The son of an embroidery designer from Malta, Grima had never trained for the jewellery trade. He knew little and cared less about the conventions of ‘classical’ jewellery design. But he knew what he liked.
He liked his rocks large and rough. He admired exotic stones, pearls or grained quartzes, whose visual impact far outweighed their monetary value and, from bark to leaves and lichen, he found the textures he craved by casting objects found in nature.
This was jewellery that got you noticed and the shop was just as daring.
The Guardian’s obituary writer described its facade – layered from slabs of steel and slate with a metal door that opened automatically – as looking “like a lair for a villain in an early Bond movie”.
Lord Snowdon, who had complained in a magazine article that there was nothing exciting in jewellery, was already a customer when the Jermyn Street store opened and other members of the royal family followed.
At his peak of fashion in the early 1970s, Grima had a gallery in Zurich (fronted by a rusty boilerplate) and others in New York, Tokyo and Sydney. He even fronted an advert for Canada Dry, sipping a ginger ale while smoking his pipe, boarding a plane and sketching at his drawing board. In the words of the copy writers: “Few would dispute that this designer has made more impact in Britain (and probably the world) than any other jeweller in the last 10 years.”
It is well known that the following decades were not kind to the crop of ground-breaking British jewellery designers that included John Donald plus Alan Gard, Gerda Flockinger, Tom Scott, David Thomas and Charles de Temple.
These once cutting-edge creations had been, at best, relegated to the bottom of jewellery boxes or, worse, the melting pot. But slowly a niche market emerged among fashionistas that would broaden as ‘60s and ‘70s style became first cool and then mainstream.
The secondary market has led the way.
Back to the future
For Donald, in particular, the Princess Margaret sale at Christie’s in 2006 – and more recently the retrospective exhibition at the Goldsmiths’ Fair in 2015 – was important. For Grima it was a 70th birthday retrospective at Goldsmiths’ Hall in May 1991 and a sale of 80 lots at Bonhams (also in 2006) that ensured he once again became a brand name to conjure with.
Bonhams has continued to champion Grima in the auction room, selling a 35-piece collection in New York in 2010 and individual lots with a price range of between £1000-20,000 in most Knightsbridge and Bond Street sales.
Department director Emily Barber describes the king of Jermyn Street as “an artist whose medium happened to be jewellery” whose followers “consider Grima’s designs as miniature artworks”.
Grima up at auction
The anonymously owned private collection to be sold at Bonhams London as part of its Fine Jewellery sale on September 20 features 55 pieces. Grima creations made in London during the Sixties and a selection from his heyday in the 1970s are on offer alongside a range of later wares.
Highlights include two watches from the About Time collaboration with the Swiss watch brand. Launching in 1970 at Goldsmiths’ Hall was a collection of more than 80 timepieces – 55 wristwatches and 31 jewels – each set with a gemstone in place of a watch glass. An example sold for £19,500 at Sworders last year.
Works also appear from the signature Rock Revival (1971) and Sticks and Stones (1973) collections. Classics include the pencil shavings brooch (1968) and designs such as a 1966 gold wirework necklace decorated with ‘stalactites’ of diamonds which were exhibited at Grima’s 1991 retrospective.
Favoured by a number of London’s leading jewellery dealerships, the secondary market for Grima’s organic jewels has evolved significantly in the two decades across which this collection was put together. It could yet grow further still.
Andrew Grima timeline
Exhibits at the International Exhibition of Modern Jewellery 1890-1961 at Goldsmiths’ Hall.
Lord Snowdon opens the first Grima shop in Jermyn Street. Prince Philip gives the Queen a Grima carved ruby and diamond brooch.
Commissioned by Omega to design the About Time watch collection.
Opens New York gallery in Georg Jensen, Madison Avenue. Launches Rock Revival collection.
Opens shop in Sydney. Launches SuperShells.
Launches Sticks and Stones.
Opens Grima shop in Zurich. Launches A Tale of Tahiti.
Designs a collection of digital watches for Pulsar.
Goldsmiths’ Hall hosts a retrospective for Grima’s 70th birthday.
Bonhams holds an auction of Grima pieces: the first devoted to a single jeweller
Grima dies in Gstaad, where he had lived with his second wife, Jojo, and their daughter, Francesca, since 1986.
Jojo and Francesca Grima move back to London and continue the Grima business, selling vintage pieces as well as designing new creations. They also manage the vast Grima archive, with thousands of sketches, designs, and gouaches.