Rapaport Magazine
Style & Design

The Buccellati story

A new book celebrates the famous family-owned maison and traces the roots of its Italian heritage.

By Phyllis Schiller

Images: Marcus Dawes; Assouline  

The phrase “Made in Italy” takes on new meaning when it comes to the history of the Buccellati company. Since its inception over 100 years ago, the maison — which spans four generations — has been creating jewels and precious objects that pay homage to the artistic legacy of its parent country. In her book Buccellati: A Century of Timeless Beauty, author Alba Cappellieri offers a detailed portrait of the jewelry house and delves into the inspirations that fostered its distinctive brand DNA. Along with discussions of the goldsmithing techniques that form the basis of the firm’s creations, the book features beautiful photos that illustrate why the jeweler has flourished for more than a century.

Spirit of Milan

Mario Buccellati (1891 to 1965) began his jewelry-making journey with an apprenticeship at Milan goldsmith Beltram and Besnati. In 1919, he bought the firm, establishing it as his own “silverware and art jewelry” business. The Buccellati company has been headquartered in Milan ever since.

The location provided deep roots, notes Cappellieri; the spirit of Milan at the time fostered the careers of entrepreneurial men who “started great companies from nothing” and created international brands. The city was the “capital of beauty, creativity, and innovation,” she says, its style one of “refined grace and sober elegance.” Mario Buccellati’s work ethic and modern ability to connect the past with the present exemplified “Milanesità,” or “Milan-ness,” which became part of his company’s stylistic signature.

Italians in the 1920s were expressing their national artistic identity in everything from paintings to fashion, from sculpture to jewelry, the book relates. The Renaissance was an influence on these works, as was a rediscovery of ancient civilizations such as Greece and Rome. This helped lay the foundations of what Cappellieri calls Buccellati’s “modern classicism”; he was in sync with Milan’s cultural ethos in terms of “creativity, craftsmanship, tradition and innovative spirit.”

Lessons for life

As an apprentice, Buccellati learned not only age-old Italian goldworking techniques and materials, but also other building blocks he would use to grow his business, such as insights into customers’ tastes and how to choose craftsmen, the author says.

A friendship with an influential client helped further his jewelry education and led to the commission of hundreds of jewels, silverware and precious objects. From 1922 to 1936, Gabriele D’Annunzio — “a famous Italian writer, poet and playwright, war hero and man of the world” — challenged Buccellati with requests that would “push the boundaries of conventions and traditions, as well as [the jeweler’s] own knowledge,” says the author. But D’Annunzio also “instilled in Mario a passion for history, a curiosity for the ancient world, a boldness to combine preciousness with fantasy, and the chromatic playfulness achieved with the combinations of unusual gems.” He became a mentor who taught Buccellati the rules of fashion and elegance, helping shape his taste and aesthetic sensitivity.

Style through the generations

The Buccellati style is recognizable for its precious materials and excellent craftsmanship, including its hand-engraving, openwork and honeycomb techniques, comments Cappellieri. The innovative application of these ancient artisanal methods gives the metal “both the sinuous softness of fabric and the rarefied delicacy of lace.” Using calligraphic skills, the house’s craftspeople “engrave woven fabric patterns onto metal,” taking inspiration from Venetian brocades, iridescent moiré velvets, intricate golden damasks, and exotic silks, she writes. A fascination with plant and animal life is also a theme in Buccellati’s creations.

Throughout its existence, the maison has expressed its design heritage in different ways, from Mario Buccellati’s Eternelle rings — which “stemmed from [his] concept of an eternal love that knows no end” — to his son Gianmaria’s colorful cocktail rings and earrings, whose volume “enhanced the goldsmith textures and decorations,” says Cappellieri. Gianmaria’s son Andrea, the current creative director, produces jewelry “with refined interpretation of lightness and contemporary elegance,” according to the author, while Andrea’s daughter, Lucrezia, brings a feminine sensibility and a new-millennium perspective.

To ensure consistency, Mario Buccellati’s model for the company was generational, with one family member steering the artistic direction while passing on skills to a successor. In the same way, the atelier’s artisans have worked with the Buccellati family for generations, adding to the coherence of its style. While the legacy its founder envisioned was firmly anchored in goldsmithing techniques, an appreciation of precious metals, and excellent craftsmanship, it was understood that each generation of the family would bring its own contribution to the table.

The Buccellati brand has attracted a celebrated clientele, from popes and cardinals to royalty and high society, artists and intellectuals, entertainment stars and business tycoons. Although it has expanded well beyond the initial Milanese shop, the global firm — which luxury giant Richemont acquired in 2019 — continues to put out a product in tune with its founder’s “creative originality, the precision of its design, and the perfection of its craftsmanship” while adding a modern spirit, Cappellieri says.

Buccellati: A Century of Timeless Beauty by Alba Cappellieri, with a preface by Franco Cologni and an introduction by Vivienne Becker, was published this year by Assouline.

Article from the Rapaport Magazine - July 2022. To subscribe click here.

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