In the luxuriant landscape of rare and one-of-a-kind jewelry, Australian-born; New York-based designer/goldsmith Ray Griffiths is legendary for visionary design, superb quality gem materials and intrepid, master artisanship. Having trademarked the distinctive, chic and airy 18-karat gold jewelry genre called Crownwork® in 2014, Griffiths has earned an assured place in jewelry history, although he’s too modest to say so. While he’s also renowned as a master jewelry restorer, this year marks the 20th anniversary of Griffiths creating adornments in the USA. “I left Sydney, Australia for New York when I won the U.S. Green Card lottery many moons ago,” he recalled in his sun-lit atelier high atop Fifth Avenue. Wearing his trademark necklace of Tahitian pearls and a Crownwork® ring, he explained, “I’m about to become a naturalized U.S. citizen any day.” To honor these dual milestones, Griffiths is celebrating and compensating for COVID pandemic-related travel restrictions with a new E-commerce website that is rich in editorial content, videos and jewelry lore.
“2020 was the first year that I was unable to tour the U.S. doing trunk shows at independent jewelers and luxury department stores due to the pandemic,” Griffiths said. “I have been working with some of the same jewelry stores for 18 years, so the customers and I know each other very well. We all socialize when I come to their towns and stay in touch throughout the year. Many of these people feel like family to me.” An irrepressible extrovert and frequent philanthropist, Griffiths is donating a portion of his February and March 2021 jewelry website sales to the nonprofit mental health organization The Child Mind Institute. “I am donating to this organization in memory of a family member,” he explained “I’m also giving because of all the people I know who’ve mentioned that their children have struggled with remote learning and missing their friends throughout the COVID pandemic.”
The revamped Ray Griffiths site is notable for its ease of use, interactivity and the authoritative yet lighthearted way that Griffiths imparts jewelry knowledge that educates and entertains. In the Design Notes section, for example, when visitors see a pink design note bubble on the product page, they can click on it to read some thoughts from Griffiths about how he conceptualized the specific jewel. There is also a gemstone information index that shows images of stones in the raw while noting their material properties, along with its zodiac sign and birthstone month. While the experience of shopping on the site is far livelier than what one encounters on many other websites, Griffiths schedules virtual appointments for those who wish to connect directly. Other noteworthy features on the site include The Restoration and Custom Section. Here, Griffiths highlights and explains the design process involved with certain pieces.
The transcontinental jewelry journey of Griffiths began when he was sixteen in Melbourne, Australia, with an apprenticeship in restoring antique European jewels. “I signed on with a high-end restoration house run by master artisans,” he recalled. “We had all sorts of elaborate suites of jewels coming in all the time, and tiaras, too.” Because his training was quite technically exacting and detail-focused, it helped Griffiths acquire fluency in the language of gold and precious metals. “Each metal has unique material qualities and has its own temperament, so to speak,” he explained while showing this writer around his pristine workspace. “I had a fantastic apprenticeship, because the more you learn about what can be done with gold to shape and form it, the easier it is to use your imagination to design with it and create beautiful jewels.” This experiential understanding of gold’s unique characteristics; its myriad technical and artistic potentials are two essential elements that differentiate Griffiths from mere jewelry designers. So does his rigorous training in 400-year-old European jewelry traditions.
According to Marla Zimmerman of the upmarket Pittsburgh, PA. jewelry salon, Choices “Ray’s jewelry embodies old world craftsmanship and fuses it with a timeless and glamorous design aesthetic. Between his superb quality colored gemstones and his Crownwork®, he creates incredible jewels for people of all ages and genders. He is indeed a master jeweler.”
As Griffiths explained, European artisans invented crownwork to form the underside of tiaras and crowns from the 1600s through the 1800s. In those days, a structured, sculptural shape was made and then hollowed out to create a lightweight yet resilient grid on the reverse of the headgear. This lattice-like grid formed the piece’s hidden structural integrity. Taking this concept as a point of departure for his own jewelry collections, Griffiths started designing and hand-fabricating jewels featuring fully visible; 18-karat golden Crownwork® for everything from earrings to pendant necklaces, oversized yet lightweight link bracelets, wedding ring sets; high jewelry glittering with important diamonds or colored gemstones. “I can’t tell you how many women have thanked me for making earrings, rings and other 18-karat and gemstone jewels that are boldly proportioned yet lightweight and comfortable to wear for an entire day,” he said. “No more sagging earlobes or weighed-down wrists!”
Griffiths also makes sculptural Crownwork® beads in classically graceful and universally appealing forms like lanterns, spheres, ovals and pods. Whether these beads comprise an entire necklace of their own or form golden stations on a strand of Tahitian pearls, a tourmaline bracelet or turquoise earring, their voluminous forms and ergonomic appeal make them look and feel utterly pleasing.
“Ray brings personality to every piece he creates,” said Karen O’Neil of Frederic’s Fine Jewelers in Upper Montclair, N.J. “Our customers gravitate towards his colorful gemstone and trademarked Crownwork®, which is lightweight yet strong and always perfectly executed. Our clients treasure Ray’s designs as timeless heirlooms, yet they also look forward to passing them on to future generations,” she added. Musing over the good fortune that he enjoys long-term relationships with other upmarket retailers around the U.S., such as Stanley Korshak in Dallas, TX., Saks Fifth Avenue stores in Palm Beach and in Naples, FLA.; Belle Cose in Jackson Hole, WY. Sotre Collection in New Orleans, LA., Angela in Menlo Park, CA. & The Fine Jewelry Bar in Palm Desert, CA.), Griffiths is also a jeweler to several generations of the same families. “I get the feeling that people of all ages love the detail in my work and how it unites a classic sense of Antiquity with contemporary forms, clean lines and lightness. My pieces are made to last forever,” he said, “as long as they are looked after with care.” He added that, “The continuity of relationships I have with my customers means that I have been involved in making many jewels that mark important events in many family trees.”
While he has long worn jewels that he designs and makes by hand, like Indian maharajahs of yore, Griffiths always wears pearls, and his favorites are organically shaped baroque pearls, some of them offset by Crownwork® beads. “I have been wearing lustrous, irregular pearls for at least 20 years,” he recalled. “I am often stopped on the street by people asking where I got them, which has resulted in some serendipitous sales.” Given that musician Pharrell Williams has been rocking pearls on Chanel runways and in daily life since 2014 and global pop star Harry Styles wore a pearl earring to the 2019 Met Gala, Griffiths feels vindicated in having led the charge for men in pearls. “At last, more style-setting men are wearing pearls!” he enthused. “Besides being beautiful, pearls are fascinating as they are one of the few gem materials created by living creatures. Baroque shapes with beautiful luster suit the more casual dressing in this day and age,” he explained. “They should be a staple in everyone’s wardrobe.”
As one surveys the Griffiths jewelry oeuvre; observes how he’s designed a jeweler’s version of the American Dream and launched a new website, it’s obvious that his enthusiasm for human connection through jewelry is part of the secret of his success. Elaine Souza, owner of the Gladstone luxury jewelry and fine art gallery in Manchester-by-the-Sea, MA., put it this way. “We have an amazing track record with Ray. We have enjoyed representing his innovative and impeccably crafted designs since 2009. Customers of all ages and genders fall in love with the timeless, sculptural, and colorful aspects of his jewelry. And once they meet the charismatic person behind the designs, they find themselves collecting Ray’s jewels on a regular basis.”
“I can’t wait to start doing trunk shows again and working face-to-face with clients,” Griffiths wrote in an email. “For the time being, however, I’m styling their jewelry and dreaming up special made-to-order pieces with them via FaceTime and Zoom. Working closely with clients informs my designs in the best possible way. I’m so fortunate that I have the chance to view the jewelry on the client and see how they experience it.”
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