A few days ago, Sandy and I went to the Elias Lalaounis Jewelry Museum downtown. The museum sits under the Acropolis rock and the museum building is the former Lalaounis family home. Lalaounis was a goldsmith, jeweler and jewelry designer — likely Greece’s most loved and famous. His education was economics and law, but being a fourth generation jeweler, he stayed in the family business. He founded the association of Greek Jewelers; having spent 25 years as an association executive, this little fact made me deliriously happy.
His work was first inspired by ancient Greece — the Minoans, The Mycenaeans, Byzantium. His collections — chokers, earrings, bracelets, rings, necklaces, headpieces, body jewelry — are astoundingly beautiful. Sandy said that some of these classical pieces are so simple they look modern and very contemporary. His collections are also inspired by and named for Celts, Vikings, Pre-Columbians, Persian and Native Americans. He designed earrings for Jackie O in honor of the the moon landing, and in fact there’s a whole lunar collection in the museum.
His original designs were done in gold plated silver. He’d finish and then essentially crowdsource them, and the most popular would be made from solid gold. He was the first European jewelry designer to use 22K gold.
He designed the current Olympic torch, which is housed in Olympia and is brought out every two years when the flame’s journey begins. He’s the only jeweler in history to have designed the torch.
In 1986, he also became the only jeweler to be inducted into the Academie of Fine Arts in Paris. His museum houses the sword given to him when he was inducted. The Academie swords were originally designed by Salvador Dali, and when Dali became too frail to continue, he named his close friend Elias Lalaounis to continue his work.
In 2016, the museum received a grant from the Stavros Niarchos Foundation for an ‘artist in residence’ program — essentially an internship. These designers competed to be accepted into the program and now they get to do their work in the museum workshops. One workshop is for metal and the other is for everything but metal. We watched a young artist demonstrate how she makes metal jewelry with filagree and other extraordinary details. One pair of earrings takes two full weeks. Upstairs in the other workshop, a young artist was working with lucite. Another artist had turned cigarette filters into pendants. All of these young artists were beyond thrilled to have this residence program on their resumes.
Lalaounis has galleries and jewelry stores in several cities, including New York. Lalounis died in 2013 and his four breathtakingly beautiful daughters continue to run the firm. The museum is a real gem – ha – unique and interesting. It’s small so not overwhelming and a visit could be easily combined with another downtown destination; for example, lunch at the Acropolis museum, which we did.
Best field trip yet.