In the heart of Milan, the Quadrilatero del Silenzio (“the silent district”) is a genteel corner of the city built by the early 20th century’s flourishing industrialists who constructed some of Milan’s most fascinating architecture. Standing amidst several other architectural marvels is the Villa Mozart, a palazzo dominated by sienna-toned marble, rich boiserie details, three-metre windows and an abiding sense of distinction. The grand facade is completely cloaked by vines, its greenery interrupted ever so discreetly by a petite engraved plaque that marks the entrance: Giampiero Bodino. It is here in this monument to Italian refinement — and fittingly so — that we find the hero of our story.
Dapper in a cream-coloured three-piece suit and a revealingly renegade pair of hoop earrings, Giampiero Bodino — a seasoned jewellery designer, as well as an accomplished painter due for his second big exhibit in Milan in 2016 — leans back into the leather sofa of the Villa Mozart’s elegant living room. Legs crossed, eyes twinkling, his stack of gold rings clink together as he waves his hands and declares: “This is how I want to receive my guests.” It is also the only way he will receive guests — journalists, clients, or otherwise. The lovely Villa Mozart is the headquarters of the high jewellery house that bears Bodino’s name, a unique venture with no storefronts and no international presence. In this appointment-only Milan salon, the eponymous jeweller personally collaborates with clients to create bespoke jewellery for them.
“The new luxury is authenticity,” says Bodino of his modern-made, bespoke high jewellery brand. “Jewellery is strongly linked to emotion — it contains memory and sentiment. I’m absolutely opposed to the idea that there should ever be two of the same piece.” Though his name is not widely known by the public, the 54-year-old can expound on luxury better than most. Since 2002, he has been the art director of jewellery and watches at Richemont, the powerful luxury conglomerate, where he has shaped the collections of companies including Cartier, Van Cleef & Arpels, Piaget, Jaeger-LeCoultre, Baume & Mercier, Montblanc and Panerai. His brand, which was founded in 2013, represents the first time that Richemont, or any of the luxury groups such as Kering or LVMH, has created a jewellery brand from scratch, as opposed to buying a brand “in its death throes”, as Bodino jests. “The wonderful part is that instead of acquiring an old history, you’ve acquired a person who has a history yet to be written.”
The history of Giampiero Bodino, as it lays out with this extraordinary venture, is sure to be an interesting tale. The brand first launched at the Biennale des Antiquaires in 2014, presenting a beautifully capricious series of Italian-inspired jewels that showed the breadth of Bodino’s possibilities. “I think there’s always space for dreams,” he mused on the occasion. These dreams, from the one-of-a-kind jewellery to the bespoke philosophy of the Maison, are dictated by the designer himself. “I’ve had carte blanche with this project,” he says.
His latest unique pieces, presented during haute couture in Paris, build on his passion for Italy. “Italians have to learn to see the beauty of our country and recognise that it is extraordinary,” he says.
In this service, the designer has created flights of fancy that nod to the great aesthetic ages of Italy’s past: A diamond collar references the Byzantine mosaics of Ravenna, a choker of Maltese crosses recalls the medieval Corona Ferrea that crowned the king of Italy for centuries, the Caterina necklace, named after the Florentine noblewoman Catherine de Medici, pays homage to the rose windows of Gothic churches. “Italy is a continuous source of inspiration,” Bodino explains. “You see an old carpet, an old pattern on a wall, an ironwork detail, tiles, marble work, a proportion even and you find inspiration.”
Italy, the centre of so many artistic flowerings, was also the birthplace of high jewellery, a craft perfected by the Renaissance guilds of goldsmiths for the great powers of that era — the Sforzas, the de Medicis, the Popes — who required highly valuable and beautifully wrought jewels to illustrate their clout. Today, Italy is the world’s biggest exporter of fine jewellery, but it has lost the art of haute joaillerie, a metier now ceded to France. Bodino, who uses Richemont’s network of jewellers and workshops to create his pieces in Paris, is nevertheless determined that his creations will have its soul in Italy, restoring something of the old history and inspiring something new.
“I’m a little bit old-fashioned,” he admits. He adds: “But I’m not afraid of that. The future comes from a continuous process of uncovering and rediscovering the past.” Custom jewellery is a return to the origins of luxury, a one-on-one style that has disappeared and that Bodino is redefining as contemporary. Clients are welcomed at the Villa Mozart to peruse his designs, to chat and collaborate on their own bespoke jewels, which Bodino begins to sketch for them as they talk about their preferences. In an era when “experiential” has become the watchword of luxury, the most modern of desires may be creating a tailor-made jewel.
His own past has taken a fortuitous — if winding — path. A student of architecture, the Turin-native was designing cars for Giugiaro in the late 1970s when he met Gianni Bulgari. The well-known bon vivant, who raced and collected cars, took an interest in Bodino’s work and sent him to a jewellery incubator in Rome, a training ground for designers from beyond the jewellery world. When Bulgari left his family’s company in 1985, so did Bodino. By then firmly committed to jewellery, he started a freelance design business in Milan and collaborated independently with some of the biggest names in the industry, such as Tom Ford, Versace, Gucci, Prada and others. His first step into Richemont took place during a chance encounter while house-hunting. It led to a designer position at Cartier, a responsibility that he balanced with his own business. He returned to Richemont 13 years ago to oversee its large portfolio of brands. Now, with nearly 30 years of designing jewellery for international brands under his belt, his career has led him to this very intimate project: The resurrection of the custom jeweller.
The timing certainly seems prescient. Bespoke creations are increasingly potent. The great jewellery houses of Paris’s Place Vendôme may have storefronts all over the world, but you will only find Giampiero Bodino in the marble-lined salons of the Villa Mozart. Around him, everything is enormous: The marble fireplace and pilasters, the outsized crystal chandeliers hanging from frescoed ceilings, the windows opening to the lush garden, his own monumental, sepia-toned paintings that hang on the wall. However, the warmth and energy that Bodino imparts is absolutely human in scale; the return of this humanity to the corporate world of globalised luxury is what imbues it with a new relevance.
Beyond the salon, a dining room has been transformed into a gallery of jewels. Glass vitrines surrounded by carved wood panelling display some of Bodino’s extravagant, one-of-a-kind creations. Each honours Italy’s past with a touch of technical modernity — gemstones seem to float in three-dimensional bezels, gemstone colours combine in bold pairings, invisibly-set square diamonds create a background of pure light. Griffins — mythological symbols of power beloved by the Ancient Romans and the Renaissance Florentines — flank the diamond centre of a spectacular necklace, rendered here by Bodino as completely supple and shimmering with all the glory of legend.