Style | Swellboy

Swellboy on… the rebirth of a jewellery brand

Wanted: cuff links that capture the King’s Road on a Thursday night in 1968

Swellboy on… the rebirth of a jewellery brand

Image: Brijesh Patel

January 22 2011
Nick Foulkes

One question that I find that I pose myself with increasing frequency as I get older is: when does a man (or woman) become a brand?

I know, I know: it is hardly the profound stuff upon which to build an accurate picture of man’s place in the cosmos, nor is it likely to unlock the mysteries of the human condition. In fact, it is not even going to help find the keys with which one might unlock said mysteries. Nevertheless, it is a mildly diverting question that comes to me from time to time. The last time it elbowed its way to the front of the jumble of anxieties and weaknesses that passes for my mind was when walking down a charming rural village high street.

However, this was no Marple-esque parade of butchers and greengrocers, but rather a triumphant procession of the world’s great luxury marques: Cartier, Chopard, Girard-Perregaux…understandable given that, instead of St Mary Mead, I was in the arguably less real surroundings of Gstaad. And then, just before the plutocratically gemütlich pedestrianised zone gave way to the road system, Grima hove into view.

I have long been fascinated by Andrew Grima, a jeweller who came to eminence in the 1960s and 1970s with an aesthetic challenging the prevailing orthodoxy that jewellery should be pretty and neat. He came to personify the jewellery tastes of the Swinging elite of London at the time. Princess Margaret, that monarch of the haute bohème set, was a Grima customer, and the abstract designs were a genuine, quirky and very British answer to French hegemony of the high jewellery market. His esoteric shop on Jermyn Street with its decorative metal façade would be daring today – I suppose that he was the Austin Powers-era answer to JAR. Although I might be inclined to argue that there was a lot more to Grima than to JAR.

As I am longstanding devotee of the 1960s and early 1970s, Grima and his work slot very neatly into my Weltanschauung of society (in other words groovy London) as portrayed in Blow-Up. I still think the Rolls-Royce Silver Cloud III convertible bodied by Mulliner Park Ward that was driven by David Hemmings is one of the most gorgeous cars of all time and it is fitting that the very vehicle in the movie was once owned by the posh-yet-pop photographer Patrick Lichfield.

Of course the idea of the 1960s is probably better than the reality (I remain grateful to be alive in the 21st century; come to that, I am grateful to be alive full stop). And the joy I take in Grima’s designs is that of imagining them in their context as the baubles of Barbarella Beauties and King’s Road cuties. And clearly there came a time when Grima decided that it was time to shut up shop in London and enjoy the tranquillity of Gstaad.

Anyway, I went into the shop and introduced myself to both Grima’s widow and his daughter, both charming by the way, and they are taking the bold step of relaunching Grima in London later this year… hence the eternal man/brand question rattling around my skull. Personally speaking I love the stuff and it is a joy to see that Miss Grima, who is doing the designing, has brought some of the same goldsmiths out of retirement, including one capable of creating an effect that makes gold look like delicate screens of coral – it is miraculous and reminded me a little of the textured finishes that Grima’s contemporary Gerald Benney was able to impart to silverware (Benney is another genius).

Of course I plan to celebrate Grima’s return to London by commissioning a pair of cuff links of appropriate ostentation: what I would like to capture – in cuff link form – is the look and feel of taking the convertible Rolls-Royce for a spin down the King’s Road on a Thursday night in 1968 – something that I am not sure Monsieur JAR would be able pull off, although were I to fancy fastening my shirtsleeves with jewellery that captured the automotive poetry of a Renault Safrane stuck in traffic on the Périphérique, Monsieur JAR would have first refusal.