of any museum or gallery in the world. This is the Ilias Lalaounis Jewellery Museum, devoted to the life’s work of goldsmith and jewellery maker Ilias Lalaounis (1920–2013). And what a collection: more than 4,000 pieces of jewellery and decorative items, all beautiful crafted and born of the most fantastic imagination.
The Ilias Lalaounis brand is iconic: open Vogue and you may see a model draped in his gold jewellery; attend a red-carpet event and his may be the jewels glittering in the lights. Lalaounis is synonymous with luxury and glamour and style. But also – and this is why I so love Lalaounis – with history.
Take a look at the collections over the years:
1960s: Classical & Hellenistic; Minoan & Mycenaean; Paleolithic & Neolithic; Dawn of Art; Archaic
1970s: Byzantine; Wild Flowers of Greece; Biosymbols; Motion in Space; Choreographism; Cycladic; Neo-Geometric; Owls & Anthemia; Hercules Knot; From Luristan to Persepolis; Seashells; Microcosm; Drops and Chitons
1980s: Far East; Ilion; Tudor; Amerindian; Arabesques; Celtic; Cyprus; Mesopotamia; Place Vendôme; For Every Woman’s Victory; The Shield of Achilles; Golden Memories of the Holy Land; Symbols of Magnificence
1990s: Vikings; Pre-Columbian; Late Byzantine; Scythian; Pastorale; Suleiman the Magnificent
2000s: DNA Jewellery; DNA Objects of Art; Harmony in Chaos Jewellery; Chaos Objects of Art; Phaistos Disc; Africa; Nubia
The range of inspirations is so wide, and so many ancient civilisations are included. In my fiction, I love to explore different cultures and their histories and mythologies, and Lalaounis was the same in his work.
I am especially drawn to the Lalaounis collections that are inspired by Ancient Greece. In fact, it was the History of Ancient Greek Art section of his museum that helped spark the idea for my latest novel, set on a Greek island: the fusion of art and mythology; the glorious colour and lustre of the yellow gold – my muse was swept away by the beauty and romanticism of it all.
Along with the historical inspirations for the pieces, it is the history of their styles and creation that appeal to me. Lalaounis employed techniques in his crafting that date back thousands of years: filigree, granulation, hand weaving and repoussé, all requiring a great deal of knowledge, skill and time. To think, when you wear a Lalaounis hand-woven chain, you are wearing an identical piece of jewellery to that worn by a noblewoman of Ancient Greece. (If you are interested in how the jewellery is made, at the Ilias Lalaounis Jewellery Museum you can watch the resident goldsmith in action in the workshop.)
Over his career, Lalaounis was inexhaustible, creating more than 18,000 pieces of jewellery and decorative items. He is widely credited with having revived the Greek jewellery industry and brought it into the modern era, and in recognition of his hard work and his vision, he was granted membership to the prestigious French Academy of Fine Arts – the only jeweller ever to be bestowed with this honour. His work is a real inspiration to me, and to many others.
If you’d like to learn more about Lalaounis, you can visit the website for the brand at http://www.iliaslalaounis.eu. There are various stores in Greece (Athens, Thessaloniki, Mykonos, Santorini, Corfu) and in New York, London and Doha (the window displays alone are worth a look!).
Finally, if you are ever in Athens – and I do hope you are able to visit someday – the Ilias Lalaounis Jewellery Museum is a must-see. They say every piece of jewellery tells a story. Well, in that museum there are so many age-old stories to discover. No wonder my visit there made me dream up my own story, Aphrodite’s Tears…