Buccellati, the Italian jewellery dynasty that spans four generations, fuses a reverence for tradition while looking toward the future.
ABOVE (from left to rigth): 18-karat white gold and diamond earrings from Buccellati’s historic Ghirlanda collection; 18-karat white gold, diamond and yellow diamond pendant; 18-karat white gold, diamond and Paraiba tourmaline earrings from Buccellati’s 2015 Timeless Blue collection. © Buccellati.
For a jewellery house with such a long and noble family heritage, Buccellati has always been surprisingly low-key. For decades it has remained under the radar of mighty big-brand marketing power while somehow rising above it. Aficionados around the globe, however, have revelled in Buccellati’s unchanging traditions, its quiet, distinguished elegance and its unwavering dedication to age-old artisanal techniques.
Loyalty to wearing Buccellati is often passed down through generations of a family, symbolising a way of life linked to a deep appreciation of the timeless, old-school beauty of their jewels and silver objects. Buccellati’s quintessential Italian classicism is underpinned with soul, integrity and a touch of humanity, and it is just the kind of enduring heirloom that is proving its worth in the auction rooms today. Earlier this year at Sotheby’s, a flexible bracelet of finely-worked two-coloured gold studded with rubies and diamonds sold for $125,000, and a cuff of silky gold encrusted with diamonds made a higher-than-expected price of $52,500.
Famed for its distinctive hand-engraving techniques, which are rooted in antiquity and the Renaissance, Buccellati transforms metal into glorious spun gold that conjures deliquescent silk, damask or brocade, glimmering Burano-style lacework, a floating leaf or a wilting petal. The painstaking process yields a gossamer-light tulle-like surface, and each minute honeycomb perforation is carefully traced, hand-pierced, engraved and polished to perfection before being meticulously set with diamonds that seem to nestle secretively in the gauze.
These techniques were pioneered by Mario Buccellati, who founded the company in 1919 after apprenticing in the Milanese jewellery business since the age of twelve. Near La Scala, his shop and his artistic jewels and silverwares soon drew a sophisticated clientele of aesthetes and intellectuals, like the poet Gabriele D’Annunzio, who commissioned jewels and gifts for his lovers, including Ida Rubinstein and Eleonora Duse, and who labelled his friend Mario the “Prince of Goldsmiths.” As Buccellati’s fame spread around the world, more shops were opened in Italy, and in New York in 1951 and in Paris in 1979.
(Clockwise from top) Buccellati selections in the Important Jewels auction on 24–25 September in New York include an 18-karat gold cuff-bracelet (estimate $35,000-45,000); an 18-karat two-colour gold and diamond cuff-bracelet (estimate $25,000-35,000); and an 18-karat two-colour gold, ruby and diamond cuff-bracelet (estimate $40,000–60,000).
Since the company’s start, it has been the family tradition for two generations of Buccellatis to work together as co-creative directors – one member of the older generation takes on the chief creative role while mentoring and teaching a member of the next generation. Of Mario’s five children, it was Gianmaria, who, having sketched his first design at age twelve, took the creative lead and who, on his retirement in 2013, handed the reins to his son Andrea. As chairman and the company’s creative force, Andrea works alongside his brother, Gino, who manages silver production, and his sister, Maria Cristina, who is director of communications. From the age of sixteen, Andrea sat at his father’s side, watching the design and craft processes, until he officially joined the business four years later. Today, he takes pride in the skills and secrets passed to him from his grandfather via his father. “My father was the best possible teacher. He worked with love and passion every day for 65 years; it was his life.”
After his father’s retirement, Andrea officially began working with his daughter, Lucrezia, who lives in New York, and who set about injecting a fresh spirit of youthful informality into Buccellati’s signature classical looks. For example, in the new Opera collection, a typical Buccellati baroque motif is scattered over light chains, charm bracelets and sautoirs. Having recently married, Lucrezia has shaped the company’s first bridal collection, Romanza, a Buccellati take on the solitaire diamond engagement ring. Andrea says he works well with his daughter, sending ideas and sketches between New York and Milan.
A pair of 18-karat gold, coral and diamond pendant-earclips, Buccellati (estimate $10,000–15,000) to be offered in September's Important Jewels sale in New York.
Along with the new generation came a new chapter for the company: in 2013, Buccellati entered into a partnership with Italian private equity firm Clessidra, giving the company resources to expand and evolve, to keep pace with the world around them, but in their own particular style. They have focused attention on the US, their principal market, opening stores in Chicago, Miami and New York, where their sleek new Madison Avenue flagship embodies Buccellati’s reverence for the past and an eye to the future. “Previously we were very traditional, very elegant, but the new concept is classic Buccellati in a fresher way, in its colours, furniture and display,” says Andrea. For the launch of the Madison Avenue boutique, Andrea and Lucrezia collaborated on Timeless Blue (blue is the brand’s signature colour), a series of five one-of-a-kind jewels that are inspired by the 19th-century masterworks of Monet, Bonnard, Homer and Redon, a celebration of Buccellati’s inimitable aesthetic, its fusion of art and craft.
Younger, more accessible collections are integral to the new concept, translating classic Buccellati techniques and style into wearable, everyday jewels: the historic Ghirlanda series, diamonds in “crochet” openwork; Ornato, an iteration of the sublime “tulle” work; the Classica and Macri adaptations of the heavenly satin-sheen cloth of gold; and the joyfully bouncy gold circles of the Hawaii and Honolulu collections.
From the collection of Estée Lauder, sold to benefit the Alzheimer’s Drug Discovery Foundation: 18-karat two-colour gold, diamond, emerald and enamel brooch, Buccellati (estimate $7,000–9,000) to be offered in September's Important Jewels sale in New York.
In the midst of these changes, Buccellati firmly remains a family business, passionate about technique and the spirit of the bottega. According to Andrea, the family’s mission to maintain its distinctive style and never to compromise on quality has not changed. Sustaining the unsurpassed level of hand-craftsmanship must surely present a challenge for Buccellati’s planned expansion. Andrea agrees but explains that Buccellati trains artisans in its own academy in Milan, and in Buccellati tradition, their devoted craftsmen pass down knowledge and secret techniques from father to son. “In the last fifteen years, we have seen many of the younger generation wanting to become artisans, adopting a new approach to this work.” Apprentices study and train in the company for between five and ten years, after which many become independent but continue to work for Buccellati. “We need at least ten years’ experience for all of our artisans. And at Buccellati, we believe that every artisan is an artist.”
Vivienne Becker is a jewellery historian and contributing editor for FT’s How to Spend It.
Important Jewels will be on view in New York from 19–24 September. Auction: 24–25 September. Enquiries: +1 212 606 7392.