The history of Italian jewellery is very rich and exciting. Modern Made in Italy jewellery design draws on the traditions of artistic craftsmanship, which has a centuries-old history in Italy.
In almost all cultures some form of body ornament can be found, and much of it made for ceremonial purposes such as a religious, family or social milestone. This has been equally common in Italy over the centuries.
However, in the history of Italian jewellery there are some unique characteristics of the approach of the master goldsmith and jeweller that are somehow linked to the great role that Rome played in the history of the world.
The expansion of the Roman Empire into more remote corners of the world led to various influences in the design and artistic production of Italian jewellery.
In many of the classic works of Italian jewellery designers, traces of Egyptian, Greek and Asian cultures can be seen. How the blending of these cultures influenced the making of jewellery by Italian craftsmen is easy to see in the discoveries of jewellery made during the Etruscan period in southern Italy.
During the Renaissance, particularly ambitious nobles wanted to adorn themselves with precious stones, trying to match the jewellery with the clothing within a period of considerable stylistic changes, consequently leading to a continuous reworking of the jewellery; at that time jewellery was regularly dismantled and reassembled, sold and bought back, stolen and mortgaged, lost or forgotten.
It was during the great flowering of art and culture in Vicenza that Valerio Belli (Vicenza 1468 - Vicenza 1546), a great goldsmith, engraver and medallist, also known as Valerio Vicentino, came to the fore. He was influenced by Buonarroti and Pierino del Vaga, whose designs he used in his engravings.
He is considered the most prominent artist in Vicenza before the rise of Andrea Palladio, he was on good terms with Michelangelo and Raffaello Sanzio, he knew how to engrave rock crystal and cameos with rare mastery, and he was the author of medals with self-portraits.
Changing place but not time, in Mexico, in 1519 Montezuma, emperor of the Aztecs, met Hernan Cortés, and gave him as a sign of peace a necklace made of rare red shells and eight life-size shrimps finely worked in gold. But a few days later the emperor was eliminated along with his people and all the gold, silver, jade, rare stones and pearls were plundered and sent across the ocean, a fate that also befell the treasures of the Incas in Peru.
Colonialism and the arrival of large quantities of gold and other precious metals from the new lands favoured the production of jewellery destined for the personalities of the European royal courts and the upper middle class.
During the Renaissance, the link between the figurative arts and goldsmiths became closer and many painters and sculptors of the time entered the goldsmiths' workshops: Donatello, Botticelli, Ghirlandaio, Brunelleschi, Ghiberti, not forgetting Benvenuto Cellini (1500-1571) who created the most famous goldsmith's sculpture for Francis I: the famous gold, ebony and enamel salt cellar depicting the earth and the sea.
Women's hairstyles at that time were specially made to leave their ears uncovered, which were adorned with pendant and cluster earrings, while each finger of the hands had to be adorned with a ring.
Precisely because of the strong connection with clothing in the 16th century, the use of bracelets was lost due to sleeves flowing with lace, a fashion that was revived later thanks to split sleeves.
With the beginning of the 1900s, new artistic currents predominated, such as Art Nouveau, characterised by floral and animal motifs with enamels and new colours, and later Art Deco with its geometric shapes linked to Cubism; In the field of jewellery, the advent of white gold and platinum was noteworthy, but the greatest novelty was the possibility for members of the middle class to show off goldsmith's products, previously reserved only for royal and aristocratic families, thanks to the new plating technique, invented by the Italian Brugnatelli, which made it possible to cover objects made of poorer and therefore cheaper metals with gold.
In Italy, goldsmithing had a moment of excellence in the production of Melchiorre e C., founded in 1873 in Valenza by Vincenzo Melchiorre.
Vincenzo Giuria, a goldsmith from Lucania, also made a name for himself in Naples and was so favoured by the Italian Royal family that he received the Royal Household Patent from King Umberto I in 1889.
The entire jewellery industry began to change its target audience, affected by the epochal change, it began to produce no longer for a niche of people, but for the masses.
The figure of the designer, from whom new jewellery or entire collections are created, began to assert itself more and more.
The world's jewellery capitals thus emerged: Paris, New York, Tokyo, Milan, while in Italy some world-famous districts were consolidated: Valenza, Vicenza, Naples, Torre del Greco, Arezzo and Florence, making Italy the world's leading jewellery producer and exporter.