If you are wanting to learn more about vintage Ilias Lalaounis jewelry, you have come to the right place. Here you will learn the history, materials used, our favorite collectible pieces, and where to buy.
Ilias Lalaounis was born into the world of luxurious jewelry. His fascination with history, first Greek history, later cultures around the world, grew as his horizons expanded. His two passions resulted in his many exquisite collections, all of them labors of love.
Brief History of Ilias Lalaounis Jewelry
Ilias was born in Athens, Greece, in 1920. He was the fourth generation in a family of goldsmiths and watchmakers. He studied economics and law at the University of Athens, then joined the family jewelry firm working for his uncle. In the 1940s, with World War II raging, he took charge of the firm. Unlike his peers, who favored diamonds and large stones, Ilias favored 18 and 22 karat gold with which to recreate the art of past cultures.
Always interested in history, Ilias began studying the art of Ancient Greece. In the 1950s, he decided to wed age-old techniques, such as granulation, filigree, hand-weaving and hand-hammering, with modern technology. His first collection, the “Archaeological Collection,” inspired by Classical, Hellenistic and Minoan Mycenaean art, was exhibited in 1957.
Around this time, Ilias made the gossip columns (and gained a new following) when Aristotle Onassis gifted his mistress, opera singer Maria Callas, with Lalaounis jewelry. Later, those gifts went to his wife, the former Jacqueline Kennedy.
In 1969, after his uncle died, Ilias started his own company, “Ilias Lalaounis – Greek Gold S.A.,” and in 1970, his exhibition, “Blow Up,” in which he draped the whole human body in Minoan-inspired gold jewelry, gained him international regard. In 1971, he organized an exhibition of master jewelers in Athens that included Van Cleef, Bulgari and Harry Winston. In 1976, Empress Farah of Iran commissioned him to create a collection inspired by Persian art that was displayed in the Imperial Palace in Tehran.
Throughout the 1970s, Ilias opened stores throughout Europe and, in 1979, in New York City. He continued to study art history to create innovative collections for international markets. When he opened his Tokyo store, he exhibited his collection inspired by Japanese art. For Hong Kong, his jewelry was inspired by the Greek geometric period, which was similar to the designs used in Chinese art. He exhibited his “Helen of Troy” collection in Philadelphia. He later exhibited “Amerindians in New York,” a collection inspired by the art of Native Americans. His collection, “Treasures of the Holy Land,” was displayed in the Israel Museum, and “Arabesques, a collection of gold and silver pieces set with precious and semi-precious stones, at the Islamic Art Museum of Istanbul. Throughout the 1970s, he also created spectacular designs based on modern technology, astronomy, nature and medicine.
In 1994, he founded the Ilias Lalaounis Jewelry Museum located in the center of Athens. The permanent exhibition displays jewelry and micro-sculptures from 45 of Ilias’s collections (1940 to 1992). The mission of the museum is to endorse the development of contemporary Greek jewelry and to be a resource for academic research.
Since 1998, Ilias’s four daughters have taken their father’s brand to new heights of excellence. Aikaterini and Maria share CEO-Greece responsibilities. Maria is also creative director. Aikaterini’s daughter, Laoura, oversees social media. Demetra is the International CEO. Ioanna is the director of the museum.
Ilias died in 2013 in his beloved Athens.
Watch to see examples of Lalaounis Jewelry:
- “Ilias Lalaounis”
- “A21 Greece”
- “Ilias Lalaounis Greece 750 H17”
- Pictomark Signature
- Gold (lots and lots of gold!)
- Sterling silver
- Tiger’s eye
- Lapis lazuli
- Sodalite (a royal blue semi-precious gemstone)
- Blue agate
- Ancient Roman glass
- Rock crystal quartz
Notable Collectibles: Vintage Ilias Lalaounis Jewelry
1980s: Short modular necklace with a silver pendant flower adorned with a tiger’s eye stone and a white pearl. Necklace is 17 inches long; pendant is 2 inches by 1 ½ inches. The necklace is one of two bought for sisters.
20th century: 18k gold ring set with frosted crystal, diamonds and a ruby cabochon. Top of ring measures .75 inches by .70 inches.
Provenance: Estate of Mona Goodman, New York. 18k gold hoop earrings from Ilias’s animal heads collection. The rams' eyes are round-cut natural rubies. Earrings measure 1 ¾ inches round.
1987: 18k gold cufflinks in convex oval shape with a scene depicting three women gardening engraved on them. Measurements are .87 inch by .60 inch.
20th century: 18k gold and green enamel dome ring. Face height: .6 inch; rise above finger: .35 inch.
1960s: 18kt gold wrap-around ring set with Burmese rubies and rose-colored diamonds in a Byzantine design.
Tips for Buying Vintage Ilias Lalaounis Jewelry
- Half the fun of collecting old jewelry is the hunt. And there are a whole variety of places to search: online shops, thrift stores, estate sales, flea markets, antique cooperatives (where the individual dealers have their own stalls), and garage sales. The vendors are small business owners or private individuals, both of which mean their overhead is low, and you will find the prices better than at incorporated jewelry businesses.
- In order to ensure that you are purchasing authentic Ilias Lalaounis jewelry, learn to recognize the old styles and techniques and understand the era that it represents.
- A valuable resource is the Association for the Study of Jewelry and the Related Arts with its numerous resources on the history of jewelry and how to identify vintage pieces from different historical eras. The association also provides dates and locations of vintage jewelry exhibitions, where you can meet other jewelry collectors and appraisers.
- You do not want to purchase a piece that is badly flawed, even if authentic. Scratches, broken findings, missing gems all devalue the piece. On the other hand, you want to be wary of a piece of jewelry being sold as vintage but looks brand new. Either it is not authentic or it has been restored, which also devalues the item.
Ilias published Metamorphoses, a book about 19 of his collections and, most valuable, his philosophy on the nature of jewelry as a link with the distant past, a symbol and a memory. I have seen the book for sale, but am puzzled. It is on Amazon.com for $850, yet other booksellers have it for $40 to $60, a reasonable price, indeed, for the aficionados of Lalaounis jewelry.