Italy is known today as a premiere centre for fashion, design and style. This includes fine jewellery design and manufacturing. From the big bold gemstone-centric pieces of Bulgari to the old world hand-crafted techniques of Buccellati, the workshops throughout the country are known for both its old-world approach and modern innovative techniques toward jewellery design and jewellery making.
Circa 1980s jewel by Ugo Correani. Photo by Francesco di Bona
Over the years I have visited and seen first-hand the jewellery making centres ranging from the luxury jewellery areas near Vicenza to the gold manufacturing centre of Arezzo to the coral and cameo industry surrounding Naples. Throughout the country to the other Italy’s contribution to jewellery making and design is legendary.
This reputation in fine jewellery didn’t just appear. It has a long history.
Circa 1960s necklace by Luciana Aloisi de Reutern. Photo by Francesco Di Bona
What is less known (to me as well) is the country’s contribution to costume jewellery but apparently its history is equally long and well-documented, and extends into all aspects of the country’s jewellery trade. A new exhibition that recently began is drawing focus to this history.
“Wearing Beauty. The Great Italian Costume Jewellery,” at the Museo del Bijou di Casalmaggiore (Jewellery Museum of Casalmaggiore) contains 100 costume jewellery pieces created in Italy from the end of the 19th Century to the beginning of 21th Century. Items were chosen from prestigious public and private collections to give evidence of the evolution of the Italian taste from the unity of the nation (completed in 1871) to the present day.
Circa 1970s necklace by Sharra Pagano. Photo by Francesco Di Bona
The exhibition, which runs till May 29, includes works ranging from luxury fashion houses such as Armani and Valentino to well-known costume jewellers, which include Ornella Bijoux and Carlo Zini.
According to exhibition curator, Bianca Cappello, Italian costume jewellery tells the story of Italian history through Murano glass, Napoli coral, Florentine straw, Roman micro mosaics, the plastics and the non precious metals invented during the autocracy, the Dolce Vita life style and the experimentation of the 1960s, and the birth of “Made in Italy,” which created the country’s most important fashion brands.
Circa 1980s jewel by Moschino. Photo by Francesco di Bona
“The exhibition shows the habits and the taste evolution of a population that made and consolidate a taste of beauty even through the fashion accessories and the costume jewellery,” Cappello said.
Cappello adds while high jewellery talks about the status symbol and economic power of a minor part of people, costume jewellery expresses the taste of the larger community telling its various cultural expressions.
“To talk about Italian costume jewellery means to tell the story of the habits, the costumes of a population that always wanted to unify the various local regional traditions in one shared codex of beauty,” he said.
Serpent Necklace by Bijoux Bozart for Tita Rossi in 1969. Photo from Rossi archive
As already noted, Italy as a country is relatively young and its various provinces each have their own traditions, which include jewellery. From this perspective this exhibition should be interesting. In addition, it provides details of the history and evolution of costume jewellery design in a nation known for its design.
The small Italian city of Casalmaggiore in the Lombardy region is difficult to get to but I think it’s well worth the effort.