At over 2.5m tall, the giant black oak door leading into Ileana Makri’s modernist boutique in Athens’ chichi district of Kolonaki is a fitting metaphor for how large the designer looms in the buzzing world of contemporary fine jewellery. Since launching her eponymous collection two decades ago, her scintillating and symbolistic jewels, which use coloured gems and intricate pavé and micro-pavé techniques to depict serpents and stars, Mediterranean “evil eyes” or bold geometric forms, have caught the attention of high-profile clients such as Uma Thurman, Helen Mirren and Queen Rania of Jordan, as well as a network of select stores across the globe.
Her eye-catching collections are showcased here alongside the creations of a clutch of exciting new jewellers. At first sight, however, what is most striking is not the jewellery but the space itself. “I wanted to create an atmosphere where you could walk in and out without having to buy something every time, rather like in an art gallery,” says Makri. To this end she gave Greek architect Stelios Kois free rein, resulting in a “peculiar forest” of glass display cabinets, stacked ad hoc on brass posts against an imposing backdrop of grey-speckled ceppo di Gré rock.
It’s no wonder, then, that since the boutique opened in 2014 it has become a destination for disciples of art, architecture and design as much as for jewellery devotees. “I don’t think there are many others like it,” Makri declares proudly. But, of course, the jewellery shines here too; Makri’s delicate diamond and gold Deco Escape earrings (€8,345) or her Baguette Bar ring (€2,425), featuring a series of small baguette-cut diamonds in a long line, are offset not by velvet or silk but by rugged concrete-like basaltina stone. The display is perfectly suited to her edgy designs, such as the rose-gold Crying Eye earring and cuff (€2,115), joined with a chain dotted with sapphire-encrusted tear drops.
Another designer with a penchant for statement-making earrings is Copenhagen-based Sophie Bille Brahe, whose elegant lobe‑lining diamond Croissant de Lune style (from €5,000) can be found alongside Bibi van der Velden’s scarab beetle pendant (€3,000), made from the discarded peacock-coloured wings of this exotic insect, and Pamela Love’s gold and turquoise five-spike earring (€460). And as well as bringing international designers to Athens, Makri is helping to foster a new generation of home-grown talent. There’s Lito, whose necklaces feature lifelike hand-painted eyes (white gold necklace with green and black diamonds, €1,300), and Yannis Sergakis, whose gold and diamond pieces have a timeless elegance (gold and diamond Charnières ring, €1,975) – both of whom have studio-cum-shops within walking distance.
Makri’s latest addition is Honolulu-born, LA-based Yves Spinelli, whose collection based on interlinking circles includes the pavé-set black rhodium and mixed-gold Pisces stacking ring (from €2,000). And in December the store will host a trunk show for Eugenie Niarchos and Noor Fares – “friends with distinctive aesthetics”. But if one theme unites Makri’s selection, it is a laid-back attitude. “Jewellery should not be stuffy or serious,” she says. “It’s an ebullient addition to everyday life.”