There’s something very special about interviewing an Academy Award winning performer, especially someone who portrayed such an iconic role on the big screen. It certainly was no exception when I had the opportunity to talk with the incredibly delightful George Chakiris.
George is an amazing soft-spoken gentleman – exceptionally gracious to a fault and engaging, with a subtle touch of humor. He is internationally known for his portrayal of Bernardo in the 1961 version of West Side Story with Natalie Wood, which earned him both a Golden Globe and an Academy Award.
“It was a grand time,” he recalled during our telephone interview. “There is something very magical about what we did.”
We spoke for a while about his amazing career on stage and screen, and the many projects he is still drawn to in the entertainment industry. While George loves creative projects, these days his attention has been drawn to a very special kind of creation – his own line of stunning jewelry.
It all started while he was working on a project in London. “After nine months being away, I just found myself missing ‘Sammy,’ he said. Sammy is George’s little dog who had remained in the United States. After returning home, he decided it was time to stay closer to home and in the company of his loyal companion.
George was soon drawn to some classes where he could study the fine elements of jewelry design, while also receiving hands on experience in the creative process.
“That’s when I started taking jewelry classes at Barnsdall (Art Park),” he said. “It was a wonderful opportunity to learn…I so enjoyed it.”
For the next six years he continued his studies, earnestly adding to his personally designed selection of cuffs, necklaces and ear rings. Sometimes the design worked very well, and at other times he just melted the material back down again and started over.
“It’s such an exciting thing to design a piece from the start,” he said. “It’s wonderfully challenging in a lot of good ways, but when I mess up, I just start over again.”
But, after years of practice, he’s become a master designer now. Whether it’s a beautiful broach, or a gorgeous necklace complete with bezel-set stones, or extraordinarily flirtatious double drop earrings, the George Chakiris line of sterling silver jewelry has something for even the most discriminating adorner. And for those who would enjoy owning a little slice of history, the very first piece he designed, a scarab cuff bracelet, is part of his stunning collection as well.
“I originally tried to make it in one piece of silver,” George said of the scarab. “I completely ruined it…so I started over. It took a little doing, but I finished it.”
After he had completed a fairly large selection, George said he was contacted by some foreign buyers.
“I probably had developed a line of 20 or so pieces by that point,” he said. “Then I was approached by a Japanese company that was interested in my designs.”
That interest led to a lucrative contract and tossed George from the role of designer into the jewelry business world – a complicated industry that he didn’t completely understand at the time.
“I don’t like the business side of it at all,” he told me. “I like designing the jewelry pieces.”
With production on the large order underway, and a retail agreement with a Japanese department store to sell his products, the George Chakiris Collection was launched in a big way. All that happened three years ago, and things are growing bigger every day.
“It’s really very interesting, because when they placed a pretty hefty order with me — that was really how it all got started.”
George said the process of creating a new design is a bit complicated but begins with a metal mold. Plastic is injected into the mold, than a soft wax is used to create a basic shape. From there, he uses finely-crafted tools to etch out the intricate details of his design. Once finished, the wax is cast in silver so he can finish off a “master.”
The master is used to create a final mold, which in turn is how the jewelry is manufactured.
“It’s quite an interesting process,” he said. “Each component of the piece ultimately becomes its own mold and then is finally assembled together to be a finished piece.”
The satisfaction of designing something from concept to finished product is the greatest challenge – and reward.
“It’s so nice to be able to create something and have a beautiful finished piece to hold in your hand.”
While George hasn’t undertaken a special commissioned work yet, it is an opportunity he hopes will be forthcoming.
“It would be a wonderful collaborative effort to design a special one-of-a-kind piece for someone,” he said. “The process of doing it is the exciting, creative part…and that would be a total joy to undertake.”
Lest we forget, George is still an actor at heart and continues to seek out those opportunities that appeal to him, and still leave time for design work.
“I love acting, especially in the theater, and I’d love to look at more opportunities, but the jewelry continues to be the dominant thing for me.”
Looking at the amazing works of art that he creates for all the special people who wear them, it is no wonder why this remarkable man has found such amazing success in a new industry. And, it’s no wonder why there are calls for his designs from all over the United States.
“We’re still working on a distribution agreement in this country,” he said. “Hopefully, we’ll be able to finalize something this year.”
The George Chakiris Collection is available for purchase online by visiting www.georgechakiris.com .