Ilias Lalaounis (1920 – 2013) Freeman’s is a well-known and highly respected fine arts auction site. For an upcoming auction (November 2018) of creations by Ilias Lalaounis, the site states, “As the only jeweler inducted into the prestigious Académie des Beaux-Arts, Ilias Lalaounis’ work has rightfully claimed its place in the canon of fine art. His designs over the second half of the 20th century have made contributions to the style and craftsmanship of modern jewelry, retaining a wide appeal to a variety of collectors and appreciators of fine art. Lalaounis’ striking designs and bold statement pieces resemble artifacts found in museums, but his reimagining of ancient styles and designs make a Lalaounis work timeless.”
Taking inspiration from Grecian, Byzantine and a variety of other ancient jewelry styles to create contemporary pieces, the Athenian goldsmith gifted the world with an appreciation for the venerable art of adornment. Lalaounis began working as an apprentice in his family’s jewelry company in 1940. In 1969, he separated from the family business to start producing his own work. Focusing mainly on the fabrication of chains, Lalaounis later introduced ancient Greek revival pieces and gained much success. His work garnered international recognition in the 1960’s when Aristotle Onassis began purchasing pieces for Maria Callas, as well as his later wife, Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy.
Ilias Lalaounis was born in the heart of Athens. When he founded his company in 1969 and named it, Greek Gold-Ilias Lalaounis S.A., he opened branches on several Greek Islands and soon expanded in Europe to Paris, Zurich, Geneva, and London, then to New York, Tokyo, and Hong Kong.
His career began in the 1940’s when he managed works for the family’s Zolotas firm. During Greece’s difficult years in World War II, Lalaounis found new ways to promote the firm. First he introduced new machinery and techniques for manufacturing chains. He continued gem setting jewelry as part of the business’ operation but also studied ancient goldsmith techniques for designs set on gold 18k and 22k jewelry and micro sculpture.
In the 1950’s, his idea of reviving Greek jewelry was very successful and changed his life and career. Ancient artifacts sparked his imagination and inspired thousands of jewelry designs. Lalaounis’ knowledge and grasp for the art and history of early civilizations led to a prolific number of “archaeological” collections based on various cultures in Europe, Asia, and the Americas.
After he established his own brand, the 1970’s proved his ability to create and search for new ideas employing designs based on modern technology, astronomy, nature, medicine, and more. He overwhelmed his clientele with the sheer diversity of his jewelry and the richness of the gold for which he became well known.
In 1993, the company’s workshops moved to new, purpose-built facilities. The building was altered to house a unique Jewelry Museum, the only museum in the world-dedicated to contemporary jewelry.
Lalaounis envisioned a social role for the Museum and endorsed the development of contemporary Greek jewelry through a framework of promotion, display and academic research. Today, in its modern workshops, Ilias Lalaounis Greek Gold LTD produces designs sold in the company’s outlets in Greece and around the world. In keeping with family tradition, Ilias Lalaounis’ four daughters, Katerini, Demetra, Maria, and Ioanna direct both the company and the museum.
Lalaounis was the fourth generation of a family of Greek goldsmiths and watchmakers. He studied Law and Economics at the University of Athens but the lure of jewelry soon drew him to the family business run by his uncle. As a young apprentice goldsmith, he learned the skills and history of jewelry. His enthusiasm for ancient art inspired him to spend increasing amounts of time in museums. It was during this time that he studied jewelry and artifacts from ancient civilizations and recalled that it was then that he “felt that a new, wide horizon was unfolding before me … I concentrated on getting to know better the works of ancient goldsmiths.”
He found that these historic pieces were not only inspiration in terms of design but also technique. Lalaounis explored ideas of symbolism, artistic expression, and craftsmanship. His early designs are a reflection of this. He spent years seeking ways to revive age old techniques such as granulation, filigree, hand-weaving, hand-hammering and, along with his team of passionate and skilled craftsmen, finally produced his first two jewelry collections in 1957.
The collections were called Minoan and Mycenaean and Classical and Hellenistic. They were largely recreations of ancient pieces but made with the modern woman in mind. The collections combined both traditional techniques and modern technology to produce wearable, desirable jewels. The result of extensive research, the pieces successfully married the ancient craft of goldsmithing with a contemporary sensibility and were exhibited at the Thessaloniki International Fair that same year.
His initial creations immediately connected with people and the jewelry was warmly received. Many pieces were crafted in 22ct gold which was favored for its rich, warm color and malleable nature but 18ct was also used. Most pieces were not adorned with gems, but some utilized stones such as rock crystal and rubies for added interest and patterns.
When his uncle died, Lalaounis founded his own company with headquarters overlooked by the Acropolis, universally recognized as the embodiment of Ancient Greece. It undoubtedly fueled his imagination and creativity. New collections were produced every six months. Regardless of what sparked a new design, his jewels always had a recognizable ‘Lalaounis’ touch. His success and reputation grew quickly and more stores opened.
As well as designing his own jewelry, Lalaounis was a great supporter of the Greek jewelry trade in general and set up both the Greek Jeweller’s Association and the Goldsmith’s Union. He promoted the craftsmen and jewelry of his homeland at every opportunity and was widely recognized as having been instrumental in the resurgence of interest in traditional Greek jewelry both at home and abroad.
Lalaounis studied the intent behind the ancient creations and trained his craftsmen in the art of the forgotten techniques used to create them. Lalaounis called gold “the most human material” and used it as a vehicle to channel his creativity. His inspiration also included periods spanning from prehistoric Minoan art, to Persian and Byzantine; Chinese art and the Art of the Tudors. He also found inspiration in the random movements of animal and plant cells, orbits and constellations, and one of his collections draped the entire human body in gold jewelry.
The Ilias Lalaounis Jewelry Museum (often referred to as the ILJM) is in Athens, Greece, located near the Acropolis. It comprises 50 collections of a total of over 4,000 jewels and small ornaments dedicated to the history and art of jewelry making. The permanent exhibition displays more than 3000 pieces designed in the period between 1940 and 1992.
The Museum is housed in two adjoining buildings which are connected internally: one located at 12 Kallisperi Street and the second facing Karyatidon Street.
The building at 12 Kallisperi Street dates to the 1930s Athenian modernist movement. From 1968 until the museum’s founding, the workshops of Ilias Lalaounis Greek Gold, the first modern jewelry workshops in Greece, were located here. Today this building houses the museum’s exhibition spaces on two levels, a gift shop, a café and an auditorium/hall which can be used for a variety of functions. There is also a rooftop terrace.
The museum was renovated in 2003-2004 based on the architectural plans of French architect, Bernard Zehrfuss (1908-1996), while the project was carried out by Greek architect, Vassilis Gregoriadis. The ILJM was the first museum in Greece designed to be accessible for visitors with disabilities.
The building facing Karyatidon Street is Art Deco and probably dates to the 1920s. Originally it was the home of the museum’s founder and namesake. Today it houses the museum’s offices and extensive research library.
Among others, collections include those inspired by prehistoric art, the art of Ancient Greece, the art and architecture of Byzantium, 15 different world cultures, nature and technology, as well as special commissions such as the Olympic torch and ceremonial swords.
The ILJM’s mission is foremost educational. The ILJM offers a multitude of educational programs for school children from pre-school through high school, adults, special interest and special needs groups. It organizes lectures, seminars, and workshops on jewelry and the decorative arts. Internships for university students are available.
The ILJM research library contains more than 5000 volumes, including rare ones. Its holdings are focused on jewelry, the history of art, folk art, design, photography, architecture and the decorative arts in general. It is open to the public by appointment.
In the span of over half a century Ilias Lalaounis created over 50 collections and 17,000 pieces of jewelry. These include:
1960’s: Classical & Hellenistic, Minoan & Mycenaean, Paleolithic & Neolithic, Dawn of Art, Archaic.
1970’s: 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.
1980’s: 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.
1990’s: Vikings, Pre-Columbian, Late Byzantine, Scythian, Pastorale, Suleiman the Magnificent.
2000: DNA Jewelry, DNA Objects of Art, Harmony in Chaos Jewelry, Chaos Objects of Art, Phaistos Disc, Africa, and Nubia.
Whether on the red carpet or in exclusive advertising campaigns, Ilias Lalaounis jewelry has become an indispensable addition to celebrity style. Celebrities known to wear his jewelry and adornments include Charlize Theron, Jessica Alba, Elizabeth Hurley, René Fleming, Barbra Streisand, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, and Elizabeth Taylor.
In November 2017, The New York Times profiled the company and wrote, “Today, almost 50 years since their father founded the company, the four sisters still control the business, each taking responsibility for different aspects. (And all still use their father’s surname.)
“Aikaterini is the director of retail and public relations in Greece. Demetra is the chief executive of the international business. Maria is the chief executive of the Greek business and the brand’s creative director. And Ioanna is director and curator in chief of the museum.
“Growing up, they said, it was inevitable that they all would join the company. From an early age they learned from their father’s goldsmiths and served clients in his retail stores.
“Today, with their mother Lila, 81, at the head of the family, the business is very much a female affair. Just as Maria modeled for a company campaign shot by Lord Snowdon in the 1990s, Maria’s daughters, Athena Boutari Lalaounis, 21, and Lila Boutari Lalaounis, 20, [have starred] in the company’s … advertising campaigns.
Aurelia, the most recent Lalaounis collection was inspired by the ancient opus interrasile technique that produces a latticework appearance.
In the upcoming Freeman’s Lalaounis auction, pieces will include:
An elegant 18-karat gold lariat necklace from his classic animal heads collection, designed as a rope terminating with two lion heads with ruby eyes.
Also to be auctioned are examples of some of Lalaounis’ most striking work—big, dramatic, gold statement pieces including an 18-karat gold cuff bracelet in repoussé and matching earrings as well as an 18-karat gold torque necklace, featuring a tapered design with a repoussé and textured gold finish of a scrolling vine motif.
Another piece is an exquisite and refined 18-karat gold necklace and bracelet set, designed with textured gold wheat sheaves with circular-cut diamond accents, accompanied by a signed box.
“I feel that in all my creations I have been profoundly influenced by Greek art. All my various collections have one common denominator, which is some idea, some design, some technique derived from the art of Greece.” – Ilias Lalaounis.