Personalities

Meet Alexia Gryllaki Jewelry and the Quiet Geometry That Drives Her Gemstone Designs

Athens. March 19, 2021. Designer Alexia Gryllaki of the eponymous design firm lets geometry guide her gemstone-rich jewelry aesthetic.

Roger Dery Gemstones

Gryllaki, a native of Greece, has long loved both math and art, nurturing both inclinations throughout her life. When it came time for university studies, she leaned toward architecture since it combined both art and science, earning an undergraduate degree in Philosophy and the History of Science in Greece. Her dissertation topic was modern and post-modern architecture because of her love of design. As she worked on it, she bought herself a bracelet during a random shopping excursion and pondered what the design would look like if small changes were made to it. Realizing she was sitting on a large stash of her mother’s jewels from the 1980s, she took a few dated pieces to a local jeweler to be redesigned, happily realizing that sentimental pieces passed from generation to generation could be reborn, similar to a store-bought skirt altered after purchase.

Mayer & Watt Gemstones

Jewelry design became yet another intellectual pursuit for her, even as she worked toward a master’s degree in corporate finance in Rome. To see if jewelry could be more than just a hobby, Gryllaki took evening design classes at Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design in London. Her interest grew stronger, and she went on to secure a graduate gemology degree at the Gemological Institute of America in London. Jewelry turned out to be as much a balance of art and science as architecture, her original career pursuit.

“Jewelry just clicked for me,” she explains. “Just as you can’t design a house without rules, the same applies for jewelry; you have to follow rules, you can’t design something without logic behind it.”

Not surprisingly, the logic and math helped define her aesthetic. While the overall look of her jewelry features clean lines and structure, her signature is balanced proportions of small gemstones that paint vivid pictures of beauty, even in asymmetrical designs. “If I create a mismatched design, it features the same stones in reverse, they would not be completely different,” she says. Gryllaki approaches design in a deconstructed manner that lets geometry serve as the unifier between collections.

From the perfectly balanced proportions of her One-Of-A-Stone collection to her Interlocking Geometry line of wire-thin geometric shapes with gemstone accents, symmetric displays of stones and metal are routinely her design DNA. Scale is another signature. “I find it more interesting to create something affordable, using smaller and more accessible stones, than I do the larger exquisite gems—though as a gemologist, I certainly appreciate them.”

She spent several years designing for Italian and Greek jewelers before mustering the courage to debut her own line in 2016. Why then? She took the top prize in the International Pearl Design Competition from the Cultured Pearl Association of America in the fall of 2015 for her Illusion earrings. A year later, she won another award in the same competition for her Diversity earrings.

Today, bench jewelers both in Greece and London help bring her 18k gold work to life. And she’s also working on book of tips that newbie designers will find helpful.

“I want to pass on the knowledge and experience I have gained over the years to those who want to become jewelry designers and, like me, are starting from scratch without any previous ties to the industry,” she explains.

Find Gryllaki’s jewelry on her own website and on First Dibs. Retail prices start at €640.

Multi-stone necklace in 18k white, yellow or rose gold with 0.17 ct. t.w. baguette- and round-shape faceted sapphires, 0.10 ct. t.w. round brilliant-cut colorless diamonds, and 0.07 ct. t.w. round faceted aquamarines, €920; available online at Alexia Gryllaki

Multi-stone necklace in 18k white, yellow or rose gold with 0.17 ct. t.w. baguette- and round-shape faceted sapphires, 0.10 ct. t.w. round brilliant-cut colorless diamonds, and 0.07 ct. t.w. round faceted aquamarines, €920; available online at Alexia Gryllaki

Multi-stone ring in 18k yellow gold with 0.50 ct. t.w. round faceted tanzanite, and 0.18 ct. t.w. round faceted spinel, 0.14 ct. baguette-cut colorless diamond approx., and 0.06 ct. t.w. round cabochon-cut coral, €1,980; available online at Alexia Gryllaki

Multi-stone ring in 18k yellow gold with 0.50 ct. t.w. round faceted tanzanite, and 0.18 ct. t.w. round faceted spinel, 0.14 ct. baguette-cut colorless diamond approx., and 0.06 ct. t.w. round cabochon-cut coral, €1,980;
available online at Alexia Gryllaki

Award-winning Illusion earrings in 18k black rhodium-plated gold with 4.98 cts. t.w. round brilliant-cut champagne diamonds, 4.66 cts. t.w. baguette-cut colorless diamonds, two South Sea pearls, and 14k akoya pearls, email info@alexiagryllaki.com for inquiries

Award-winning Illusion earrings in 18k black rhodium-plated gold with 4.98 cts. t.w. round brilliant-cut champagne diamonds, 4.66 cts. t.w. baguette-cut colorless diamonds, two South Sea pearls, and 14k akoya pearls;
email info@alexiagryllaki.com for inquiries


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Personalities

Meet Sophie Gardner and Her Charming Carved Gemstone Jewelry Designs

Seattle. March 17, 2021. Jewelry designer Sophie Gardner has been making fine jewelry for 20 years, but it’s just in the past year—during the coronavirus pandemic—that she has discovered a niche which is now her passion: gem carving.

Roger Dery Gemstones

The founder of the same-name design firm secured an Applied Art degree from San Diego State University in earlier years, nurturing an interest in figurative sculpture and 3D art. Work with ceramics and her mother’s medium, art glass, cemented her decision to not work with larger objects, and a course in jewelry in her last years of education reinforced her affinity for smaller scales. After university, she went to the Gemological Institute of America and earned her graduate gemology degree. She furthered her education even more with classes at the Revere Academy when it was still operating.

Mayer & Watt Gemstones

With all this education under her belt, she started doing custom jobs, worked briefly for designer Mark Schneider, and did appraisals. Around 2007, Gardner debuted her own line, featuring signature details of Moorish architectural and Indian influences like beading. A year later, she had landed about 10 accounts. Then the Great Recession struck, devastating the retail landscape. She decided to reduce her production, a decision that paved the way for years of custom projects while aiding her mom in her glass fabrication business.

During all this time, she admired carved gems but had never actually carved one. That changed at the start of lockdown, when she wandered onto YouTube for tutorials and started reading books on the subject. Trial and error became her best friend as she practiced carving for up to 14 hours a day. She became a bit obsessed, but in a good way. “Had it not been for the pandemic, I would not have taught myself to carve,” she explains.

Because of her natural inclination toward sculpture and 3D art—remember her undergraduate degree?—carving stones felt right. “I have fallen into something that I have a natural ability for,” she says.

And like the DNA of her jewelry, her carving aesthetic also touches on historical references and organic shapes. The beading from her jewelry lives on as accents on carved Figa figures, acorns, carved gem hoop earrings, and shell and heart motifs, among others. “I like creating pieces that people can’t quite tell if it’s ancient or modern, and adding little gold balls or diamonds to elevate objects into something special,” she explains.

Fave stones to carve are plentiful. Gems include moonstones, chalcedony, agates, and chrysoprase, using shinier rocks like diamonds as accents. Sometimes Gardner is also a bit of an enigma. “I love strong colors but also rock crystal so I can focus solely on form and not get distracted by the color,” she says. Gardner’s carvings are sweet, small, and ideal for daily wear as much-loved talismans; the motifs are familiar, making them easy to appreciate.

“I think of my carvings as between high art and wearable jewelry you can connect to,” she explains. “People want a more personal attachment to their consumerism, not just spending money for the sake of spending; they want meaning. I’ve been doing all these custom pieces in the past year—so many stories of loss, love, and family. It’s been the most amazing thing to make all these little personal things that become heirlooms, no matter the price point. That’s why I do what I’m doing, to connect with people while we’re all so disconnected.”

Gardner’s work is in five stores, including Essenza in Seattle and Gin and the Banker in Bellevue, Wash., though most of her sales happen direct to consumer on Instagram. Retail prices in 14k and 18k gold for her carved jewels start at $585. New pieces are routinely shown on Instagram at @sophiegardnerjewelry, where shoppers direct message her for purchases.

Carved heart jewels start at $585 for the charm only (no chain). Shop @sophiegardnerjewelry on Instagram.

Carved heart jewels start at $585 for the charm only (no chain). Shop @sophiegardnerjewelry on Instagram.

Carved carnelian acorn with 14k gold (charm only, no chain), $1,685. Shop @sophiegardnerjewelry on Instagram.

Carved carnelian acorn with 14k gold (charm only, no chain), $1,685. Shop @sophiegardnerjewelry on Instagram.

Cowrie shell with carved green Botswana agate and 14k gold, $2,285, and a carved milky chalcedony with 14k gold, $3,865. Charms only (no chain). The other shells are sold. Shop @sophiegardnerjewelry on Instagram.

Cowrie shell with carved green Botswana agate and 14k gold, $2,285, and a carved milky chalcedony with 14k gold, $3,865. Charms only (no chain). The other shells are sold. Shop @sophiegardnerjewelry on Instagram.


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Personalities

Meet Stone Cutter Darryl Alexander & the Visual Poetry of His Carved Gems

Phoenix, Ariz. March 16, 2020. Given that Darryl Alexander of Alexander’s Jewelers has won upwards of 50 awards—including roughly 20 Spectrum & Cutting Edge Awards from the American Gem Trade Association (AGTA), his name should familiar. The cutter, jeweler, and industry fixture (his passion for jewelry was born in high school) has worked for and with some of the most respected names in industry, a feat even more impressive when you consider he’s mostly self-taught.

Roger Dery Gemstones

Onetime high school teacher Miss Anderson nurtured his early interest, allowing him to do independent studies after taking two introductory jewelry-making classes. She directed him to a tool supply store in his hometown of Topeka, Kansas, too, the owner of which also gave him industry-specific guidance. By the time he graduated high school, Alexander had a little custom jewelry business of his own.

Mayer & Watt Gemstones

He took that accomplishment to Borsheims, where he worked for five years at the bench, doing repairs and custom work, including making wax models. While there, he invented a torch holder and a special hanger for the drills jewelers use. He sold the rights to those tools to the Rio Grande company for three years before shopping them to other firms for distribution.

After Borsheims, he went to Service Merchandise, where he served as the lead jeweler for five stores, working with an assistant and teaching bench work to others. But all that high-volume work paved the way for carpal tunnel issues, so he and his family (including wife Linda and their seven kids) moved to the Phoenix area for a series of job interviews. One position panned out for a short time before Alexander decided to hang a shingle, doing private jobs for both collectors and jewelry stores of all sizes.

Around the same time, and after attending many years of the Tucson, Ariz., gem shows, Alexander got into carving shells, both natural abalone and cultured mabe or blister pearls from the Tennessee river. He bought the latter from the Latendresse family of American Pearl Co., and his carvings—including leaves and flame patterns—started earning recognition. Family patriarch John Latendresse would sell what Alexander carved and gave him additional prestige through about five design awards in the now-defunct American Pearl Design Competition. The carvings also graced the pages of trade magazines in the U.S., Europe, and Asia.

“I always admired cameo work and wanted to create a look that was uniquely mine and creatively different than what was already in the market,” he explains.

Motivated for more recognition, Alexander started entering shell designs into the AGTA Cutting Edge and Spectrum Awards. As masterful as the pieces were, however, they never placed in the competition. Why? Alexander thinks it’s because shells are soft and perceived as easier to carve than hard stones.

“I spend as much time working on a shell as I do hard stones,” he says. “It takes skill to get clean details without scratches or marks.”

So Alexander shifted gears again, this time to cutting hard stones in an effort to earn recognition in the AGTA awards. His first hard stone entry? A carved agate, which took honors. Inspired, Alexander kept carving, moving into sunstone, a gem with which his handiwork is synonymous. Some of his sunstone carvings can be seen on the website of the Gemological Institute of America.

As for Alexander’s signature style, it is fluid, sculptural, and freeform, unlike German counterparts who are known for their precise angles.

“My early work is not as refined,” he says. “You can see it’s mine, but I had a lot to learn about finishing, flow, and the creative aspect of carving stones into fluid and pretty designs.”

Alexander read books about carving, including “Lapidary Carving for Creative Jewelry” by Henry Hunt, admired the works of Steve Walters and Glenn Lehrer, and would go home and experiment. It took Alexander about two years to master the art. A highlight of his cutting career? When he took a class with Bernd Munsteiner of Atelier Munsteiner at the Revere Academy.

“It was one of the biggest and most life-changing events of my career,” he says. “I got to hang out with my idols Bernd and Michael Good, who saw me as a peer.”

Today, Alexander’s carvings and jewelry can be seen in museums nationwide—including the Smithsonian—and son Nick can be spied in a nearby booth at the AGTA GemFair Tucson show displaying his own carvings and developing style.

“He won his first Cutting Edge award at age 17,” says the proud pop. The pair have a cutting supply business as well, dubbed Cutting Edge Supply.

Shelly Sergent is a fan of Alexander’s work. “I think of Darryl as an extension of Somewhere in the Rainbow,” says the curator of the gem and jewelry collection whose mission is to offer education and enjoyment of fine colored gems to museums, galleries, collectors, and the trade.

The collection has amassed about 80 pieces of Alexander’s work, including loose gems and art objects—think the Cutting Edge-award-winning Got Paint and Doctor’s Orders—and he is currently working on a larger commission for it. Alexander was also integral in making a gemstone mobile for Sergent’s granddaughter, a project son Nick even contributed to.

“We just fell in love with Darryl’s stories of mining, cutting, and making jewelry,” she says. “He is a fascinating story of industry success, and one of the nicest individuals you’ll ever meet. He was considered an underdog for so long but has really made a name for himself.”

Darryl Alexander with one of his many awards.

Darryl Alexander with one of his many awards.

Carving with deep red schiller sunstone, $8,000; available online at Alexander’s Jewelers

Carved deep red schiller sunstone, $8,000; available online at Alexander’s Jewelers

Carved Tahitian pearl shell, email alexandersjewelers@hotmail.com for information

Seaweed & Bubbles, a 123 ct. specialty-cut golden beryl, took second place in Innovative Faceting, AGTA Spectrum & Cutting Edge Awards 2020

Seaweed & Bubbles, a 123 ct. specialty-cut golden beryl, took second place in Innovative Faceting, AGTA Spectrum & Cutting Edge Awards 2020


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Personalities

A Self-Gifted Engagement Ring? Jeweler Elizabeth ‘Dilly’ Kirby of Elizabeth Blair Fine Pearls Said ‘Yes’

Harbor Springs, Mich. March 5, 2021. They say the third time is the charm, a fact with which jeweler Elizabeth “Dilly” Kirby agrees, regarding her third engagement ring—a gift to herself.

The ring? An 8.01 ct. emerald-cut diamond with a halo of calibrated long emerald-cut emeralds and more set atop the shank or band. The metal is platinum.

The owner of Elizabeth Blair Fine Pearls first spied the ring, made by Oscar Heyman, at the 2020 Centurion show in Scottsdale, Ariz., and was instantly smitten. Her colleague, graduate gemologist Andrew Brey, who helps her buy store inventory and manage in-store production, was as well, right away.

“It reads a lot bigger than it is,” he explains.

Courageously, he asked the price. Recollects Kirby, “He said, ‘This thing is cheap!’” Why was it priced well? The color L and the clarity grade SI, but the imperfections were really tough to see, and the channel-set emeralds, set end to end, masked the yellowish hue.

“It’s got a long, slim, and low profile, and the emeralds around it disguise the body color—it would read warmer if it were in an all-white mounting,” explains Brey. “We have wealthy clients up here with emerald-cut diamonds, and this one is so much bigger than theirs it shocks me. If you’re going to buy a big bodacious diamond, this is the one. It’s a showstopper; it looks like a million-dollar ring, but it was a tremendous value.”

Kirby just admired it at the show, not making a move. Then both the Oscar Heyman brand and Kirby and Brey moved on to the Select Jewelry Show in Tucson, Ariz., the same day Centurion ended. Kirby visited the ring again.

“I’m not a huge fan of diamonds but this spoke to me,” she says. She bought it out of “an outrageous act of self-love,” not realizing, of course, that the pandemic was just about to touch down in the lives of everyone. But as she stayed in quarantine like everyone else affected by shutdowns, the ring became a source of comfort. “I’m sitting home in my pajamas, petting my ring,” she jokes about last spring. The ring had become a private source of joy during the crazy Covid-19 times. The “worst” part about the ring—if that could possibly be a thing—is the owner’s hand, claims Kirby. “Hopefully people won’t look at it when they see the ring.”

Brey pointed out another positive about her magnificent new acquisition: it was a good selling tool for the Oscar Heyman brand, which the store carries.

Tom Heyman of Oscar Heyman agrees, and dishes on the stone’s provenance. He acquired it—set in a 50-year-old Oscar Heyman piece of jewelry—from an estate sale. It was pretty but needed a little love. His team trimmed it a bit—upwards of 10 points—to clean up wear and tear (think abrasions on the girdle), and then handed it to one of their in-house designers. Out of several design options the team chose this one because it was the most simple and stunning. Every single emerald was cut to fit around the diamond—edge to edge with no space for air or even a sliver of metal.

“Our designer said it was like a Rembrandt that needed a frame,” says Heyman.

Heyman says the ring was completed on Jan. 27, 2020. Kirby saw it two days later. Within two weeks of completion, the ring was resized and on her hand. “I don’t think anyone else even looked at it,” he says.

Ring in platinum with an 8.01 ct. L-color, SI clarity, long emerald-cut center diamond and custom-cut, emerald-cut emeralds, by Oscar Heyman

Ring in platinum with an 8.01 ct. L-color, SI clarity, long emerald-cut center diamond and custom-cut, emerald-cut emeralds, by Oscar Heyman

Ring in platinum with an 8.01 ct. L-color, SI clarity, long emerald-cut center diamond and custom-cut, emerald-cut emeralds, by Oscar Heyman

Sketch and finished product from Oscar Heyman

Ring in platinum with an 8.01 ct. L-color, SI clarity, long emerald-cut center diamond and custom-cut, emerald-cut emeralds, by Oscar Heyman

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