CULTURE

Clarity, rarity and quality

“I love women and I owe everything to them,» says Stavros Papadopoulos, surrounded by rivers of diamonds and pearls. «I try to understand what they like.» As plain beige displays showcase the preciousness of the stones at the recently established House of Fine Gems on Voukourestiou Street – this city’s answer to Place Vendome – Papadopoulos appears happy to be back in his native Greece. Continent-hopping from Europe to South America and South-East Asia – in Hong Kong and Thailand, for instance, he heads companies as a wholesaler of precious stones and finished pieces – Papadopoulos also travels to New York, where he buys diamonds and has them cut. Overlooking all production and distribution, he is also an accomplished craftsman as a designer, goldsmith and even diamond cutter. (From raw materials to making pieces, alongside technicians, all pieces sold in Athens are designed by Papadopoulos and made in Hong Kong.) Papadopoulos is also a leading expert in alexandrite, a fascinating gem which belongs to the phenomenal stone category. Changing color from green in daylight to red at night, alexandrite was initially discovered in czarist Russia in 1830. It is an increasingly rare stone, and Papadopoulos currently controls a mine which supplies 98 percent of the gem to world markets, based in Brazil’s Minas Gerais region. From afar, raw alexandrite looks like emerald. Based on rarity and other qualities, is jewelry an investment these days? «In the last few years, the stock exchange has hit rock bottom,» says Papadopoulos, whose clients include the Sultan of Brunei, one of the richest men in the world and possibly the greatest private collector of extraordinary gems. «That is not the case with diamonds; only small diamonds have gone down because of a supply surplus. But big diamonds remain untouched.» In the Voukourestiou outlet, designs, sizes and qualities abound: platinum, white gold, gems and pearls appear on pendants, rings, earrings, bracelets and necklaces; there are flashes of extraordinary color in sapphires, emeralds, alexandrite and rubies, but also aquamarines, Persian turquoise and (precious) Imperial topaz (a 68.92 carat stone, among others); a collection of Papadopoulos’s Imperial jade – necklaces in this season’s spirit of chinoiserie; naturally shaped pearl crosses mounted with colorful sapphires; and above all, a luxurious assortment of pink, blue and yellow diamonds. In the pearls section, anything smaller than 12 mm belongs to the freshwater department, while beyond, it enters the much-coveted South Sea category. The colors are stunning, from black to white through gray and from mauve to orange. Men, however, will find a limited number of pieces to go. «There is hardly any demand for men’s jewelry,» says Papadopoulos. «Greeks feel that diamonds are not masculine; I personally think that’s wrong. A man is man with or without diamonds.» Born and raised in Kalamata, at the age of 18 Papadopoulos emigrated to Brazil – first Sao Paolo and then to Rio de Janeiro. While job-searching, the young man came across the opportunity to work in a goldsmithery studio. He took it, without paying too much attention to the craft; to him it was just a job. However, he was immediately taken by the work and a year later began making his own pieces of jewelry. A few years later he began using stones – a way to earn bigger profits as well as to take jewelry design a step further. At the age of 23, already an established professional, Papadopoulos had 45 people on his payroll. This accumulated expertise is evident in the Athenian venture, where prices range from 20 euros to those upon request. «In my window displays there are pieces at 50 or 100 euros,» says Papadopoulos. «We cater to all: to the rich, to the middle classes or the lower ones.» Papadopoulos’s main contribution to the local jewelry market, however, is that he brings a vast variety of gems of all prices and qualities – educating customers along the way. Clients will be looking at the whole gamut of diamonds, for instance, ranging from carats to clarity, where they will be guided to make their purchases (all stones in the one-and-above carat category carry a certificate of authenticity, a guarantee for quality and price). «Diamonds have an identity, an international price,» says Papadopoulos, noting that while in 1952 a one carat D-flawless diamond was set at $450, today this stands at $10,000. Meanwhile, in between buying and selling globally, Papadopoulos continues to design new pieces. «In goldsmithery, just like in all arts and crafts, if you don’t come up with new ideas, if you are stagnant, you die as a business,» he says. For this man of jewelry, ideas are followed by outlets these days: before a new store opens in central Athens in November, Papadopoulos is truly going back to his roots – a Fine Gem store is scheduled to open in Kalamata in October. «I’ve been a jeweler for the last 51 years, running my own businesses for the last 50,» says Papadopoulos. «As an expatriate, I’m looking for vindication. Given my experience in the global market, I want to offer three things to the local one: service, guaranteed quality and good, internationally set, prices.»