Amy Elliot – September 27,2023
Born in Sydney and now based in New York City, designer Ray Griffiths is known for his bold, gem-forward pieces, which always give the stone or stones pride of place, from kaleidoscopic opals to turquoise the size (and color) of robin’s eggs.
He is also one of the jewelry industry’s most charismatic raconteurs, eager to share the details of his gem-hunting adventures with anyone who asks. Naturally this was the reason IGI wanted to interview him, and on a hot day in July, just before a torrential rainstorm descended on Manhattan, we met up in his studio to see his latest and greatest designs.
Ray’s Latest Work
As a bench jeweler’s tools buzzed in the background, we talked through his latest pieces which represent a slight departure from his usual diet of glamorous, jumbo-sized cocktail rings.
“I’ve sort of done a 360 on what I think about minerals, because I used to look at them as objects of beauty that humans could manipulate to become something,” says Griffiths. “I used to love perfection in gemstones. Now I like it if they’re organic and natural; I like a bit of an imperfection in the stone. I love it when it’s unmistakably of the earth—that makes me really happy.”
Meanwhile, color remains his passion. “It’s the thing I’ve always done and always loved,” he says.
Although gem dealers from all over the world regularly visit Griffiths for private viewings, the Tucson Gem Show is without a doubt, his happy place, the ultimate playground.
“I’m up first thing in the morning in Tucson and I’m running like crazy,” he says. “I stay at the Congress Hotel with all my fellow gem groupies. We have nights where everyone goes into somebody’s room and everybody’s throwing everything they got on the table. We’re a bunch of gem hounds going crazy looking at stuff. It’s my favorite week of the year.”
Not surprisingly Griffiths has lots of thoughts on some of the gemstones he’s been working with of late and the most beguiling of these are compiled below.
Spoiler: Opals? Not his thing until recently—a baffling fact for a native Australian!
On lemon chrysoprase
I saw some in Tucson this year and I literally ran it. I picked it up and said, “What is this stuff?” And the guy said to me “You’re Australian, aren’t you? It’s lemon chrysoprase from Australia.” And I said, “Oh my God, I’ll take all you’ve got.” The color’s so saturated and rich and vibrant yet it’s got inclusions. What else can you do but love it?
I’ve always loved amber. The thing’s that interesting about amber is it’s 40 million years old. You can slice it and dice it and cut it and polish it and do whatever you want with it. Back in the 1980s in Australia, I used to buy big, giant chunks of amber in Tucson, and I’d make big bracelets in laminated silver with it. The amber [in my current pieces] is from Odessa in the Ukraine. It’s the most beautiful, luxurious color and it weighs nothing
I used to really love perfectly round South Sea pearls. But, what, you’re going to have lunch with the Queen of England? No—because nobody’s wearing that stuff anymore. So now I’m about baroques, simpler, pared-down shapes, and layering. And many of us are concerned about the state of the world, the state of the planet, so right now, this more organic feel reads better in the world we live in.
It’s got copper chunks in it! It just speaks of the earth; I just love the feeling of nature being involved in these stones.
Aquaprase drop earrings in 18k gold, $3,135
Hackmanite is a new stone they found in in Pakistan. I’ve been in the jewelry business my entire life and I’d never seen it. It’s an absolutely beautiful color, another thing that I ran at during the Tucson Gem Show. It fluoresces under the light and it’s just this stunning, beautiful material, the color of lilac.
On rock crystal
Humans have a direct response to quartz because it’s the most common mineral on the planet. So when you hold it, it absorbs the heat out of your body—and all your negativity with it. Humans can’t evolve around this stuff without it having any effect on us. I buy beautifully-shaped, natural quartz crystals in Tucson including ones with healed fractures in them that just look amazing.
Rock crystal quartz pendant in 18k gold on oxidized silver chain, $1,980
I would not touch opal for 40 years. When I started my apprenticeship in January 1972, I was just 16 at the time. One of the jewelers I worked for handed me an opal, a double-sided cabochon. I was just a kid—fascinated by it—but it popped out of my fingers, hit the concrete floor and broke into multiple pieces. So I got screamed at by the boss; the stone belonged to a customer and we had to replace it. From then on, I wouldn’t go anywhere near opal. And then about 10 years ago, I was in Tucson and I’m looking at all this opal and it was so beautiful, so juicy, and then one of those little bubble things my head and it said, “Well, if you break it, it’s yours!” And then I wasn’t scared of opal ever again. Last year, I made myself an opal ring with an opal that’s just massive—25 carats. And I wear it all the time. I love it.
Ethiopian opal pendant in 18k gold, $5,390
On Sonoran turquoise
The people from the [now-closed] Sleeping Beauty mine went prospecting and they found this turquoise material in Sonora, Mexico. It’s unique because of the beautiful blue and green combination. The stones are like oil paintings—spectacular. I’m hoarding this material like an old lady hoarding scones!