In a blue velvet-lined space, an Italian woman sits at a desk surrounded by an array of tools. A pair of spindly magnifiers is perched on her nose, and in her hands, which rest on a leather sandbag, are an unremarkable slab of metal and a wickedly sharp burin. There’s an almost imperceptible scraping sound as she carves tiny, pinprick lines on the metal with the tool. It’s hard to make out at a distance what effect her minute movements are making. But an uncomfortably close lean into the table reveals straight lines being shaved off to create square sections, tiny circles carved to form holes for gems, and a lighter, shinier surface revealed by the engraving. Beside her, Luca Buccellati, a third-generation member of the Italian jewellery house, is twisting a gold bracelet—the flexible, finished form of that slab of metal—in explanation.
The burin, he recounts, can be dangerous; as a child with neither training nor expertise, he had mucked around with one and ended up in the hospital with a hole in his hand. It’s an interesting anecdote that highlights the craftsmanship demanded of the techniques employed at Buccellati, which has made age-old, Renaissance-era methods its signature.
I’m in Macau to witness an exhibition of its works—enhanced by the presence of an artisan to demonstrate in real time—as well as the opening of a new boutique at the MGM Cotai resort. At the heart of this newness is the Mosaico collection of high jewellery, inspired by Byzantine mosaics. According to third-generation creative director Andrea Buccellati, the creative challenge was to take something that had been explored decades ago by the house’s founder, Mario Buccellati, and give it a twist. “The motif, of course, is an inspiration. We don’t want to reproduce a mosaic.” That meant taking Byzantine geometry and colours and applying the house’s techniques and aesthetics to them.
“More modern in a subtle way, more contemporary,” explains Andrea, “but keeping the DNA.” In effect, that meant mobilising Buccellati’s gold-smithing techniques, such as its range of hand engraved finishes which coat virtually every exposed surface of every piece, and plenty of fine, honeycombed openwork to give the pieces a contemporary lightness in look and weight. “You will never find heavy jewellery in Buccellati,” proclaims Luca, who manages VIP clients and special sales.
Earlier this year, the Mosaico collection was reported to comprise between 36 and over 50 pieces. But Andrea reveals that the collection is in fact closer to 70 pieces. There aren’t enough at a given time to see the full breadth of the collection at a go, but that’s because the pieces take nine months to upwards of a year to craft. And, according to Luca, because several pieces are already spoken for before they can be displayed to the press and public.
One of these is a Mosaico necklace in white and yellow gold, lined with drop-shaped yellow diamonds, set all over with white diamonds, and featuring seven rare bezel-set and cushion-cut Kashmir sapphires. Intensely blue with a velvety texture, Kashmir sapphires are marked by minuscule inclusions dubbed ‘silk’ that make the colour of the gems more intense and glowing. The remote Kashmiri mines that are its only source were depleted more than a century ago. “The moment this necklace was finished, it was immediately sold,” says Andrea. “People know the value of this stone, and to put together not one but seven [Kashmir] sapphires together is something quite rare in the business.”
This particular piece took a year and a half to make. The rarity of its centrepiece sapphires notwithstanding, there’s the fact that even details like the bezel settings are hand-engraved to give it texture and shine.
The charm of Buccellati is that the workmanship found in its loftiest collections carry over into its fine and even silver jewellery. “They feel like unique pieces because the engraving is different,” says Luca of the house’s signature metalworking technique. There are many styles and names: Rigato, in which fine parallel lines of engraving create a texture reminiscent of dupioni silk; dense, crisscrossing Segrinato which creates the look of velvet; cross-hatched Telato which invokes gauzy linen; precise Ornato where brocade and lace patterns are carved from metal; and Modellato which is basically high-relief 3D sculpture.
Because of their hand-worked nature, even two pieces of identical styles are intrinsically different. “Actually everything is one of a kind,” says Luca. It’s at the heart of this Milanese house, which in its earliest days in 1918, with its shop set up near the famous La Scala opera house, had no ready stock to sell and only displayed sketches and drawings from which orders could be made.
The whole idea of designing collections, as a matter of fact, is relatively new to the brand. “This is the second collection that we’ve designed in such a way,” Andrea reveals. “The first was Giardino (a high jewellery line inspired by gardens, launched in 2021). Before, we did a lot of unique pieces. But not connected one to the other. So it was very interesting to design this collection where I can express a certain concept or idea all together.” Old is evidently gold where craftsmanship is concerned with Buccellati, but here’s some proof that new tricks certainly aren’t beyond it.