As a child, Greek jeweler Ileana Makri would often play with her mother’s costume jewels, and spent many hours as a teenager watching the local goldsmith at work. Despite studying business, she was always drawn to jewelry and began to make one-off pieces for her friends and family. This led her to study jewelry design at the GIA (Gemological Institute of America) in Santa Monica, and in 1996 she launched her eponymous brand.
Drawing inspiration from various cultures as well as vintage jewelry, Makri’s designs often feature symbolic motifs such as serpents or the evil eye, updated for a contemporary audience and rendered in 18-carat gold and precious gemstones. Her pieces are stocked at Barney’s New York, Dover Street Market, Net-a-Porter and Matchesfashion.com, as well as at her flagship in Athens. Now joined in the business by her daughters, the designer shares her most precious gems inside her jewelry box.
This bracelet is my latest love: it was given to me by my two daughters for my birthday in May, and it hasn’t left my wrist since. Both of my daughters work in jewellery so they designed it and had it made in one of our workshops as a surprise. I had no idea. I didn’t expect a gift because I always tell them that I don’t need anything but I was really touched by this. It’s made of oxidised white gold inlaid with diamonds which spell out “we love you”. Besides the fact that it’s beautifully made, it’s that message from them which is the most touching thing.
Paloma Picasso for Tiffany & Co watch
This was a gift for my 30th birthday from the father of my children. It’s a limited-edition watch that Paloma Picasso did for Tiffany back in the 1980s. I fell in love with it at Tiffany in New York while we were living there, and I had been looking at it for a while. My ex-husband always used to buy me beautiful, expensive jewellery but we had different tastes – I wouldn’t always wear the things he chose. At some stage I said to him from now on we need to agree on gifts because it’s a shame to spend money on beautiful things that are not right for me. So I made sure to take him to Tiffany on the way home one day to show him this watch – I said if you do decide to buy me something, I would like this.
It’s very delicate and beautifully made with a unique mechanism and baguette diamonds around the dial. I adore the workmanship on it – most of the pieces I love are those where the workmanship is unique. I wear it a lot, even though since then the fashion is for bulkier watches and I usually wear a dual-timezone watch that shows the time in Athens and wherever I am travelling, which is very convenient. But in the evening and for special occasions I like to wear this one.
The mosaic necklace was the first piece of jewelry I bought at auction. I had seen it at a very small auction house in New York in the early 1980s – I always used to go and look at the jewelry; not necessarily to buy it, but just to examine the workmanship. I saw this piece and I couldn’t get it out of my mind so I went to the auction and won it. For me it’s like a magic piece.
I see jewelry as micro-sculpture and this particular necklace is part of a whole mosaic set that portrays the history of Rome. I still have the box which used to have a painting inside that showed how the mosaic was laid but that somehow got misplaced. I’m very careful with this necklace because it’s such an unusual piece: if you don’t know what it is, it can look like it’s painted. You can dress it down and wear it with a cashmere sweater, you don’t have to wait for a special event. Since I bought this I’ve continued to buy different pieces at auction: Victorian, French, Venetian – it depends, I love all antique jewelry.
Grandfather’s pinkie ring
I never met my grandfather, but my mother always wore his pinkie ring; it was her favorite. My mother has now passed away too but I always remember her wearing this ring; I used to ask her to take it off so I could play with it and try it on, and she would always say “please be careful because it’s very valuable to me”. One day a few years before she died we were going through her jewelry box as she wanted to have some pieces redesigned. When she got to this ring she said “of course not this one, this is staying the way it is”. I told her that I really loved the ring and she said “if you love it and you’re going to take good care of it then you can have it”. I said that she could give it to me when she got tired of it and she said “I will never get tired of it, but it makes me happy that you’ll have it”, and then she gave it to me.
I don’t wear it that much because it’s almost 200 years old – my grandfather was given it by his father – and the gold around the stone has become too thin. It needs to be strengthened and made smaller for me to wear it, but I don’t want to take it to anybody to change unless I’m there watching – I’m slightly afraid to touch it. One day I will pass it on to my daughter of course; it’s important to have family heirlooms.
Gold Ottoman earrings
Once when I was travelling in Istanbul I bought a big trunk of jewellery – there were 30-40 pieces, and out of the whole lot I chose to keep these because I liked them the most. They come from Egyptian culture; they are 18-carat gold with a piece of red glass; it looks like a ruby but actually they always used to make this type of gold jewellery with different coloured glass beads in the place of gemstones. These earrings were a source of inspiration for a range I designed in the late 1990s called 1,001 Nights: it was a more modernised version using diamonds. I quite often take inspiration from vintage jewellery in that way. I wear these a lot in summer or on holiday with kaftans; I think they look best in that context. Again, the workmanship is beautiful.
Source: telegraph.co.uk Photos: ileanamakri.com