Edition Three – The Jewels of Generations

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Inside the vault at Bentley & Skinner with Mr Ilias Kapsalis


There's a pair of words forming in my mind as I examine the ring in my hand and the young man to which it belongs. Akin to a Medieval stirrup ring, its simplicity and smoothness speaks of an honesty and naiveté which is instantly satisfying. A window into a world now long gone, as I rub its band between my finger, I examine the cabochon sapphire stone once more and return the ring to it's rightful owner.

As I watch him place the ring back onto his little finger, I ask of its importance to him and the story behind it. Pausing for a moment, I listen as professional jeweller Ilias Kapsailis of Bentley & Skinner brims with enthusiasm. "I designed it myself" he says softly with a smile and a disarming canter owed only to his Grecian accent.

For such an unusual ring to seem at home on the hand of 30 year old Ilias, it is his sudden interest in our pocket squares – and his choosing to call them by their sartorial title – "Pochette" – that the two words that had failed to form only moments ago are coaxed into making themselves known.

Elegantly eccentric, Ilias – dressed in a 3 piece suit of slate grey – is wearing a white shirt, blue tie in a windsor knot and a pair of patent black Tassel loafer's who's sturdy, traditional construction suggests one of Northamptonshire's finest: Crockett & Jones, Cheaney, Edward Green or Church's. Intensely curious, it is his informal choice of the folding his own "Pochette" and the ring which take an otherwise, elegant appearance and turn an absence of order and perfectionism into a sensitive, considered and affable persona.

In part a reflection of his surroundings, his warmth and attention quickly make one feel special and at home as we sit, surrounded by what happens to be some of the most important, valuable and desirable jewellery in existence. From Lalique to Faberge, Cartier and Giuliano, each of the display cabinets which share our company, appear like gleaming sparkling spires which wouldn't look out of place in a museum.

Having lived in London for the last four years and having worked for Bentley & Skinner for a little over two and a half of those, Ilias' sitting opposite me could said to have been ordained long before the boy became the man of discerning taste. With no historical family ties to the jewellery trade, design or its manufacture, it was seemingly his relationship with his grandfather that was to become the first of many childhood experiences that would lead to his working with Bentley & Skinner.

Sharing more than just his name with his grandfather, from as early as 6 years old, the two would go off on trips to antiquities shops together, united in their love for jewellery to take back home for the women in their lives: his mother and grandmother. Cementing the importance of family, centred around a shared love for stones and gems, the impressionable and fertile mind of youth was being prepared for a fascination that would remain consistent.

After a visit to the Louvre with his family at seven, it was three years later that the dreams of youth, would become the future of his maturity. Recalling the very moment with a clarity which is not uncommon in those who discover their calling at a young age, it was an article in a magazine covering a Tiara exhibition in London some twenty years ago that placed his future career and home firmly in his mind. "I remember the moment vividly, I was 10 years old." he says without a moments hesitation.

With a clear sense of direction, a medium and discipline at which he was able to focus his energy, a self-directed period of learning, which wouldn't seem out of place in Robert Greene's book Mastery, Ilias spent countless hours pouring over jewellery catalogues, books and articles, armed only with a child-like curiosity for everything and anything jewellery related.

An affirmation of his deep level of expertise and commitment to his trade, Ilias' working at Bentley & Skinner see's him adopt a number of different hats. Working directly with clients, his innate understanding of jewellery and its manufacture allows him to traverse a vast landscape of periods, styles and movements and later match these to a clients personality, skin tone and interests.

More like being fitted for a suit at Gieves & Hawkes or a Wedding Dress at Pronovias, it is his response to the notion of the association with words like "antique" that prompts a response that speaks volumes not only of his understanding of luxury markets but of brand: "You don't have to change to be fashionable, you have to be original if you want to be different."

Coming from someone so passionate, its easy to be swept up in the intensity with which the words are delivered but one can't argue with the solidity in their meaning. The foresight and relevance is refreshing and compelling.

In these changing times, to abstain from the use of 3D Design and Modelling in their design and manufacture process, Bentley & Skinner remain one of the few independent jewellers that make everything themselves in-house. With complete control of the process from ideation to realisation there's a respect for methods and craftsmanship that have remained unchanged since the late 19th Century.

True luxury comes from the materials and craftsmanship, not the brand

Though Bentley & Skinner's reluctance to embrace 3D Modelling could be considered a reluctance to embrace the new, this is not a rejection of Technology or it's place within the modern world, more a core belief and a feeling which runs deep through the business, permeating throughout its walls and in the hearts and minds of the staff.

"True luxury comes from the materials and craftsmanship, not the brand" he says in a manner that at once has me recalling an interview with Brunello Cucinelli I had watched some weeks previous. It's clear and simple and as he speaks, you can feel that Ilias' belief is an unshakable one. "You have to respect the tradition" he adds with spirit.

For a business that stretches back some 135 years and has Royal Warrants from both Her Majesty the Queen and H.R.H the Prince of Wales above its doors and flanking the Corinthian columns in the central pavilion of the showroom in London's Piccadilly, it's encouraging to know that Bentley & Skinner has retained its family feel and that its hierarchical structure is such that those like Ilias are apt to feel that their ideas and actions are welcomed with a sense of openness.

With our time at an end, we head up the flight of stairs, our hands guided by the highly polished mahogany balustrade. Reaching the top, we head for the door but not before being greeted by the Director of Sales Omar Vaja who had previously helped co-ordinate our meeting with Ilias. "Oh hello!" Says Omar with a warmth and sincerity that leaves one feeling they're in the company of an old friend.

Silver haired, dark eyed and gentle, Omar first walked through Bentley & Skinner's doors some twenty two years ago after being awed as a young man enraptured by the jewels on display through the windows. Requesting and being permitted a two week trial of working for the Jeweller, the relationship was formed and the 14 days were to become a defining moment in the then young mans career.

"We're all wearing pochette's today I see." Says Omar. Standing in a circle, we each examine the others ticket pocket, noticing as we go the similar fold of Omar's and Ilias' pocket squares. "I hope you've had a pleasant experience with Ilias" says Omar who turns his gaze to Ilias regarding him in much the same way as would a master to his pupil.

Shaking hands and saying our goodbyes, one can see similarities in Ilias and Omar. Values, curiosity and a strong unshakable belief in tradition meets originality and craftsmanship, the new blood has again been enraptured by the beauty in natures geological miracles that man has set out to capture in tribute to her creation.

Leaving Omar at the stairs, Ilias accompanies us to the door smiling in response to the off-the-cuff question I send his way a moment before leaving. "What's the attraction I ask?", "It's the sparkle" he says, a sparkle no less I see in the eyes that was much the same some twenty years ago when a Grecian grandfather of the same name had seen it in the eyes of a boy. The eyes of his grandson.

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