When he was just seven years old, growing up in Melbourne, Australia, Ray Griffiths walked around saying, “I’m going to be a jeweler.” Fast forward to present day and those words have proved prophetic. It turned out that Griffiths’ father — who was a shoemaker — had an army buddy who ran a jewelry restoration house. Griffiths’ father connected his son to his army buddy and at 15, Ray Griffiths signed his apprenticeship papers, a five-year program, that started him on the path to becoming a jewelry designer.
During his apprenticeship, Griffiths sat next to a master jeweler, learning his craft. One day every other week, the apprentices were sent to Collingwood Tech in Melbourne for classes in jewelry construction and theory. “At the end of every year, we were given jewelry tools, so by the end of the program we had a full set of tools,” recalls Griffiths, who later attended the Institute of Gemmology in Sydney. There, he earned a Diploma in Diamond Technology, which is the mineralogical study of diamonds, their atomic structure and their use in technology.
After finishing up his apprenticeship, Griffiths moved to London for a few years where he worked in fashion and retail selling clothes. But the call to create jewelry was strong and Griffiths headed back to Australia, landing in Sydney, where he became chief designer for the jewelry store Rox Gems and Jewellery one of the premier designer jewelry stores in the city. “I was there for 18 years and it was wonderful,” recalls Griffiths, who came to realize that if he really wanted to have a good design career and make jewelry reflective of his taste, he needed to be in a bigger market. Following his dream, Griffiths moved to New York City in 1997.
His Fifth-Avenue design studio has large windows that allow abundant light to come in to the room, showing the colors of the gemstones and the quality of Griffiths jewelry to best advantage. He has a round white table in the center of the room that is strewn with jewels. A crystal chandelier hangs above it, adding a glamourous touch to the otherwise minimalist white space that gets a pop of color from fuchsia walls, his brand color. There are two benches set up in the studio, where he and another goldsmith create jewelry by hand.
Griffiths notes that his work is very classical. He is inspired by architecture, shapes, the world around him, travel and crownwork, which is his design signature. Crownwork is a technique used on the underside of European headgear (crowns and tiaras, mostly from the 1600s, 1700s and 1800s) that takes the weight out of the headpiece by using a structured shape and then hollowing out the metal to make it lighter. “That was the basic premise that I started from,” says Griffiths. “I liked it and I trained to do crownwork as an apprentice. It’s hard to define your own style and find what no one else is doing. Once I figured out that was what I wanted to do, I went back to my roots. Women always complained about damaged ears from wearing heavy earrings. I started making beautiful, lightweight earrings.”
Using crownwork as the basis for many of his pieces, Griffiths showcases dazzling colored gemstones in light-as-air settings, allowing him to create large pieces that are easily wearable. Whether it’s a pair of big earrings or an oversized bracelet, the pieces will never weigh you down.
Griffiths’ design aesthetic of clean lines and elegant shapes influences everything that he does, including the decor of his apartment, which he designed himself. Intending the space to be simple and minimal, he focused on three materials: wood, white Corian counters and white gloss. “I collect a lot of gemological samples and they are taking over my apartment,” explains Griffiths. “The clean, stylized space is filling with gems, but I love it. I also collect vintage mid-century glassware.”
When he is not designing, Griffiths is on the move. He has a yoga practice and he rides his bike all over New York City during the summer. But ultimately, concludes Griffiths, “I’m a walker. I walk for miles.”