I gave Ruth about 20 minutes to explore before I asked her what she thought about it. She was dazzled, totally in love. I thought it was fine too, but we were the only people in the place. In fact, when we left an hour later, we were still the only people in the place so I concluded this is a great attraction in Athens that no one knows about–the Lalaounis Jewelry Museum.
The name Ilias Lalaounis meant nothing to me before I saw his work and recognized his genius. Born in Athens, Greece, in 1920 and still alive, Lalaounis founded Greek Gold…in 1969, and over time he designed some sensational collections. In the 1950s he began successfully turning ancient Greek artifacts and Mesopotamian motifs into contemporary jewelry. Lalaounis and his designers’ creative earrings, etc., are sold in a growing number of shops all over the world. Ruth and I saw our first Lalaounis jewelry store in Athens International Airport. In 2012, a new one opened in New York City at 21 East 64th between Madison and Park. The other U.S stores are in Chappaqua, New York, and Naples, Florida.
After designing collections that appealed to the likes of Elizabeth Taylor, Lalaounis moved his workshops to new facilities in 1993 and opened a one-0f-a-kind jewelry museum on the premises. Its exhibit space was renovated in 2003-04. The company he founded, now run by his 4 daughters, calls it, “the only museum world-wide dedicated to contemporary jewelry.” It’s on the corner of Karyatidon and Kallisperi, a 2 minute walk from the Acropolis Metro station and the Acropolis Museum.
While Ruth fell instantly in love with Lalaounis’ spectacular jewelry, I studied some interesting, donated European pocket watches. Before retiring in the 1990s he specialized in designing exquisite pieces based on his study of cultures. I examined examples from his Scythian, Suleyman the Magnificent, and Arabesques collections. All his rings, pendants, etc. were beautifully displayed with understated information like “jewelry inspired by a simple kufic frieze in the Royal Palace in Casablanca.” His American Indian collection showed deep respect for Hopi, Sioux, and Chinook cultures. Always inventive, Lalaounis studied rings worn by England’s Queen Elizabeth I in official portraits and turned them into knockout designs that any woman would wear with jubilation. Just ask Ruth.
But this museum isn’t just about jewelry displays. It’s also about jewelry’s cultural importance. I learned about historical amulets. The diamond was once thought to make its wearer invincible. That’s probably still somewhat true today. Amethysts were believed to prevent intoxication. I suspect a man came up with that one. Since Roman times, a coin baked into a pie in some cultures is eaten at New Year’s dinner with the finder judged the lucky one for the coming year. Unless he or she broke a tooth.
Since photography was forbidden, I was restricted to outside shots of the building and some so-so posters. That’s why the picture above doesn’t do justice to the best little museum in Athens.