Celebrating a century of Italian jewellery design: Fabio Salini’s modernist eye

Exclusively for Wallpaper*, Fabio Salini curates a section of his postponed exhibition at Phillips New York

Left: Fabio Salini and right: cuff in rose gold
Fabio Salini, left, and cuff in rose gold, bamboo and pavé-set brown diamonds 32.61 carats, Fernando and Humberto Campana by Fabio Salini for Galleria O. Salini says: ‘The Campana brothers are Brazilian artists and designers. This cuff design is inspired by the Campana brothers 2004 ‘Corallo’ chair, one of their best-known designs. This collaboration with them represents a very important moment in my creative life because it combines my jewellery creativity with contemporary art. Here, the organic shape of bamboo inspired the design, while the coral-inspired fringes are created in pink gold and diamonds.’
(Image credit: Fabio Salini)

On 10 March, Phillips New York was ready to open its doors to its first contemporary jewellery exhibition of the new decade: ‘Fabio Salini: The New Modernist Jewel’, a celebration of the Italian modernist jeweller’s 20-year career. As the global lockdown took hold, the exhibition was postponed. As ardent followers of Salini’s work, and with no date yet announced as to when the exhibition can go ahead, the Wallpaper* watch and jewellery desk approached the designer to curate a personal selection of five of his favourite pieces. While, in an extract from her opening essay in the Phillips’ exhibition catalogue, the jewellery historian Vivienne Becker puts Salini’s style in context:

‘Fabio Salini studied geology at the University of Rome, before working first at Cartier and then Bulgari. He launched his own collection, in Rome, at Petochi, one of the oldest of Italian jewellers, in 1999. The Phillips exhibition charts the evolution of Salini’s powerful, graphic design aesthetic. From rock crystal, through silk, leather, shagreen, to titanium and matt, black, industrial carbon fibre, his inventive use of materials demonstrates the designer’s continual drive towards technical ingenuity. In addition to his affinity for colour and love of gemstones, Fabio Salini has an instinctive understanding of line, form, composition, and structure.

Above all, ‘Fabio Salini: The New Modernist Jewel' demonstrates Fabio Salini’s determination to innovate, to dare to be different, to re-ignite the spirit of audacity and modernity that keeps the story of jewellery moving forward.’

Here, discover Fabio Salini's section from ‘The New Modernist Jewel’ exhibition

Fabio Salini necklace

Snake necklace in blue shagreen, white and blackened gold, blue titanium, blue sapphires, diamonds and central oval-cut sapphire of 21.15 cts

(Image credit: Fabio Salini)

‘This very precious piece was made for a client who has a very strong personality. Not only did she want a snake, but she wanted it in a very aggressive position, so I decided to design it in a mode of attack, with a big oval-cut, 21ct sapphire in its mouth. I used stingray because it represented the wild side of the animal and also represented the texture of snakeskin.’

Fabio Salini necklace in carbon fibre

Necklace in carbon fibre with 292.78 cts of coloured gemstones, rondelles in white gold and diamonds

(Image credit: Fabio Salini)

‘A sizeable section of the exhibition is dedicated to carbon fibre (a composite material that is extremely strong and deceptively lightweight). It brings a masculinity and strength to jewellery design, along with an idea of technology. This necklace was born from the idea of yin and yang – opposites that create a balance: matt and sparkling, non-precious and precious, rigid and articulated, one row of cold colours against a row of warm ones. All this contrast, in a way, creates a powerful feeling. This is what I strive to bring to my designs – jewellery that fuses innovation and tradition to create something new and unconventional.’

Fabio Salini bracelet in green titanium and white gold

Bracelet in green titanium and white gold, with baguette-cut green tourmalines (59.61 cts), central Asscher-cut diamonds (3.48 cts) and pavé-set diamonds (2.88 cts)

(Image credit: Fabio Salini)

‘Titanium is an important material for me – here a coloured variety perfectly matches the colour of the green tourmaline baguette which represents the centre and the preciousness of this piece. The bracelet also displays another recurring motif in my designs – the use of symbols, such as the knot, a chain, a net, a cage, the belt. These all represent holding, or linking. In a way, they are each symbols of possession, because I think that giving someone jewellery is a sign of love.’

Fabio Salini earrings

Left, titanium earrings in different shades of blue, with aquamarines 3.23 cts, blue topazes 6.21 cts, iolites 4.36 cts, edged in diamonds 2.23 cts and right, carbon fibre and gold earrings with frontal lines of pear-shape emeralds and baguette-cut emeralds (12.47 cts)

(Image credit: Fabio Salini)

‘These are probably my favourite pieces in the whole exhibition (right), because they have a pure simplicity. The front-on view of the earrings allows you to see what appears to be a very traditional, long drop made with precious stones. But the back offers a different view – flat, spherical, carbon fibre pieces inspired by African tribal discs, which I added to create a sense of volume.' 

‘I think that bringing the future and exploring the new in jewellery is very important in making it contemporary and fresh. Here (left), the design reference is satellites, while the use of titanium also reflects the desire to create something very contemporary and futuristic. The exhibition dedicates an area to my use of titanium in jewellery, which I see as a kind of space-age metal. Jewellery historian Vivienne Becker puts it her own way: ‘The mirror-like gold surfaces of these designs lure us into infinite depths of colour and light, beckoning us into Fabio Salini’s world of the 21st century modernist jewel.’ 



Caragh McKay is a contributing editor at Wallpaper* and was watches & jewellery director at the magazine between 2011 and 2019. Caragh’s current remit is cross-cultural and her recent stories include the curious tale of how Muhammad Ali met his poetic match in Robert Burns and how a Martin Scorsese Martin film revived a forgotten Osage art.