Ioanna with three sisters, Demetra, Aikaterini and Maria Lalaouni. (Photo: Courtesy of Ioanna Lalaounis)
LONDON – The renowned Greek jewelry family, Lalaounis, was featured in the Financial Times (FT) for “putting the art of Greek jewelry on the international map” and for the “strength and endurance” of the family business which was founded in 1969 by Ilias Lalaounis who passed away in 2013. Since 1998, his four daughters, Demetra, Ioanna, Aikaterini, and Maria, have been running the company.
“Lalaounis is also one of the few family-owned jewelry companies of this era to have expanded internationally, adapted to the digital age, and survived several financial ups and downs,” FT reported.
Lalaounis is one of “the few remaining privately owned, niche international jewelry businesses” and “is competing in a $280 billion global market dominated by three luxury conglomerates — Richemont, Kering, and LVMH — and dealing in high-value merchandise amid fluctuating gold prices,” FT reported, adding that “Lalaounis has had to adapt its sales strategy from relying on its own stores to using a mix of these alongside wholesale and e-commerce — all the while maintaining market share on a limited promotional budget.”
“The jewelry industry has grown and changed immensely in the past two decades,” Demetra Lalaounis Auersperg, co-chief executive and director of international operations, told FT. “I don’t think any other luxury sector has developed in the same way, and jewelry has been the most explosive of all luxury categories, despite the complexity of the production chain and costs.”
“The company, which does not disclose any financial information, employs 70 staff, mainly in Greece,” FT reported, noting that “it is often compared to Buccellati, the Florentine family-run house, because of the distinctive intricate gold work in its lace-like jewels.”
“As for identity and heritage, the Lalaounis sisters — and their children, as they are old enough to join the family business — keep the story alive with a zeal inherited from the founder,” FT reported, adding that “the instantly recognizable style is supported by the activities of the Ilias Lalaounis Jewelry Museum in Athens, which opened in 1994 and is dedicated to Greek jewelry making.”
“In the 1940s, Ilias Lalaounis, a law and economics graduate with a love of history, was entrusted with running Zolotas, his uncle’s three-generation-old jewelry house during the difficult years of the Second World War,” FT reported, noting that “for two decades, Ilias successfully steered the company to international growth, but his desire to do something different led to a parting of ways.”
“Beyond producing generic jewelry, he wanted to bring his love of Greek culture to his work and create jewels with a deeper meaning,” FT reported, adding that “the results were his striking Hellenic-themed jewels made in 22 carat hand-hammered gold that turned out to be a turning point in the history of Greek jewelry.”
“Challenging his craftsmen to make jewels like their ancestors, he revived techniques such as granulation, filigree and weaving — time-consuming manual skills key to the distinctive house look,” FT reported, noting that “Lalaounis did not merely reproduce museum jewels but took details from many disciplines, including architecture and pottery, as a starting point,” and “timing was on the business’s side as postwar optimism revived travel and spending, giving rise to the jet set.”
“The glamour of Jackie O shone the international spotlight on the shimmering beaches of the Greek islands and Lalaounis was on hand to provide precious mementos with a distinctive look,” FT reported, adding that “by the early 1990s, the company had 14 boutiques in Greece, France, Switzerland, Hong Kong, Japan and the U.S., with thousands of designs that embraced a wider range of global cultural references.”
“Such was his repute that Ilias became the first jeweler to be awarded France’s Légion d’Honneur,” FT reported, adding that “as for the company’s products today, the original large-scale designs are less feasible now that gold prices have increased around fourfold since the 1980s” and “so Maria Lalaounis, co-chief executive and design director, has subtly shifted to lighter pieces that use less gold but achieve a physically big look in the house’s distinctive style.”
“All Lalaounis jewelry is still made by hand in its Athens workshops, in keeping with the founder’s commitment to maintaining traditional crafts and supporting the local economy,” FT reported, noting, however, that “the combined effect of 9/11, the financial crisis and the Greek debt crisis meant that, by 2017, the only Lalaounis boutiques that remained were in Greece and New York, along with distribution channels in other key locations.”
“The decision to close the shops was financially strategic and allowed us to restructure our business,” Lalaounis Auersperg told FT. “It proved to be very timely, given later issues such as COVID.”
“The company now has three of its own boutiques in Athens, one in New York and, in the holiday season, a presence on the Greek islands of Mykonos, Santorini, and Corfu,” FT reported.
“Greece is our main market because of local customers as well as international clientele, followed by the U.S. and the Middle East,” Lalaounis Auersperg told FT. “The Asian market, and the Chinese in particular, is a very interesting area for expansion because of their love of gold and fine craftsmanship and, of course, the sheer size of the region. We are also interested in Japan, where the name Lalaounis has a strong historical appeal, but we are taking a slow, cautious approach. The New York office is developing the U.S. wholesale [arm] and a small consignment business.”
“At the end of last year, Lalaounis launched its e-commerce platform and is focusing on digital channels to grow brand awareness,” FT reported, noting that “all advertising and marketing is done in house to save costs and, following tradition, occasionally uses family members as models.”
Looking to the future, Lalaounis Auersperg told FT: “We are adding to the traditional print advertising model with Instagram and e-commerce to expand and reach a younger audience, while maintaining a physical retail presence and a close connection with our clients, which our father had always done.”
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