Pioneering Greek jeweler Ilias Lalaounis (1920-2013) was born in Athens to a third generation family of goldsmiths and watchmakers from Delphi. He began his career working for his uncle’s jewelry business where he learned the foundational skills that would shape his future as a master craftsman. In 1941 he took over his family’s business and, owing to his passion for history, he began studying the art of his ancestors.
By the 1950s Lalaounis had a clear vision: he desired to transform Greek artifacts into jewelry using a combination of modern technology and ancient techniques. To that end, he founded the Greek Jeweler’s Association to help teach his fellow craftsmen neglected techniques such as granulation, filigree, hand-weaving and hand-hammering. Lalaounis exhibited his first collection in 1957; dubbed the Archaeological Collection, it was inspired by Classical, Hellenistic, and Minoan-Mycenaean art. His bold combination of modern jewelry and ancient techniques caught the world’s attention.
In 1969, after the death of his uncle, Lalaounis founded his own firm and opened its headquarters at the foot of the Acropolis in Athens. Unlike other jewelry houses at the time, he focused on 18 and 22k gold, what he referred to as “the most human material.” His collections were inspired by the art of many different cultures and periods, from Persian and Byzantine to Chinese and even the art of the Tudors. His sensational BLOW UP collection from the 1970s featured the human form draped in gold jewelry and from there his inspiration grew to include nature, science, and astronomy.
Lalaounis’ business continued to expand to the Americas, Asia, and Europe. He became the first goldsmith to be honored by the Academie des Beaux Arts et des Lettres and was also the recipient of the Knight of the Order of the Legion of Honor and the Medal of the City of Athens. In the late 1990s Lalaounis passed on the mantle of the business to his four daughters, Aikaterini, Demetra, Maria and Ioanna, who have since taken the brand to even greater heights of excellence and design.
The legacy of Ilias Lalaounis and his dedication to his craft lives on in the Ilias Lalaounis Jewelry Museum, a non-profit organization founded in 1993 and devoted to the art of jewelry and decorative arts.