I’ve always been a big fan of Lalaounis’ work. My admiration began when I was on an archaeology dig in Tuscany, where I developed an appreciation of the Lalaounis’ reinterpretation of classical jewellery into modern wearable pieces. My first ever fine jewellery purchase was a vintage Lalaounis ring with a smooth interior and beautifully hammered exterior and I have since built up quite a sizeable personal collection. So, when this small collection of Lalaounis jewels came into the auction house, I was thrilled to be able to present them to my fellow collectors and enthusiasts.
Born within sight of the Acropolis, Ilias Lalaounis was a fourth-generation goldsmith and watchmaker. His uncle had founded the famous jewellery house Zolotas and Lalaounis joined the firm shortly after finishing university. Not long afterwards, Greece entered WWII and Lalaounis was left to manage the family firm in a German-occupied Athens. Although it was a challenging time, Lalaounis was able to keep the company solvent. In his personal time, his creativity flourished as he studied drawing with the celebrated Greek artist Alexander Alexandrakis.
Lalaounis’ first exhibited in 1957 at the Thessaloniki International Trade Fair. This was the first time his characteristic jewels, inspired by the crafts of Ancient Greece, were shown to the world. Initial responses were mixed, and buyers tended to be international rather than from the domestic market. However, in retrospect, this first appearance of Lalaounis’ “archaeological collections”, would come to define a turning point in the 20th century Greek jewellery industry.
Unlike 19th century Italian jewellers like Castellani, who copied archaeological designs, Lalaounis instead used archaeological material to provide inspiration for his work. For example, he might have used the detail on an ornamental freeze from 2500BC to provide the theme for a statement necklace, or the fragments of Spartan pottery for the basis for a sculptural ring. By borrowing aesthetic features from classical works and using it in his designs, he created something incredibly unique and modern.
By the 1960s, Greek and international clients alike were embracing this new wave of Greek jewellery. The Zolotas’ family business was thriving and expanding outside of Greece. Sadly in 1966 Efthymios Zolotas, Lalaounis’ uncle and mentor, passed away. Three years later, after 29 years with the family firm, Lalaounis decided to open his own business.
In 1971, Lalaounis organized an exhibition at the landmark Hilton Hotel in Athens and invited some of the top jewellers in the world to exhibit alongside him. Bulgari, Harry Winston, VCA and René Kern all brought their collections to show. While the other jewellers brought heavily bejewelled creations in the fashion of the 1960s, Lalaounis’ collections were design lead works of 18 and 22-carat gold. In contrast to the other jewellers, Lalaounis used gems only as accents, if at all. This striking contrast propelled Lalaounis’ reputation and set his work aside from the status quo.
Lalaounis’ signature style wasn’t necessarily an aesthetic style, although the firm’s output can be instantly recognisable. He drew inspiration from classical Greece, however as time went on new collections were added and the majority of them were inspired by other civilizations and cultures. This included his ‘Far East’ collection first shown in Tokyo in 1982 and the ‘Holy Land’ collection launched at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem in 1987. I suppose we might say that his signature style was his ability to show his appreciation for different cultures in visual form.
The sheer scale of designs produced by the firm is amazing. At its peak over 15,000 unique jewels had been created and over 9,000 different designs were still in constant production. New collections would appear every six month and average 150 to 300 designs per collection. Creativity was certainly never in short supply at this family firm.
For more information about Lalaounis or any of the pieces in the upcoming Jewellery sale please get in touch with our Head of Jewellery, Sarah Duncan.