Kiki Karayiannis has a unique gift for jewellery making. She does it in her own way, free from the sometimes unethical constraints of mass production and always with scrupulous attention to detail, focussing on the materials she uses and in particular, the stories behind them.
Operating under the moniker Vasiliki by Kiki, the 25-year-old crafts pieces of every kind: from imperfect, hand-dripped gold or silver necklaces and bracelets, to rings encrusted with ethically sourced stones, they are equal parts seductive, dramatic and intricate.
“Vasiliki is my grandmother’s name, which technically should have been my name in Greek-Cypriot tradition,” Karayiannis explains. “The etymology of it is ‘royal one’, which I see as a kind of alter ego – the jewellery that I’ve always been drawn to is old Byzantine stuff or punky, heavy pieces that are glam and theatrical.”
London-born, Athens-based Karayiannis has been designing jewellery for two years and is completely self-taught. After completing a fine art and visual cultures degree at Goldsmiths University, she decided to move away from the “pushed behind closed doors, London-centric” vibe that can permeate artistic circles in the city, in favour of sunny, scenic Athens.
“Everything here is out in the open,” she says. “My mother was a war refugee from Cyprus and she came to live in Athens when she was younger. There’s always been this magic when I come to visit, a history of craft and artisanship I’m obsessed with. Plus you’re surrounded by ruins, archeology and amazing hills.”
This is the stuff of dreams for Karayiannis, who is heavily inspired by myths, folklore, ideas of metamorphosis and last but not least, science fiction. “I love reading and stories,” she says while Chloe, the Vizsla puppy she’s looking after, playfully nibbles her fingers. “A lot of my pieces are based on ideas of metamorphosis and I’ve named all of them after organisms or characters who go through that process.
“Most of my rings, for example, are named after mushrooms – these amazing morphing organisms that happen to have sexy, beautiful names.” Karayiannis describes writers as building architecture inside our minds; if that’s the case, then she designs architecture for the body. Feeling, length and weight are of the utmost importance to her, and she makes all of her pieces to order.
“I always ask for people’s ring sizes so they fit perfectly, which I think forms a weird balance between being quite clinical but also intimate. A friend of mine just commissioned some toe rings and has been sending me pictures of her toes, which I find almost fetishy.”
Karayiannis built up a language of forms at university, where she’d often work with ceramics and play on curious ideas of “fake antiquity”.
“I’m obsessed by this idea that we’re constantly surrounded by laminated fake wood. I wanted to hone in on this kind of concept, which I think I’ve carried through to my jewellery and working with metal,” she explains.
Her process is erratic and messy, which lends itself to how each piece ends up looking: distinctive, alluring and decidedly charming. “At the beginning I was much more concerned with form, but I’ve learned to trust my gut and allow things to go wrong,” she says. “At the end of the day, you’re dealing with something that’s very forgiving. Metal is quite an industrial, serious material and I enjoy making it softer, more emotional. It’s super tactile.”
And getting your hands dirty is what it’s all about. Karayiannis makes most of her rings around her fingers from wax (“you burn yourself a lot!”), before casting, ossifying or freezing them into perfectly imperfect forms.
When she isn’t busy liquifying precious metals and building them back up again, Karayiannis is either walking Chloe through Athens or obsessively surfing Facebook Marketplace in search of fun bits of furniture. Incidentally, she has now turned her attention to making bigger, bronze paraphernalia for around the house.
“I’ve started working on these ashtrays that stand on three legs,” she says. “I’m so excited to work on pieces that verge on looking like wriggly creatures based on archeological objects. I like for things to look really alien, out of place but so full of character.” If her jewellery is anything to go by, this is going to be good.