Valenza, a small town within the industrial triangle of Milan, Genoa and Turin, is a bland place with a glittering reputation.
Ever since goldsmith Francesco Caramora set up shop here in 1817, carriages and later armoured trucks filled with ingots have trundled down its streets, and its inhabitants have honed their stone-setting, polishing and engraving skills to elevate Valenza to Italy’s goldsmithing hub.
Bulgari acquired Caramora’s former farmstead 18 months ago and this spring the Roman high jeweler and watchmaker re-opened it as its new jewellery-making facility, the largest in Valenza’s history. For more than 30 years, Bulgari has worked with the region’s craftsmen, but until recently its production was split between Valenza and the nearby town of Solonghello. With the new 14,000 sq m space, Bulgari is able to consolidate its jewellery-making under one roof. ‘We had been contemplating building a new avant-garde manufacture for years and had our eye on Caramora’s farm,’ says CEO Jean-Christophe Babin. ‘We liked it for its history, position and proximity to our historic workshops. We were lucky!’
Bologna-based architects Open Project won the job of creating a fittingly glamorous facility. ‘It couldn’t just be a dull concrete building,’ says practice partner Luca Drago. Administration and hospitality facilities are located in the renovated farmstead, with a new 13m-high ‘glass house’ attached. The workshop is housed in a new three-storey building, featuring an internal courtyard. The structure is surrounded by a perforated ‘metal skin’ that provides natural light while boosting security. ‘To get to the gold, you have to pass through lots of systems and alarms,’ says Drago. ‘You can’t just hit the jackpot. The Italian Job was our main reference,’ he jokes.
Gold ingots, precious metals and gemstones are delivered to the ground floor, where, prior to assembly, they might undergo chemical and thermal treatments. Since employees have to stay on site all day for security reasons, Drago designed the space to be as welcoming as possible. The courtyard encourages everyone to hang out while providing the workshop with light and ventilation.
The jewellery manufacture is a huge boost for Valenza – and for Bulgari. ‘The new building bridges tradition and innovation, and allows us to take Italian craftsmanship to even higher levels,’ says Babin. ‘By 2020, staff will increase to approximately 700, nearly double the number currently employed, and the new facility will enable us to ramp up our internal capabilities by about 40 per cent in the next few years.’
The building also houses the new Bulgari Academy, a school that will train up to 40 people, from new employees to students from other colleges. ‘It will be a gateway to the world of Bulgari jewellery, allowing trainees to approach our specific techniques and ways of working’, says Babin. ‘The magic is that we can teach them in the place where it all began.’
As originally featured in the Precious Index, our new watches and jewellery supplement (see W*218)