There’s a strong connection between ancient and modern Greek jewellery design. Ancient traditions of design got a major boost in the nineteenth century thanks to a wave of archaeological discoveries across Greece and the Caucasus. One of the most famous was Heinrich Schliemann’s 1876 discovery of the “Mask of Agamemnon” and the site of Homer’s Troy. Finds like this ignited a craze for classical design and culture that in Europe became aligned with a growing sense of nationalism in some countries. Jewellery became just one of the visual arts that expressed a growing sense of national identity.
Almost a century later in Greece, Ilias Lalaounis found himself in control of his family’s jewellery business in a country that was recovering from both World War II and a subsequent civil war. His first collection, shown in 1957, celebrated Classical, Hellenistic and Minoan/Mycenaean designs but in ways that echoed the Modernist zeitgeist.
Throughout the 1960s and 70s, Lalaounis became synonymous with classic (in both senses) Greek gold jewellery but also drew on similar inspiration from nature to develop entirely new designs. He revived ancient techniques like granulation in his workrooms and founded a museum in Athens to celebrate the Greek jeweller’s art and inspire future generations.
Today he continues to inspire craftsmen, especially on the islands. Hydra is described in the March issue of Vogue (UK) as “Greece’s artiest island” and visiting Blue Dolphin in the island’s picturesque harbour, is possibly as close as a modern day tourist will ever get to discovering treasure trove.
The shop’s owners, Antony and Isabelle, continue to produce exceptionally beautiful jewellery in the Greek and Byzantine traditions, some inspired by Lalaounis’s own example. But almost more powerful than this, is their own passion for what they do and what they produce. This is not art to hang in a museum or keep in a safe. Its art to wear and love on a daily basis (and I do).
Hydra is just one example, but there are many islands and many similar artisans with passion to create and pride in ancient heritage. What started on the islands five thousand years ago, lives on in the islands today.