Bold, bodacious and experimental: jewellery from the 1970s is back at the fore of fashion, buoyed by a growing band of collectors with a passion for the era’s exuberant and colourful gems. Topping the auction charts are prestigious maisons such as Van Cleef & Arpels and Piaget, but for some, there is one name that really exemplifies the decade’s flamboyant creativity – that of Rome-born, London-raised jeweller Andrew Grima. Grima’s striking combinations of yellow gold and vibrant stones often sell for several times their auction estimates, and prices for some of his most sought-after designs have nearly doubled in the past 10 years.
“He did very cool stuff with non-precious stones,” says London gallerist Louisa Guinness, who has a Grima 1968 naturalistic crystallised-agate and cultured-pearl pendant brooch with torc necklace for £7,000. Each piece was hand-wrought, with Grima typically making only one – and at most a handful – of each design, giving them a rarity value reflected in Bonhams’ high-profile September 20 sale featuring his creations.
The auction included 55 pieces amassed over two decades by a single anonymous collector, who called Grima “the great impressionist of jewellers”. Standing out among the offerings was a ribbon-like torc necklace (sold for £16,250) with two pink tourmalines encircled by a burst of emeralds, diamonds and gold, which the collector recalled wearing with “simple black-and-white ensembles in places like Paris and St Moritz. It dressed an outfit in a way nothing else could, but every Grima piece was universally admired when worn.”
Other lots included jauntily geometric 1971 amethyst drop earrings (sold for £30,000) and a space-age opal and diamond pendant necklace (sold for £60,000) from 1972 – both displaying the uniquely fantastical aesthetic the mechanical engineer-cum-jeweller applied. “His jewels appealed to a very sophisticated audience,” says Catharine Becket, senior vice president of jewellery at Sotheby’s New York; indeed, a ruby and diamond brooch was created for Prince Philip as a gift for Queen Elizabeth in the mid‑1960s. In the years that followed, Grima’s clients read like a Who’s Who of jet-set society: Princess Margaret, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, Ursula Andress and Estée Lauder (whose c1965 diamond pendant brooch in, unusually, white gold, sold at Sotheby’s in 2012 for $30,000, double its estimate) were all fans.
Grima’s glamorous image was enhanced by his architecturally bold studio space on Jermyn Street in Mayfair – as well as his larger-than-life persona. “He was good looking and utterly charming,” says one dealer, “a bon vivant who, with his Campari and sodas, dined nightly at Le Gavroche and drove around in an Aston Martin selling his wares.”
And they certainly sold well. His themed, limited edition collections, in particular, were hugely successful; a series centred around shells and another in gold-cast pencil shavings (a 1968 brooch sold in Bonhams’ sale for £17,500) are highly covetable today, as is his About Time collection of 55 watches for Omega that used coloured stones such as aquamarine and citrine for the dials and was accompanied by 31 matching jewels. Bonhams had a few: the 1969 Cerini (sold for £22,500), a nest-like medley of delicate gold strands around a faceted face, and the 1970 Greenland (sold for £35,500), with a pink tourmaline set into a jagged-edged gold bangle. Another splendid example can be found at Hancocks London. The Burlington Arcade-based dealer has the cushion-shaped Teak watch (£25,000) in bark-like textured gold and crystal quartz, as well as a selection of Grima gems, including a showstopping 1973 diamond, sapphire and emerald cuff (£55,000).
Sandy Stanley, who has sold vintage Grima from her west London boutique for 25 years, is another reliable source. She has some 50 Grima pieces in stock, almost all from the 1960s and ’70s, and tends to focus on his more unusual styles – from a rare textured-gold and citrine pendant watch (£14,000) to a striking white-gold ring with pavé diamonds and emeralds (£6,800). She also has Grima cufflinks, such as a marvellous watermelon tourmaline pair (£3,200). “I have several longtime collectors who are obsessed with Grima and own five to 10 pieces or more,” says Stanley. One collecting couple – a partner at Linklaters, who admires “the very English, quirky and cerebral aesthetic”, and his photographer wife – have amassed dozens of Grima gems. “I wear all my Grima pieces, most of which are brooches,” she says. “I’m drawn to the period’s sense of liberation: the shift from postwar austerity to an amazing joy in materials.”
Grima worked until not long before his death in 2007. While pieces from the 1960s and ’70s are the most sought-after, his designs from later decades are equally interesting – and pleasingly undervalued. A c1985 chalcedony and diamond ring, for example, can be found at jeweller Lucas Rarities for £5,500.
Today the house is run by his widow Jojo and daughter Francesca, who sell not only vintage pieces – such as an ingeniously engineered 1969 articulated smoky-quartz watch (£75,000) and jewels from the shell collection (price on request) – but also new designs by Francesca, created by veteran Grima makers. A Yayoi Kusama-inspired white agate and gold ring (£8,500) and minimalist double rock-crystal ring (£8,800) demonstrate her “more female touch. Of course, I’m influenced by my father and work in the same ethos, but I have my own style.” It’s only fitting that the legacy of this cutting-edge creative is moving with the times.