Lovely chatting with Francesca Grima

The father of modern jewelry, the engineer who is considered the most influential British jewelry designer of the 20th century. The creator of the most remarkable watch collection. The owner of the record of 11 de Beers Diamonds International Awards. One can see his pieces worn by the Queen during official ceremonies and on Instagram selfies of Marc Jacobs. 

The name of Andrew Grima is inscribed in the history of jewelry design. The master passed away, but jewelry by Grima successfully continues, thanks to his wife Jojo and daughter Francesca, who keep designing one-of-a-kind jewelry pieces. 

This year “Andrew Grima – The Father of Modern Jewellery”, the first major monograph, was published. Surreal Generation celebrated this occasion in a talk with Francesca Grima.

Francesca Grima

First of all, congratulations on the book! Is it the first book about Andrew Grima?

Thank you! It took us 7 years, and we are very happy that it comes to publishing. It’s not the first book, there was one before (Grima Retrospective. Goldsmiths Hall 1991), but that was a sort of a catalog, very image-heavy. “Andrew Grima – The Father of Modern Jewellery” is different, it is more academic in terms of content. 

Was it your idea?

It was a mixture of mine and my mothers’ ideas. We wanted to commemorate my father’s work in a way. Also, we have a huge archive of drawings, paintings, and photographs. We wanted to put it all together in a beautiful book, which I think we have achieved. 

Preparing for the interview, I watched videos on the website of Grima, and there were also a couple of TV-shows he participated in. That surprised me a lot! I’ve never seen any contemporary jewelry designer on TV. He seemed to be a kind of celebrity. Were those just different times or it was your fathers’ charisma?

A bit of both, I guess. At that time there were not that many jewelry designers. Plus my father had that charm, that celebrity-like look. His way of speaking was always relaxed, he had never been nervous… He was always a kind of charmer, you know.

Andrew Grima

I also came across an advert for a pale ale with your father, and he appeared in it as a jeweler.

Yes, the Canada Dry! That’s bizarre! Now they would never do it with a jeweler, they would call a singer or somebody like that.

You joined the company in 1998. Did you have a passion for jewelry back then or it was more a decision related to the fact that Grima was a family business? 

Definitely, I had a passion for jewelry. Also, my childhood was particular: when I was born, my father was already 59 years old, and he didn’t want to change his lifestyle. At the same time, he wanted to spend all the time with me. The compromise was to take me everywhere – to restaurants, business meetings, during which I was always given paper and pencils, and I designed. 

This business was my daily life. I listened to my parents talking about work all the time – obviously, when both of them are in the same business, they hardly ever switch off. For me, it was a natural progression to join the company. 

Did you join Grima as a designer? 

Yes, mostly as a designer. But since the company is really small – there are just me and my mother, I’m in charge of pretty much everything. We share the duties, so in the end, I’m multitasking in all directions from designing to sales and marketing. It gives certain freedom and calmness for me as a designer since I’m more interested in creating a beautiful piece, than in selling it. If you have a team of employees, this may be conflicting.

You don’t have a designer degree, right?

I’m self-taught, and I learned from my father. He believed that if you go to an art school they would mold your way of thinking, you become more conservative in your ideas and creativity. His designs were a product of pure imagination. 

Plenty of times journalists asked him about other jewelry designers if he liked their works if he found them inspiring. He always said that nature was his source of inspiration. Same for me: of course, I check trends, but when it comes to designing, I try to abstract from pieces created by somebody else. I look for inspiration in nature, architecture, textiles, furniture…

My father never made any jewelry and neither have I. He believed that if you design a piece of jewelry and then you also have to make it you would subconsciously design something easier to make. For this reason, he never wanted to make jewelry with his hands, but let a specialist do this part. He used to come to the goldsmith with his drawings, and the goldsmith would say “Mister Grima, we can’t make it”, and he replied, “Not my problem, find the way”. 

How would you describe Grima jewelry in three words or emojis? 

I would say pure…Ok:
✨🪐⚡️

Do you and your mother both design pieces? 

Yes

I read that you create from 20 to 30 pieces a year. Are they connected somehow? Is it a collection or are they independent pieces? 

We don’t do collections ever. They all are independent pieces, all unique. 

What is the starting point of your designs? 

We buy stones and create around them, get inspired by them. I’d say, for me, it’s more difficult to design a piece of gold and diamonds. In this case, I would first search for inspiration in nature, architecture, etc.

Talking about architecture: on your Instagram, you post a lot of pictures of urban areas of London, architectural details, as well as on your website. Do you have favorite architects, styles, buildings? 

I’m very inspired by architecture, plus I’m a mature photographer. I love looking at buildings, particularly in London this period, since I can’t go anywhere else. Finding different angles to photograph the building, angles it had never been photographed from before. 

I’m very into brutalist architecture. I liked Welback Street Carpark which was a beautiful building, unfortunately, demolished. Also, there’s the Trellick Tower, which I like, designed by Mr. Ernő Goldfinger. Oscar Niemeyer is among my favorite architects, too. I find brutalist architecture interesting because most people hate it, but I like finding beauty in something bleak, which is perceived as depressive.

I find fascinating the feeling of being overwhelmed by a scale of such a huge building, I feel so small when I stand there and photograph. It has such a big power.

I’ve never been to London but your photos of urban areas make me want to visit it even more than postcards-like pictures of the center.

You should come! People admire Paris, New York… One can find anything in London. If you walk down Regent Street with its large facades, London could be Paris. If you go to Soho, it could be NY. It is so different and so inspiring, full of beautiful things. 

Before the UK you lived in Switzerland?

Yes, for a very long time. 

Do you as an artist feel the difference between living in the UK and living in Switzerland? Does the country influence your creativity?

Yes, very different. For me, Switzerland was extremely uninspiring. My father adored it – there are mountains, it’s calm and relaxing. But for me as a young person that was a complete creativity blockage. And there were no challenges! In London you have so many opportunities, I’m always active here: taking jewelry to a photoshoot, to an exhibition, etc. In Switzerland, there are no magazines, for example, simply fewer opportunities. 

I like living in London for its diversity. This city can be as slow-paced as you want: you can stay in your bubble or go to City where there are skyscrapers. 

Have you ever thought about designing watches? Would you like to do it? 

I think it is very difficult. I looked at my fathers’ collections for Omega and for Pulsar so much and admired them so much that I don’t think I can make anything better or improve upon the collection, or come up with any ideas that are better than my fathers’ that I won’t attempt doing anything. 

The collection for Omega is impeccable, I have to say

80 individual designs. Nobody ever designed watches like that before or after. It would probably take me a year to add just one new design to this collection.

Do you have a favorite watch?

I have some favorites. One is called Utopia and the other – Enigma. I could probably pick 10 watches I like from that collection, which I would wear if I had them.

All of them are in private collections? 

Yes, we have just two here, in our collection for sale. And one of them is among my favorites, it’s called Elegance. I even love the names! 

The year 2020 is about to end, have you already created 20-30 pieces?

I think so. I have to say, that was a pretty good year for us.

Do you show your pieces somewhere or they immediately go to the owners? 

We work by appointment in London. There should have been the Masterpiece fair in Chelsea in June, but it was canceled. This year we had to focus on social media and the website. 

I was looking for a technology or a program, which lets you virtually try on pieces online, but the quality of an image isn’t that good yet. And I didn’t want to do anything which won’t be perfect. 

How would you describe an average client of Grima?

Many of them are art collectors. This tendency has been going from my fathers’ days: his volume pieces with semiprecious stones were a sort of wearable sculptures. We have a lot of clients in the States, UK, Germany.

Please, reply to the following questions quickly, without thinking too much.

Your favorite jewelry designer.

Well, if it’s not my father, I would choose Taffin.

Your favorite gem

At the moment I would say sphene.

Sphene Necklace. A sphene set in yellow gold surrounded by coloured diamonds in tubes.

Your favorite drink (alcoholic and non-alcoholic)

There’s a place in Soho, called Soho House. They make Picante, it’s a cocktail with tequila, chili, coriander.

Sea or mountains?

Sea!

Favorite holiday destination?

Cap Rocat in Majorca.

“Grid” brooch. Layered yellow gold wire and diamonds. Another example of Andrew Grima’s modernist, sculptural designs – 1967. Private collection, Germany.

All the images: courtesy Grima.

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