The Greeks have always had a passion for bling, which is undiminished today. Many of the earliest, neolithic human remains in Greece were found alongside fine collections of jewellery; worn during their lives or intended to guarantee wealth and happiness in the afterlife. The Ancient Greeks elevated primitive craftsmanship to a fine art form, creating jewellery from gold, silver, and precious stones that is both instantly familiar and arresting to modern eyes.
This tradition continues today, with Greek jewellery designers taking the art of adornment in exciting new directions. Many of them have their ateliers and flagship stores in Athens, one of the best cities in the world for jewellery lovers. Though it helps if you have cash to splash.
The Lalaounis legacy
Ilias Lalaounis was one of the world’s most famous jewellery designers, creating custom pieces for Greek and Hollywood stars, like Melina Mercouri and Sophia Loren. The museum he founded in 1993 to preserve his legacy has a collection of over 4,000 pieces of jewellery and micro-sculpture, all produced by Lalaounis between 1940 and 2000—a small selection of which can be purchased at the shop. Although everything in the museum is modern, his collections are reflections of various periods and movements of Greek and European jewellery, from ‘The Dawn of Art’ to the Hellenistic and Byzantine eras. The tradition of jewellery making in the building continues, with a residency programme, where you can see a guest jeweller at work on the top floor.
The rising stars of Greek jewellery design
Today, many of the world’s most acclaimed contemporary jewellers are based in Athens. Some, like Nikos Koulis, use the same traditional materials and techniques as the Ancient Greeks, while others cast their eyes further afield. Sher Makesh fuses inspirations from the Greek islands with arts and crafts from the Moroccan coastline and uses modern materials like coloured plastics.
The finest high-end jewellery stores are clustered around Syntagma, Plaka and Kolonaki. Start with Koukos Spyros, whose shop is in the covered arcade that connects Stadiou with Perikleous Street. His bright and colourful work effortlessly bridges the contemporary and the traditional. Just off the most exclusive pedestrian shopping street, Voukourestiou, is Yannis Sergakis’ space age flagship store, which houses his sublime pieces, mostly made with diamonds, that dazzle with their minimalist symmetry. Sergakis has simple rings for around 500 euros, while more elaborate pieces go for five digits.
A more affordable option is family-run Petaei-Petaei, where each piece is unique and handmade by one of thirty independent Greek designers, such as Joanna Cave, Mary Margoni and Tania Drakidou.
On prestigious Kolonaki Square, you’ll find the flagship store of Nikos Koulis, one of Greece’s most internationally sought-after designers, whose pieces cost from 4,000 to nearly 1 million euros. Working first as a diamond supplier, Nikos’ pieces are designed around the unique characteristics of each precious stone.
Also in Kolonaki you’ll find Lito’s Cabinet des Curiosities, an atelier-boutique, where Lito offers a surreal but elegant twist on traditional symbols such as scarab beetles and the Greek mati, or evil eye. A few blocks away, Ileana Makri’s decadent, heavily diamond-encrusted work is immaculately presented alongside other top-flight international designers like Bibi van der Velden and Charlotte Chesnais.
Self-taught designer Danai Giannelli established her brand in 2014 and has set up shop in the classy suburbs of Neo Psychiko. Not a shop per se, since her pieces are presented and sold in a private showroom, by appointment only. Mostly made of gold and silver, Giannelli’s creations are brought to life by experienced Greek craftsmen who apply the Lost Wax technique—molten metal is poured in wax moulds which are then melted and drained away. The results are timeless, chic pieces of effortless luxury inspired by symbols, natural shapes and imagery, as well as some remarkable pieces based on Giannelli’s original family heirlooms.
Finally, the Benaki Museum on Vasilissis Sofias
(and its Pireos sister site) often exhibits jewellery, but always has a finely curated selection of the most artistic Greek jewellery designers at its gift shops.