Nikos Koulis Takes His Exquisite High Jewelry to a Greek Port City
It’s a chilly spring evening, and I am at a warehouse turned gallery a stone’s throw from the Mediterranean, in Piraeus, an active port of Athens for the last 2,500 or so years. The Athenian jeweler Nikos Koulis has invited me here—my first time in Greece! I get to see the Acropolis!—to view his latest collections of fine jewelry, the kind of pieces so exquisite, and yet so youthful, so joyous, they would enliven the haughtiest ball gown, but would also be right at home hanging out with jeans and a tee. The stylish Koulis (I have it on good authority that he recently bought 10 items in a whirlwind visit to Dover Street Market) says he chose this unlikely, out-of-the-way venue because, “I wanted something that was sexy and cool. I didn’t like for the jewelry to be in cases, I wanted something new, something fresh.”
The location may be ambitious, but this hasn’t prevented the entire tout monde of Athens from showing up: people whose fleet of yachts, I am told, could stretch from here to England—if you laid them end to end, you could walk and not get your feet wet; the chic staff of the newly launched Vogue Greece; international press (including me!); assorted locals in the house to cheer this hometown boy’s ascent.
The works include both one-of-a kind high-jewelry treasures—once they’re gone, they’re gone—and the more accessible new Feelings collection, so-called, the designer says, because “it’s soft, but sometimes it’s aggressive. And sometimes it’s romantic.” Both collections are indeed displayed out in the open. The high jewelry includes deliberately unmatched triangular earrings comprising sapphires, white diamonds, and a central yellow diamond; and a tanzanite ring sunk in a diamond star that desperately wants to come home with me. Another extraordinary ring features a cushion-cut yellow diamond—a mere 5.48 carats—flanked by seemingly randomly placed rubies and diamonds that is so splendidly wacky, it would be right at home at the Met’s upcoming Costume Institute exhibition. (Despite the cost: as much as a summer house! It has been sold, so maybe it will show up on the red carpet next Monday night?) These are all on view in a funny, cage-like structure near the entrance; for Feelings, you feel your way to an installation in a smoke-filled back room, where the Deco-ish creations—diamonds, black enamel, and golden elements reminiscent of nautical ropes, offer a fitting tribute to the sea nearby. Showing pieces this way is delightful—who doesn’t want to lean in and look deep into the heart of a Burmese ruby?—but there are drawbacks. When a piece tumbles from a stand that is meant to represent a mushroom (or maybe a spiky flower?), a phalanx of beefy guys (so all these gentlemen standing around in normal clothes and eyeing me are security?) swoop down to the floor to retrieve it.
A few weeks after this extravaganza, Koulis is in New York City (thus that DSM spree) to present Feelings at Bergdorf Goodman and to have dinner with me and a bunch of his friends and colleagues. Before dinner, we meet at his showroom so I can ogle the pieces close-up. “I think I will wear this!” he says, placing an extraordinary ruby-and-diamond bracelet on his wrist, where it will gleam and dance all through supper. He tells me about the clear enamel technique he has perfected and patented—it shows up in a ridiculously spectacular diamond-and-enamel necklace; and how his love of Manhattan was first expressed seven years ago when he designed a piece in honor of the Empire State Building. I admire an emerald, black enamel, and diamond ring, and Koulis says it’s a big seller, and it happens to be his favorite color combination. As we walk to the restaurant in the far West Village, Koulis confesses that though he loves New York, his jewelry is sold all over the world. “I feel very Greek. Every time I leave, I miss my country so much—it is my origins, it’s where I was born. I even love the color of the airport—that blue, the Greek blue, the color I know from my childhood.” Does that blue ever show up in the jewelry? He shakes his head and laughs. “No—because there is no Greek blue sapphire!”