For a man whose jewellery career began more by accident than by design, Andrew Grima would prove instrumental in changing the face of post-war British jewellery with his bold, audacious and innovative jewellery.
Andrew Grima was born in Rome in 1921 to a Maltese father and Italian mother. Aged five he moved to London with his family where he was schooled at St Joseph’s College before studying mechanical engineering at what is now Nottingham University. He soon put his new knowledge to good use whilst serving as an army engineer with the 7th Indian Division in Burma during World War II. On his return home he wanted to pursue his passion for drawing and painting but was thwarted by the discovery that most of the art colleges were still closed. So instead he signed up for a secretarial course which is where he met Helène, the woman who would become his wife and whose father would inadvertently open the door to his exceptional career.
Grima joined his future father-in-law’s jewellery business, H.J.Company Ltd, in 1946 working in the accounts department. Two years later he witnessed the opening of a suitcase that was to prove life changing for him. He recalls, “two dealer brothers arrived at our office with a suitcase of large Brazilian stones – aquamarines, citrines, tourmalines and rough amethysts in quantities I had never seen before. I persuaded my father-in-law to buy the entire collection and I set to work designing. This was the beginning of my career.” With no formal training in jewellery or design, Grima allowed his imagination to run free without any preconceived ideas of what was traditionally expected or even what was possible to achieve. His love of art, combined with the technical drawing skills he had learnt at University, enabled him to express his creativity in ways that were truly modern and original.
After his father-in-law’s death in 1951, Grima continued in his role as designer at the company, experimenting with different stones, metalsmithing techniques and quietly growing his reputation as an innovative, bold designer. He was delighted to assist the Worshipful Company of Goldsmiths with their Exhibition of Modern Jewellery in 1961 both by lending some of his own designs as well as facilitating the creation of pieces based on the wax models commissioned from sculptors such as Kenneth Armitage and Elisabeth Frink. The exhibition, which also featured jewellery by world renowned artists such as Henry Moore, Calder and Picasso, was hugely successful and exposed Grima’s work to a far wider audience resulting in a wave of popularity.
Grima jewellery is characterised by the use of large, colourful, bold gemstones, often in their raw uncut state and typically set within yellow gold organic forms using textured gold wire or beaten finishes. Fire opals, watermelon tourmalines, agates and rutilated quartz are offset by a sprinkling of the more traditional gems such as diamonds and sapphires. At times spikey and asymmetric whilst at others rounded and naturalistic, his shapes were as striking as his materials and designs, this was jewellery that demanded attention and needed a certain confidence to carry it off.
When Grima read an article in which Princess Margaret’s husband Lord Snowdon was quoted bemoaning that there was nothing exciting happening in jewellery he decided to invite him to tour his workshop and view his designs. Instantly beguiled, Lord Snowdon not only chose some pieces for his wife but he and Grima went on to develop a lasting friendship. In 1966 Grima opened his eponymous shop on Jermyn Street in central London. The building itself, designed by his two brothers, was as arresting as the jewellery displayed inside and housed the first ever Perspex spiral staircase. That same year Prince Phillip bought a brooch of carved rubies set in yellow gold for Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth thereby sealing Grima’s place in British jewellery history. He went on to be awarded both the Duke of Edinburgh’s Prize for Elegant Design (the first jewellery designer to do so) and most significantly the Queen’s Royal Warrant. Over the years he designed more than a hundred pieces for the Royal Family, including diplomatic gifts such as the ‘Pompidou’ brooch as well as personal jewels like the earrings and brooch he made for Princess Margaret, cast in gold from a piece of lichen she had picked up on a walk in Scotland.
Over the years he won twelve prestigious De Beers Diamond International Awards, providing continued recognition for his innovative and visionary jewellery. He was commissioned by Omega in 1969 to create a collection of watches called ‘About Time’ and during the 1970’s opened shops in New York, Sydney, Tokyo and Zurich. He married for a second time in 1977 before business difficulties resulted in a move to Switzerland with his wife JoJo and their daughter Francesca in 1986. The family settled first in Lugano and then Gstaad where they lived and received clients in an elegant shop, focusing on the kind of personal and bespoke service that Grima regarded as of the utmost importance. Alongside Royalty his clients included Jackie Onassis, Ursula Andress, Peter Sellers and Estee Lauder whilst more recently Miuccia Prada, Marc Jacobs and Gwendoline Christie have all been photographed wearing Grima jewels.
Andrew Grima passed away in 2007, leaving a legacy of bold and brilliant jewels which remain as highly regarded and collectable today as they were during the swinging 60’s and 70’s that they helped to define.