Original article found on telegraph.co.uk
As Milanese jeweller Buccellati approaches its 100th birthday, its founder’s great granddaughter Lucrezia becomes the latest member of the family – and first female designer – to join the firm.
Segrinato, modellato, telato – to an ear unrehearsed in Italian, the words sound like they come from the worlds of opera, dance, or food. But to family-run Italian jewellery company Buccellati, they are the difference between that uniform gleam of polished gold seen the world over, and the distinctive textural finishes that define its inimitable style.
That word inimitable may be bandied about too often in the worlds of fashion and jewellery, but in this case, it’s legitimate. Handcrafted in a Milanese atelier by craftsmen and women who spend up to 10 years just learning the techniques, Buccellati jewels (as well as watches and, more recently, precious technology cases) are recognisable from across a darkened room once you get to know the brand. Ornate, often lace-like and richly detailed – never plain – they’re courtly and contemporary; baroque and modernist.
Andrea Buccellati, the company’s president, creative director, and grandson of the founder Mario Buccellati, sits in his office in Milan with a large tray of jewels in front of him, at the centre of a company that is truly a family affair. His daughter Lucrezia has recently joined him on the creative side, his sister Maria Cristina is the company’s communications director, and his brother Gino is in charge of the firm’s silver production, while a cousin, Luca, runs the store in Milan and looks after many of the company’s VIP customers. And just as Buccellati has stayed in the family since its beginnings, so has its design aesthetic remained constant. The romantically-named goldsmithing techniques are evident in everything the company makes, from the minutely etched white gold leaves of an ornate brooch, to the wide cuffs with a finish so satiny you have to touch them to be convinced they’re made from gold, not gossamer.
Take the “honeycomb” finish, which involves carving tiny hexagon-shaped cells through the metal to create a tulle-like effect, before each side of each cell is individually polished. Or segrinato engraving, where thousands of lines are etched every which way into the gold with a miniature burin tool, giving it a highly textural finish like precious satin.
The work that goes into each piece is mind-bendingly painstaking, and watching one of the company’s craftspeople bent over a piece of precious metal, tool in hand, magnifying glass between jewel and eye, seems almost inappropriate, like gawping at someone at prayer. Each jewel passes through the hands of a goldsmith, a stone-setter and a polisher, but it’s the engravers whose toil gives each piece its unique look.
The gold engraving techniques aren’t new – they’ve been used since the Renaissance, and some date back as far as Roman times – but Buccellati is unique in that the techniques have been honed and adapted to become part of the brand’s DNA over a period of nearly 100 years, staying in the family and being handed down from one family member to another; the most recent being Andrea’s 26-year-old daughter Lucrezia. The Buccellati look is inimitable not just because it’s so beautifully done, but because it’s so hard to do.
“A lot of people try to copy,” says Andrea of the workmanship. “But they’re not able to do it. It takes years of training. We invest in our people. Nine, 10 years to train them in how to master the techniques, and maybe after 15 years they start their own workshops and train up other young people. I’d say nearly 60 per cent of our artisans are second-generation with Buccellati.”
In fact, there is a goldsmith in the workshop whose father and grandfather before him worked for the company; the grandfather working for Buccellati’s founder, Andrea’s own grandfather, who died when Andrea was eight years old. He remembers him clearly.