Andrew Grima: Designer who shook up British jewellery with his flamboyant ideas


Andrew Peter Grima, jeweller: born Rome 31 May 1921; managing director, Andrew Grima Ltd 1966-2007; married 1947 Helène Haller (one son, two daughters; marriage dissolved 1977), 1977 Jojo Maughan-Brown (one daughter); died Gstaad, Switzerland 26 December 2007

Andrew Grima shook up British jewellery with his bold use of semi-precious stones. He was an amazing blend of glamour and style, expressed through his energy and generosity, his love of good company, and his admiration for the arts, especially the one he made his own, modern jewellery. His dislike of mediocrity punctuated every aspect of his life, from his fine cars – he owned an Aston Martin and a Ferrari – to his homes and shops in Sonning, London, Lugano and Gstaad, always filled with his own exotic collection of art as well as his stock of jewels.

When I was art director at Goldsmiths' Hall, I was responsible for purchasing and commissioning new jewels and silver to complement the ancestral collections of our medieval guild, the Worshipful Company of Goldsmiths. We ended up with more pieces by Grima than by any other living craftsman, an achievement which tells its own story.

Andrew Grima was born in 1921 in Rome, with a Maltese father who ran a big international lace-making company, and an Italian mother who traced her family from the Farnese of Renaissance fame – one of Andrew's creative forebears had helped to make the Trevi fountain in Rome. Brought up in England, Andrew Grima studied Mechanical Engineering at Nottingham University, which helped him when he joined the REME, one of the gallant British army regiments which fought in Burma during the Second World War in what was called "our forgotten army".

Grima was mentioned in despatches, nearly eaten by a tiger, and rebuked by Field Marshal Claude Auchinleck for not being smartly dressed. He was amazed that people at the top seemed unaware of the desperate conditions in the jungle. He helped to win the battle of Imphal against the Japanese by some brilliant engineering improvisation on his broken-down jeep. There was no technical repair equipment in the jungle. So was born Grima's fascination with craft skills which came in so useful when he got back to London at the end of the war.

There he married Helène Haller in 1947 and later inherited her Viennese father's jewellery business, the H.J. Company. Grima once told me he had loved art for as long as he could remember, so he joined in enthusiastically with the world's first-ever exhibition of modern art jewellery, which I organised at Goldsmiths' Hall in 1961. He now began to win the magnificent series of awards which changed his life – the Diamonds International Award (five times over) and in 1966 the Duke of Edinburgh Prize for Elegant Design (the first time it was given to a jeweller – a great boost for the skilled jewellery workshops).

These led to a phone call from Buckingham Palace asking for Grima to come and discuss ideas for royal presents for state visits overseas. The Duke of Edinburgh gave the Queen a jewel which she often wore and Princess Margaret commissioned Grima to cast some Scottish lichen in gold for a brooch – one of the many pieces inspired by nature at this time. And then came the Queen's royal warrant.

Grima started European travels, frequently with his new lifelong business partner, the master craftsman Geoffrey Turk. Then he went global, opening shops in New York, Sydney, Melbourne and at Seibo, the world's biggest department store, in Tokyo.

Grima felt that the time had come for a London shop of his own – where he would be free to express his own flamboyant ideas. He chose Jermyn Street, St James's, a typically stylish choice. The shop had to be a knockout. So it was a work of art in its own right, created by Andrew's two brothers with the sculptors Bryan Kneale and Geoffrey Clarke.

They contrived a splendid shop front with great slabs of rough, irregular shaped slate, allowing the small rectangular showcases to poke their way in between. The effect was one of intense contrast: primitive, barbaric, blank areas of stone beside delicate pinpoints of lights. It was part fortification, with huge steel nuts and bolts and bars to hold it together, part fantasy in space, luring the observer inside from the bright to the dark through the dark crevices to the chinks of light within.

Grima organised a series of provocative, original exhibitions there on themes of "Super Shells", "Rock Revival" and "Leaves". Best of all was "About Time" in 1971 for the Omega Watch Co, which had commissioned Grima to make a collection of original jewelled watches with faces of semi-precious stones. This exhibition was opened by the Princess Royal at Goldsmiths' Hall and then toured the world. In a grand gesture, Omega hired a jumbo jet to fly their guests to the party on Lake Geneva.

In 1977, Grima, by now divorced, married Jojo, granddaughter of Sir Thomas Cullinan, of diamond fame. They decided in 1986 to move the business to Lugano and six years later moved again, to Gstaad, where they made a beautiful home in a large chalet crammed with antique Spanish chests and Roman chariot wheels and, in contrast, some vast modern American paintings of brilliant colours. The elegant shop was below this great loft-like living room and below that was Andrew's fascinating magpie-like collection of early carpentry tools and Indian pipes.

He was a great enjoyer of life and wanted others to share his enjoyment – hence his great parties in fine restaurants such as the Gavroche in London, the Colombe d'Or in Vence, and the Baur au Lac in Zurich. I like to think of his genial spirit sitting benignly in a corner, enjoying the scene.

Graham Hughes

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
News
Alan Bennett criticised the lack of fairness in British society encapsulated by the private school system
peopleBut he does like Stewart Lee
Sport
John Terry, Frank Lampard
footballChelsea captain sends signed shirt to fan whose mum had died
Life and Style
food + drink
Arts and Entertainment
Rita Ora will replace Kylie Minogue as a judge on The Voice 2015
tv
Life and Style
tech
Life and Style
Alan Turing, who was convicted of gross indecency in 1952, was granted a royal pardon last year
life
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black and Ed Stoppard as her manager Brian Epstein
tvCilla Episode 2 review: Grit under the glamour in part two of biopic series starring Sheridan Smith
Life and Style
life
Arts and Entertainment
Tennis player Andy Murray's mum Judy has been paired with Anton du Beke for Strictly Come Dancing. 'I'm absolutely delighted,' she said.
tvJudy Murray 'struggling' to let Anton Du Beke take control on Strictly
Life and Style
Vote with your wallet: the app can help shoppers feel more informed about items on sale
lifeNew app reveals political leanings of food companies
Sport
David Moyes and Louis van Gaal
football
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Teaching Assistant in secondary school Manchester

£11280 - £14400 per annum: Randstad Education Manchester Secondary: Teaching a...

Primary teaching roles in Ipswich

£21552 - £31588 per annum: Randstad Education Cambridge: Randstad Education re...

Science teachers needed in Norwich

£21000 - £35000 per annum: Randstad Education Cambridge: Science teachers requ...

Semi Senior Accountant - Music

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Sauce Recruitment: A successful, Central London bas...

Day In a Page

Secret politics of the weekly shop

The politics of the weekly shop

New app reveals political leanings of food companies
Beam me up, Scottie!

Beam me up, Scottie!

Celebrity Trekkies from Alex Salmond to Barack Obama
Beware Wet Paint: The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition

Beware Wet Paint

The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition
Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

Can 'The Endless River' carry on the tradition?
Sanctuary for the suicidal

Sanctuary for the suicidal

One mother's story of how London charity Maytree helped her son with his depression
A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

Not That Kind of Girl:

A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

Model mother

Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

Apple still the coolest brand

Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits