Over 20 years ago, Ilias Verras traveled from Athens, Greece to Puerto Rico where he opened a tiny gallery on 202 Cristo Street in Old San Juan. He began importing artistic, high-end jewelry from Greece, and local residents took notice of the fine pieces being carried in the store.
After meeting two, now long-time friends, and bringing in an investor, Club Jibarito was born on Cristo Street and became a leading luxury retailer in Puerto Rico. With his extensive knowledge of history, literature, world culture, art and antiques, as well as being well-traveled and speaking Spanish, French, English and Greek, Verras was a contributing factor to the success of the business, opening up new jewelry concepts and ideas to Puerto Rico and the Caribbean area.
Now, Verras is bringing his expertise to New York City. He recently established Hellenis Jewelry, located, aptly enough, inside the Olympic Tower at 645 Fifth Avenue, right in the heart of the city’s luxury shopping district. With the new business, Verras continues to scout fine pieces not only from Greece, but also from other parts of the world. He mainly looks for craftsmen that express “beauty, harmony and balance,” he says, like designers Gavello, Kouzoupis, Maramenos & Pateras, Casato, Mimi Vert (Verras’ own line alongside Miriam Josi) and Huffy, all of which are available in the NYC boutique. Of course, the name “Hellenis” is a nod to Verras’ Greek heritage and is an inspiration for much of the jewelry he looks for when deciding whom to carry.
“[Greek] is a very wide term that means a way of thinking, a way of appreciating a concept of beauty,” he pointed out, “so I don’t mind having designers and craftsmen in the store from other countries as long as their aesthetic value makes sense to me.”
That doesn’t necessarily mean a customer will find ethnic pieces similar to that of a shop in Greece, although crosses and byzantine-inspired jewelry does currently have a place in the showcase at Hellenis. Modern day designers, Verras said, have “started to change the legacy” that some of the older designers left.
“Lately, I have seen a lot of talent; a lot of young Greek jewelry designers that represent this once in a while. Their lines are modern, their lines are so advanced, sometimes, that I didn’t even see it in Italy,” he says.
“For the last 25 years…all the trade shows, all the Italian designers, I’ve seen everything you can imagine and I’ve worked with the most important brands…and I notice in Greece, we have a lot of talent and we can do a lot of things, even in jewelry.”
One of those designers, Maramenos & Pateras, is being celebrated with a special event at Hellenis. Verras is hosting a private, invitation-only showing on November 27, and it will then open to the public the following day. Anyone can visit the store in the Olympic Tower November 28 through December 1 from 10am-8pm to get an exclusive viewing of the Maramenos & Pateras collection.
“Giorgos Maramenos is one of the celebrated Greek designers,” Verras said. “What I like about him is…[there’s] what we call ‘tourist jewelry.’ He started using this same type of gold, this yellow gold with incredible textures,” adding, “the texture of the Greek gold, the yellow, intense, sometimes matte texture, but in totally different expressions than everybody else.”
The collection is usually only viewable in Greece during Christmas, so Verras says it’s a “good opportunity for people who want to see the whole range of their creations.”
For information about the event, and to learn more on Hellenis Jewelry, visit the website: http://hellenis.com
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