How Italian futurism propelled Buccellati’s 1930s Hawaii design

The rapid onset of industrialisation fuelled an Italian jewellery classic

buccllati earrings
Left, as seen in Wallpaper* Precious Index 2020.Right, Buccellati Hawaii earrings with circles of green jade, 2016
(Image credit: James Robjant)

Born during the Italian Futurist movement of the 1930s, Buccellati’s Hawaii design has survived almost a century of change to become a house classic. As well as being a master goldsmith, founder Mario Buccellati, who established his business in 1919, at the Largo Santa Margherita in Milan, was an elegant draughtsman with a graphic eye, a deft touch and a strong interest in modern art.

Fuelled by the early 20th century paintings of Giacomo Balla – energetic abstract representations of rapid industrialization, with graphic repetition depicting a sense of speed – Mario Buccellati was propelled to create a jeweller’s response. At a glance, his Hawaii neck chain of fine gold circles, each made from hand-twisted gold thread (as they are today) looked like a continuous tangle of industrial wire. Yet the links were so beautifully crafted, as to be light as air and easy to wear: the ultimate in precious engineering. Mario had based his idea around the 'Lei' - the Hawaiian flower garland, placed around visitors' necks as a cultural symbol of affection.


Sketch of Hawaii Colour earrings, 2016

(Image credit: James Robjant)

The jeweller's curiosity in art techniques also led to a passion for the impossibly intricate decoration of the Renaissance era , and he began to work with ancient tools to create hand-engraved patterns on gold, working metal as if it were cloth. What developed was a signature style that made gold appear, almost magically, as woven silk or lace. Buccellati still operates a studio of old and young gold-workers near Lake Como. They hand-smelt, file, polish and engrave to levels that should be at odds with the modern world, but in fact, their hard-won mastery allows centuries-old traditions to link seamlessly into contemporary designs.

The Hawaii design was revived in the 1960s, for the casual fine-jewellery wearer and, by the 1970s, earrings were added to the collection, along with other precious materials, including gemstones and pearls. The oversized Hawaii Cascade earrings, pictured here, were the 1990s interpretation of the design, their sizeable form heralding the super-savvy design lead of Andrea Buccellati, another of Gianmaria’s sons, who is currently president and creative director of Buccellati. With green jade circles intermingling with the traditional hound-wound gold ones, the Cascade design sums up the contemporary essence of a deeply cultural Italian tradition.

Buccellati necklace sketch

Left, Hawaii Diamonds necklace. Right, sketch of necklace detail, both from the 1990s

(Image credit: James Robjant)

Buccalleti necklace

Hawaii Diamonds necklace, 2016

(Image credit: James Robjant)


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.