Manufacturers successful Vicenza are experimenting with technological advances that would let brands to spell beyond accepted handcrafted methods.
May 26, 2023, 10:38 a.m. ET
VICENZA, Italy — Earlier this year, the Italian golden jeweler Fope introduced its caller postulation of Flex’it necklaces by throwing an extravagant enactment for astir 300 guests astatine a 17th-century estate connected the outskirts of this metropolis successful the Veneto region, a UNESCO World Heritage site astir 50 miles westbound of Venice.
To item the flexibility of its patented 18-karat golden mesh chains, the brand, founded present successful 1929, had members of Urban Theory, a fashionable hip-hop creation troupe based successful Milan, execute their signature tutting benignant — moving their limbs successful melodramatic angular poses. The golden necklaces they utilized arsenic props glinted successful the candlelight.
“A bully show is similar a bully portion of jewelry,” said Valentina Bertoldo, Fope’s contented selling manager, supra the din of the crowd. “You say, ‘Wow,’ but down it is each this research, skill, precision, technicality.”
You could accidental the aforesaid happening astir the jewelry manufacture astir Vicenza.
Home to a goldsmithing contented dating backmost to the Middle Ages, this metropolis of 110,000 is champion known among tourists for its attraction of buildings by the 16th-century designer Andrea Palladio, not to notation its jewelry museum, located successful the palatial Basilica Palladiana that dominates the cardinal piazza. It besides is simply a hub for jewelry companies that proceed to beforehand accepted handicrafts adjacent arsenic they experimentation with cutting-edge techniques specified arsenic pulverization metallurgy — reducing precious metals to pulverization to beryllium utilized successful 3-D printing, oregon what the manufacture calls additive manufacturing.
It is the benignant of advancement that volition let jewelers to execute designs that are intolerable to execute done accepted casting methods, ensuring some prime and accordant results.
“Vicenza is, without immoderate doubt, the technological halfway of the machinery accumulation for the golden sector,” Giovanni Bersaglio, the main cognition serviceman astatine Berkem, a supplier of plating instrumentality and chemic solutions for the jewelry industry, based successful adjacent Padua, wrote successful an email. “The halfway has grown acknowledgment to adjacent collaboration betwixt jewelry companies and exertion suppliers, practice that has ever been seen arsenic cardinal to the companies’ improvement and growth.”
That is particularly existent now, successful the aftermath of the pandemic, which saw request for “Made successful Italy” jewels soar successful measurement with request for good jewelry successful general. In 2022, exports of Italian golden and metallic jewelry reached 9.8 cardinal euros (about $10.5 billion), a 22.5 percent summation implicit the aforesaid play successful 2021, and a 40.8 percent summation implicit the aforesaid play successful 2019, according to Confindustria Federorafi, a nationalist relation representing companies successful Italy’s jewelry manufacturing sector.
Damiano Zito, the main enforcement of Progold, which designs and manufactures jewelry successful Trissino, a tiny municipality astir 15 miles westbound of Vicenza, said the pandemic highlighted an contented that has plagued the Italian manufacture for the amended portion of the past decade: its dwindling fig of skilled workers.
“After Covid, the request for jewelry accumulation successful Italy wholly exploded and present the biggest contented is to find radical and goldsmiths that tin assistance you marque the orders,” said Mr. Zito, who is considered a pioneer successful additive manufacturing. “This has not happened successful Italy since the aboriginal 2000s.”
Vicenza is 1 of 3 cities successful Italy famed for jewelry manufacturing. Valenza, successful the Piedmont portion southwest of Milan, is location to a clump of high-end makers who specialize successful gem-set jewels (including Bulgari and Cartier, some of which run multimillion-dollar high-tech factories successful Valenza and successful adjacent Turin). Arezzo, successful eastbound Tuscany, is champion known for its mass-produced golden and metallic chains, galore bound for the Middle East.
What separates Vicenza from the different 2 centers is the fig of machinery and instrumentality suppliers based successful and astir the city, promoting the matrimony of exertion and contented that has helped homegrown companies past decades of globalization.
“In the ’90s, determination were truthful galore radical — not conscionable successful jewelry, but everyplace — who decided it was cheaper to nutrient successful the Far East oregon Eastern Europe,” said Ms. Bertoldo of Fope, which has its mill conscionable 2 miles westbound of Vicenza’s cardinal Piazza dei Signori.
“Some came back, immoderate didn’t, but we stayed,” she added. “And by staying — accumulation has ever been here, craftsmen, machines, R&D, everything developed here.”
Roberto Coin, whose eponymous marque produces its jewelry done a wholly owned subsidiary, La Quinta Stagione, took a akin approach. Its factory, established successful Vicenza successful 1998, adapts technologies from the automotive manufacture for usage successful making jewelry.
Carlo Coin, Roberto’s lad and the president and main enforcement of La Quinta Stagione, declined to specify the techniques that the institution uses. “We’re 1 of the astir copied brands astatine the moment,” helium said. “We person lawyers blocking Instagram sites connected a regular basis. I don’t request them to cognize however the jewelry is made.” But without technology, producing jewelry successful volumes astatine a accordant prime level would beryllium each but impossible, helium said.
However, helium besides emphasized that the marque inactive finishes each of its pieces by hand. “Technology tin beryllium boring and cold,” Mr. Coin said. “We privation our jewelry to person beingness successful it.”
That premix of innovation and contented is cardinal to the continuing occurrence of Italian-made jewels, said Marco Carniello, the planetary accumulation manager of the Jewellery & Fashion Division of the Italian Exhibition Group. The concern organizes Vicenzaoro, a twice-yearly lawsuit that is Italy’s largest golden and jewelry just by the fig of some exhibitors and attendees.
“Now successful Italy, we person 7,100 companies successful the jewelry industry,” Mr. Carniello said during an interrogation astatine the Vicenzaoro just successful January. “It was much oregon little treble 10 to 15 years ago. So present it’s consolidating a lot, but the ones who are consolidating, they are afloat of creativity, they past galore shocks, they person beardown ownership and they support innovating.”
As an example, helium cited the fair’s T-Gold pavilion, a 100,000-square-foot-hall that was lodging astir 200 exhibitors selling laser welders, 3-D printers for resins and metals, and chain-making machines, among different dense machinery. “It’s the astir almighty country we have,” Mr. Carniello said.
One of the astir salient exhibitors successful T-Gold was the Legor Group, a supplier of metallic alloys based successful the tiny municipality of Bressanvido, northeast of Vicenza.
Fabio Di Falco, Legor’s selling and lawsuit enactment manager, said the institution established a strategical concern with the printer shaper HP 5 years agone and is present experimenting with a prototype mentation of its caller binder pitchy 3-D printer.
“A binder pitchy works similar a mean ink pitchy but, alternatively of ink, we person a roller that spreads metallic powders furniture upon layer,” Mr. Di Falco said. “This exertion allows radical to make thing antithetic than with existing technology. It helps them deliberation successful a antithetic mode and make antithetic shapes.”
Mr. Di Falco said the biggest obstacle for Italian companies intrigued by the possibilities of 3-D printing straight successful metallic was the outgo of the metallic powders. “These printers are truly large and necessitate a immense measurement of powders: astir 140 kilos,” oregon astir 310 pounds, to operate, Mr. Di Falco said. “Imagine with gold, it’s not truthful cheap.”
Despite the analyzable barriers, Mr. Zito, the main enforcement of Progold, believes it is lone a substance of clip earlier additive manufacturing becomes mainstream successful the jewelry industry.
“Now we are adjacent to V1 — erstwhile the craft is taking off, determination is simply a velocity aft which the aviator cannot halt the level and has to instrumentality off,” helium said. “Now additive manufacturing volition turn much and more.”
Made by Hand
Holdouts, however, remain. Marco Bicego, a autochthonal of Vicenza, grew up successful the manufacture (“I was calved with a barroom of gold,” helium said). His father, Giuseppe, founded a wholesale jewelry institution successful Trissino successful 1958. In 2000, the younger Mr. Bicego took the lessons that helium had learned moving connected a seat for his father, modernized the designs and founded his ain eponymous brand, present sold successful upscale jewelry stores astir the United States and Europe.
“We are taking vantage of caller technologies similar 3-D machines to marque prototypes, laser machines to trial diamonds, but still, 80 percent of our jewelry is made by hand,” Mr. Bicego said.
He described a hand-engraving method that relies connected an past instrumentality known arsenic the bulino, which resembles an crystal pick: “The artisan has to scratch the golden and make a line, and conscionable to marque a necklace it takes easy 5,000 movements of the hands.”
That galore Italian jewelers similar Mr. Bicego importune connected emphasizing their devotion to the past seems to suggest an inherent hostility with the possibilities of the future.
But Claudia Piaserico, the merchandise improvement manager astatine Fope and president of the jewelry manufacturers’ relation Confindustria Federorafi, disputed that characterization.
“It’s not tension; it’s opportunity,” Ms. Piaserico said astatine the Vicenzaoro just successful January. “Because erstwhile you are capable to premix exertion and artisanry, you marque thing precise unique.
“This is wherefore Italian jewelry is different,” she added. “Because we person our heritage, we cognize what is truly peculiar from us, and we besides person exertion to cleanable the quality. But the past interaction is ever human.”