Sunday, 10 April 2011

A True Story about Costume Jewelry

These are my Cupid Earrings, enchanting pieces of florentine costume jewelry.

Putto, Little Angel and Cupid are different ways of calling the same figure of speech: Love. The toddler with bow and arrow belongs indeed to a timeless Love tradition: Love between the lovers, Love among the people, transcendent Love. We meet him in classic greek and roman art, then over and over again in paintings and sculptures through middle age, renaissance, baroque and modern art. Not surprisingly, it is still a sign of Love nowadays.

The wise crafters who taught me about crafting have always told me that this kind of jewelry appeared in Florence when the Americans started visiting frequently our city (a growing presence of Americans dates back to the 50's, after World War II, while what we call "mass tourism" began in the 70's).

In the city center, especially in the two southern quarters where I used to work (Diladdarno), a lot of them bought houses and created a proper community of Florence-lovers.

There were at the time many artisans which were very poor and often, without any licence, had the habit to sell their costume jewelry on the celebrated bridge called Ponte Vecchio - the only one left unhurt by the Nazis -, where the "real" jewelers (gold and gem crafters) have their boutiques.

The presence of the Americans was like a manna from heaven to those crafters. And so they used their creativity to come as close as possible to the taste of the rich foreigners (surely rich with respect to them).

And that's the origin of the kind of costume jewelry that I make myself and that nowadays is mostly considered properly Italian. And it is, finally. Nevertheless, the truth is that it is a fusion-jewelry, coming out from the Renaissance imaginary which the Americans seemed to appreciate very much and the less expensive techniques of the time, such as the usage of the metal bathed in 14 carats gold (especially red gold, containing high levels of copper).

Of course, the crafters were able to put all demands together without effort, thanks to the knowledge of the notorious "botteghe".

My earrings are a legacy of that attempt. An attempt, I have to admit, that was very successful. The gilt costume jewelry was sold so easily indeed that the poor artisans ended up rich themselves.

Due to the fact that I do not have a lab here, I didn't gild the earrings and bracelets you may see here, but I believe that's not the most important fact, since that operation can be done in every moment.

To have an idea of the complete outcome:


I'm very concerned about the slow disappearing of the techniques we are talking about, that until now had been renewed from time to time by young artists. Up to one years ago, there were only few labs left which continued to handcraft in such a way without big factories involved.

I'd like for hand made goods to be really encouraged. Waiting for that moment to come, I believe that marketplaces such as Etsy can help in the task of preserving this niche of products, products that signify more than we think, being the result of a special human bounds among peoples, territories, competences and much more.

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