Perusing the vitrines at an Ilias Lalaounis boutique can feel as if one has stumbled upon a cache of archaeological treasures. From sculptural cuffs referencing Paleolithic artifacts to filigreed earrings inspired by Byzantine art, the celebrated Greek jeweler captured the allure of the past in 22-karat gold. While Lalaounis is best known for paying homage to ancient civilizations, the brand, now run by Lalaounis’s four daughters, is celebrating an artifact from their own history: the iconic Apollo earrings. Originally commissioned by Aristotle Onassis for his wife, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, to commemorate the moon landing in 1969, the one-of-a-kind earrings became a piece of jewelry mythology. But now, for the 50th anniversary of that landmark landing, the Apollo earrings are having another moment in the sun.
“My father always loved creating jewelry with symbolism and a story to tell,” recalls Maria Lalaounis, the brand’s Creative Director. “So being commissioned for such a momentous event in American history was very special to him.” Legend has it that soon after Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin made their touchdown, Onassis — already a dedicated Lalaounis collector — contacted the designer about making something for Jackie to mark the occasion. What Lalaounis came up with married his expertise in the goldsmithing techniques of antiquity with a decidedly futuristic subject: a swirl, representing the moon’s orbit, suspending a chain of beads inspired the Lunar Module’s silhouette, culminating in a large boule, hammered to replicate the moon’s cratered surface and studded with rubies.
Onassis presented them to Jackie for her 40th birthday, lending the earrings a trifecta of sentimental significance. In addition to celebrating the Apollo landing and her birthday (rubies are the traditional gift for 40th anniversaries), the earrings nodded to Jackie’s late husband, President John F. Kennedy, who had led America’s charge in the race to space. The earrings remained a prized piece of Jackie’s collection until they were sold in her 1996 estate sale at Sotheby’s. Aside from a few pictures in Lalaounis’s archives, no other records of the Apollo earrings remain.
In recreating them, Maria notes “I was really connecting with my father, imagining him conceiving their design and looking for the best techniques to represent the capsule, the moon and the journey of the spacecraft.” The new, limited-edition Apollo earrings are a reverent facsimile, but with white diamonds in place of the original’s rubies. These deeply symbolic jewels are layered with history: Ancient Greek aesthetics, man’s first foray into space, the legendary style of Jackie O. All of which adds up to the epitome of a modern heirloom.
Kareem Rashed is a New York-based writer.