The Royal Jewellers S02 ep1 : Ilias Lalaounis Jewellery Museum [Athens]
Interview with Joanna Lalaounis
A piece of jewelry carries a message, has a story to tell . . . It is jewelry with a soul. Ilias Lalaounis, a fourth generation jeweler, has become renowned for creating luxurious gold jewelry steeped in history. Lalaounis creations represent a synthesis of past and present, a unique interpretation of ancient civilisation or culture translated into a modern idiom. Influences as diverse as the Neolithic age, Mycenaean art, the Byzantine era, pre-Columbian architecture as well as science and nature, have all inspired the Lalaounis collections.
Lalaounis: Lalaounis is an inspiration. It’s a very familiar name nowadays. It’s familiar of course
with jewellery, with art, with culture but I think most of all it’s familiar with an old tradition which
has now been revived and shown today in the museum.
Lalaounis: One has to see his multiple personality in terms of his talents because we’re talking
about a man who started working in a very different period from what we live in, we’re talking
about a period after the Second World War, we’re talking a period where you know people might
have been very successful with their business but in art things were very different so we’re seeing a
person who managed to market his business in a way promote his work and be the sole designer of
his creations. So seeing him with all this diversity and richness of what he’s done, I think that says
Lalaounis: This was originally the workshop, much before I was born from the early 60’s and ever
since I was born in 1967, I came here during my vacation working, painting, drawing or even
sometimes trying to make jewellery so it’s a space which is very close to my heart, it’s like home
Lalaounis: I finished my first Degree in London in Art History and Marketing then I did my
Masters at Boston University on Art History and Museum Studies and it was right before I finished
my Masters that my father had decided to donate the building for a not for profit organisation to
house the jewellery museum. So I think that was the point when I knew exactly what I was going
to do. I really liked working in museums and working with art history and working of course with
the jewellery business but I think that already my sisters had found a way throughout so we didn’t
have differences concerning who was going to do what. So it was very easy because everything
came a place.
Lalaounis: It’s very cliché, but jewellery is a status symbol or jewellery as a decoration was two of
the most important functions that jewellery had. Slowly, slowly jewellery started showing
completely different things throughout the society and when we make jewellery we can even have
coins inside that category, we can have jewellery used as money, we can even today see that
jewellery in certain societies is literally the purse of some women in the society where they live
because they wear the jewellery, they get married, then this is all they have from their families.
Lalaounis: He rarely looked at jewellery throughout history to become inspired. He first looked at
architecture, painting, sculpture and the fine arts and then he looked at jewellery and this is the
case in ancient Greek art for example where he does have many of his jewellery reminding ancient
jewellery. Some of the jewels even being copies because this is how he all started, he started in the
early 50’s when someone came to him and said they want this ancient jewellery to be copied and
this is when the whole idea started. But copies of course are a process which we try to show to
people that they were made in order for the technicians, the goldsmiths, to experiment with ancient
tools and techniques.
Lalaounis: Of course he always had lovely craftsmen with him, but he didn’t have the full
technology and it was in the 60’s the technology started to evolve in the workshop, the hand woven
chain, the loop in loop technique, the hand hammering technique which is a Lalaounis innovation
22 carat gold and all different kinds of techniques that really gave the Lalaounis style so
throughout the world if someone sees a jewel they can say now, this is Lalaounis.
Lalaounis: At the museum basic aim was to house Ilias Lalaounis’ permanent collections, pieces
that were made throughout his career. So there is a lot that I have to do throughout the year
running the museum but what we have done slowly, slowly is that we have developed the jewellery
museum becoming more and more decorative arts. So we have, we had rare lighters, we had
pocket watches exhibitions that are completely looking towards male public, so decorative arts is
something that we really to do and we can do in our museum because of its space and its structure
and of course, working a lot on jewellery research and other exhibitions.
Lalaounis: I really like jewellery that was made throughout the 3rd Century BC I really find very
significant some of the jewels that were made throughout the medieval period for secular pieces. I
think that there were lovely pieces made in the Renaissance but I didn’t like the idea that
throughout the Renaissance many of the jewels were remodelled so they were destroyed. We find
very original jewellery throughout the 17th and the 18th Century in Europe and I think there we
have a lovely section with sentimental jewellery.
Lalaounis: The B… jewels were first presented in 1969 in Paris where models were wearing tights
actually from top to bottom with the B… jewels and many say that these are the predecessors of
Madonna’s body pieces that she wore. And when they came to Greece and they were shown on
models and the way they were shown, I think that people were quite wow, ecstatic about you know
what they were seeing and how it was worn. But these are the innovations that he had to do to
Lalaounis: Of course the company is a major sponsor in the museum but legally and financially
we’re completely a different entity so I don’t have the opportunity to work very many times with
my sisters however if anyone needs something they always assist each other and they assist the
museum with many things and when I can I assist them with the business in any way I can. So
there is a nice relationship.
Lalaounis: I’m trying to include Lalaounis in international collections and in museum collections
and we’re very open to suggestions concerning this because it has become a very well known
commercial name, it’s difficult for curators or academics to think of it in big national collections
like they would have thought an artist jewellery piece, which I think is completely unfair and
completely wrong. The highest degree of acclamation that Lalaounis has received was from the
Academy De… which is one of the most important institutions in the world and he was the only
jeweller ever to be elected in their 300 years. So I think this statement is enough to prove that
Lalaounis is an academic himself and that the jewellery will be remembered in 200 years.
Lalaounis: The museum houses 50 collections. There are some other collections that were made
which we don’t exhibit, either because they were very commercial or because they were
completely sold out. But there is one collection which is not exhibited we don’t even have it on a
file because it was designed, created very fast for an exhibition in New York for the late 60’s and it
was called Bonnie & Clyde. So my father and mother took the collection to exhibit it in New York,
held pieces with them in the plane where they were placed somewhere throughout the flight and
when they arrived in New York the bag with the jewels had disappeared so policemen arrived, the
FBI arrived, everyone arrived, they were looking for the bag, questions, nothing. So my parents
were very upset and when they arrived in the hotel, Dali, Salvadore Dali was exiting the hotel and
so my parents said hello, saw my father very upset, what happened? And then he listens, told him
what had happened, the story about the jewels being stolen and Dali turned around and said to him,
I wish this will happen again to you because now your jewels are appreciated.
OFFICIAL WEBSITE: Ilias Lalaounis Jewellery Museum