When it comes to fine jewellery, Italy is enjoying another renaissance. Three young designers are mining the country’s past for inspiration, leading to a contemporary reimagining of both medieval themes and antiquity.
In the Testaccio rione of Rome, British expat Joanne Burke makes her quirky miniature sculptures by hand. ‘The symbol of the masculine and feminine, mythologically and historically, is something I can study well in Italy. Who couldn't be fascinated by this place? History and art are part of everyday life and not locked up behind a red rope,’ she says.
There’s a playfulness in Burke’s studies of the human form: the 'Nude Hoops' in yellow bronze incorporate a buxom, headless female nude into the hoop itself on one side, and a love heart on the other.
Other pieces are more whimsical. Sculpted ring bands curl around the finger in the form of mythical creatures, human at one end, finishing in hooves or a single foot. ‘I always use oceanic, sea-themed motifs and anthropomorphic figures,’ she says.
Rome-based jeweller Joanne Burke takes inspiration from mythological and historical interpretations of masculinity and femininity
Alighieri Jewellery was launched in 2013 by Oxford languages graduate Rosh Mahtani. Her study of Dante’s Divine Comedy in her final year has led to a magnum opus of her own: she is interpreting each of the 100 poems in the volume as an individual heirloom.
‘It’s such a visual text,’ says Mahtani. ‘Dante paints a physical world, full of other-worldly imagery alongside very human emotions. I could not help but imagine his words as objects.’
Mahtani toys with unusual textures. The core pieces of her latest collection, the 'Floating Questions' ring and necklace, take the form of golden seashells with slightly pitted finishes – a reference to Ulysses’ adventures on the high seas. The 'Storyteller' necklace is a scrap of 24-ct gold-plated bronze that mimics Dante’s narrative, smooth in parts, fragmented and rough in others.
The majority of her pieces are yellow gold-plated for a reason: ‘Foraging in Florence’s markets for treasures, I admired the women with stacks of gold jewellery that seemed to represent all the battles they had fought.’
Designer Benedetta Dubini’s fascination with her homeland’s past has led her to incorporate it directly into her designs. She is constantly adding to her 'Empires' collection, placing coins from antiquity into rings and pendants. The 'Capitoline' wolf pendant includes a bronze coin depicting the wolf fabled to have nursed Romulus and Remus, either with or without a white chalcedony and gold beaded tassel.
‘I source ancient coins through a numismatic dealer based in London and I select each one personally based on its state of conservation, beauty and historical background,’ says Dubini. Her desire to resurrect these historical artefacts and 'refashion them into contemporary pieces' is driven by that connection with each coin. ‘There will never be two pieces the same,' she says.
Each of Dubini’s jewels is designed to show both sides of the coin. On the 'Septimius' bracelet, a silver coin decorated with the head of emperor Septimius Severus on the obverse is set in an unclosed bangle ending in two large drops of 18ct gold. Turn it over, and the goddess Salus, representative of safety and well-being, appears on the other side.