“All the waters of the world are contained within the armpit of the great frog”
The legendary jewellery shop, The Great Frog opened in 1972 in Carnaby Street and is currently managed by Reino and his wife. Its name came from a Californian comic book that struck a chord with Reino’s father, Paterson Lehtonen-Riley, who started the store with his wife Carol. Its place amongst the shops of Central London would have been seen in a different light 44 years ago. Back then heavy rock and metal music were not mainstream, it was a time when the yuppie was rising and the alternative lifestyle was frowned upon and viewed with trepidation.
The Lehtonen-Rileys were hugely passionate about rock and motorcycling, which at the time went hand in hand. The store was opened to cater for a rising demand for rock n’ roll jewellery and paraphernalia, but also to allow themselves to live the lifestyle they desired. Initially they started selling cheap jewellery that had been made elsewhere, but it didn’t take long before the products started to show flaws and items were returned. Reino’s father learnt to repair the jewellery out of necessity and quickly learnt that he could make his own higher quality versions.
Over the course of 35 years, Reino’s parents nurtured The Great Frog along, selling homemade jewellery along with anything else that would sell and fit with the image. The shop became a hangout for bikers and rockers, often with people almost living out of the shop. Reino recalls his home as being a constant haunt for the misfits and nonconformists, with sometimes up to 25 people from all walks of life living in their house. As a child, he was hugely embarrassed by the eccentricity and would be mortified when he would get dropped off at school on the back of a chopper or in the family hearse!
Although motorbikes had always been a big part of Reino’s childhood, his father was very much against them after losing so many of his friends to accidents, or seeing the resulting wounds if they survived. Reino’s mother, however, was an avid rider. When his parents split up, it became the perfect opportunity for Reino to finally get his way and start learning to ride. Reino’s first bike was a Honda C90. Since then he has continued to ride and now has an enviable collection of bikes. Bikes have been a method of engaging with other people who share Reino’s passions and outlook on life, and have played an important role in the development of The Great Frog.
Reino started working in the shop from the age of 10, learning the family trade. Reino worked in the shop until eventually leaving for university to study industrial engineering, with the intention of working on motorbikes. However, the lure of The Great Frog was such that in 2006 his father handed the reins over to Reino.
At that time the business had built up a significant amount of debt, but Reino felt confident that this could be addressed by returning the business to its roots, of high-quality, home-designed pieces. Since then, the business has flourished with stores opening in Los Angeles and New York, as well as having their jewellery sold in Dover Street Market and Selfridges.
Reino is currently the sole designer, and has been since he took over. This ensures continuity of design, which is evident amongst the pieces. Reino has recently collaborated with Wes Lang and is continuing to work on new pieces with him. A series of Iron Maiden rings are also being made, which are inspected by the band themselves. The official Motorhead rings were also inspected by Lemmy Kilmister, the lead singer of the band and given his seal of approval.
Over the years the store has built up an impressive list of clientele (the main names can be found on The Great Frog’s website). Early clients, such as Motorhead and Iron Maiden, visited the shop because it was quite possibly the only shop that could provide high-quality heavy rock n’ roll jewellery at the time. The shop’s reputation continues to grow with their jewellery being used by pop stars, models and film stars from around the world.
Despite The Great Frog’s fame, Reino is the type of person who remains very true to himself. For him, it’s important to do what they are passionate about, rather than chasing what everyone else wants or fashion dictates. That way he can hopefully have the best of both worlds where he enjoys his work and which appeals to the end user.
To look at The Great Frog’s impressive array of jewellery or to find out more about the company, check out their website here.