Italy has been called, "a powerhouse in the European jewelry industry".The history of jewelry design in Italy is varied and opulent. Creativity abounds in Italy, so it's no wonder why Italian jewelry designers create some of the most amazing and unique pieces in the entire world. Modern Italian jewelry draws inspiration from centuries old traditional craftsmanship. Italian jewelry was also used in ceremonial, religious, family and social occasions. However, the Italian jewellers approached the designs with a difference as the Roman Empire had a distinct presence in world history and was influenced by the Egyptian, Greek and Asian cultures. The combination of cultures impacted the development of Italian designs, easily identified from the jewelry discovered from the bygone era.
Tracing back from the 7th to 3rd centuries B.C., the Etruscans showing Greek influence immigrated from northern Alps or western Turkey driven out by a long famine. They were a creative, enthusiastic, pleasure-loving society that dominated the western side of Italy from Rome to Bologna. Modern Tuscany was the centre of Etruria. The legacy of the Etruscans is present as colourful tomb paintings, decorated pottery, bronze work and gold ornaments. The jewelry designers perfected the techniques of gold jewelry that is still in vogue. The masterpieces of Tuscany goldsmith's remains supreme with Arezzo, a city of ancient Etruria, still serving as a major centre of the modern Italian gold jewelry industry.
Gold was associated with the human body, mind and spirit more than any other metal. It was considered as the colour of the sun, and revered in ancient times as the giver of life. The goldsmiths of Greece also moved to Etruria to work in an environment, where their art and craftsmanship flourished. By 500 B.C. the Etruscans prided themselves over techniques of filigree, delicate tracery in gold wire, and granulation to create intricate patterns.
Later the legendary 19th century Italian jewelry designer, Pio Fortuna Castellani, revived the Etruscan "granulation" technique for crafting gold jewelry which has remained as the unique mainstay of gold ornaments throughout the history of Italian jewelry design.
Women held a privileged position in Etruscan Society, and most gold jewelry was crafted for them. These ornaments included clasps, bracelets, earrings, necklaces and pendants equipped with flexible intricate chains.
The Romans ruled from 300 BC to 400 AD and played a significant part in creating gold jewelry and coins. In the Roman Empire women elaborately covered themselves with bangles, hairnets, earrings, signet rings, seals, necklaces with gold coins and anklets. The ruins of Pompeii provide the best examples of Roman goldsmith's work, which can be seen in Museo Archeologico Nazionale in Napoli.
The supply of gold was enhanced in the Middle Age and the Italian goldsmiths were making jewelry for men and women, which included rings and brooches. Italy led the way with the best workshops in Florence, Rome, Milan and Venice with famous goldsmiths such as Benvenuto Cellini, Manno di Sburri and Antonio Gentile.
The Renaissance Period (1500 AD-1700 AD) gave rise to exploration for gemstones and ornament making techniques like enamelling, intaglio, niello, engraving, plating, foiling and doubling, to give a new meaning to religious and personal jewelry. Initially jewelry was bold and simple focussing on the quality of the gemstones brought from other countries and only later the Baroque style daintiness and detail is seen in the 16th and 17th centuries.
In the 14th century, Italy extended its trade with other countries this popularised Italian jewelry. The old style of brooch, with a cluster of gems around one central, larger gem, was replaced by brooches shaped like deer, doves, a woman playing the harp, mythological and exotic symbols, rimmed with gemstones,. Necklaces from the 14th century onward became very ornate. Around 1460, heart-shaped pendants and brooches became very popular.
Bejewelled rings made popular wedding gifts, and were considered as assets for brides who received betrothal rings and wedding rings, with restrictions of wearing certain gems and number of rings in their fingers and hands. Religious leaders presented large rings made of crystal or semiprecious stones in a heavy bronze or copper band to their followers decorated with religious symbols around the stone, such as papal symbols, or a saint or local religious leader's cryptograms.
A hairnet called a rete made of knotted silk or gold threads that often incorporated pearls and gemstones, bracelets, charms, chains, earrings, belts, cameos, perfumed pendants-balls of musk or ambergris covered in gold net became a part of a wealthy Italian woman's wardrobe. Most Renaissance painters, like Botticelli and Donatello were goldsmiths, and the incredibly realistic depiction of jewelry in their paintings is attributed to this craftsmanship.
The 15th century Italian jewellers had access to a wide range of stones including real diamonds, fake diamonds (made of rock crystal, glass, and zircon), sapphires, rubies, pearls, Verdigris, emeralds, coral, carnelian, agate, chalcedony, lapis lazuli, jet, jacinth, azure, amber, crystal, amethyst, carbuncle and chrysoberyl. Some stones like diamonds and pearls seemed to have healing and mystic powers. Due to the availability of different stones, techniques of ornament construction and increasingly wealthy patron's, jewelry manufacture became a refined and elaborate craft in Italy. The 16th century saw a dramatic shift of emphasis in the field of goldsmith's designs. Italy still remained the centre of gold jewelry yet the East exercised powerful influence in the goldsmith's designs. There was a gradual shift towards the use of silver with gold and gems to make tableware and jewelry.
The demand for gold, sterling silver, gemstone and glass jewelry continues till date with Italian jewelry designers meeting high production standards, showing creativity, excellence and variety for the ornaments they fabricate. The designs are diverse either being bold or delicate, and highly fashionable, catering to the masses. Italian religious jewelry has been in existence for many centuries and many unique designs and popular patterns are incorporated by the designers in jewelry even today.
Italy is known internationally as the centre for chic European jewelry processing more than 500 tons of fine gold and 1,500 tons of silver annually for jewelry production. Additionally, there are nearly 10,000 jewelry houses in Italy, employing around 40,000 people with many artificers handing down their skills to their prote?ge? within the goldsmith design and production houses. The capitals of Milan and Turin boast of a long tradition of Goldsmith Design Schools.
Today the most famous materials used for making Italian designer jewelry are gold, silver and glass. Italian jewellers use 18 carat or higher quality gold having a distinct yellow colour. There are four main areas known for gold jewelry; Vicenza, Valenza, Arezzo, and Torre del Greco.
Vicenza caters to medium and high end buyers. It is famous for 18 carat gold chains, hollow gold, moulded pieces of jewelry and production of watchcases. Each year Vicenza hosts The Vicenza Oro - The World Premier Jewelry Fair, as proof of Italy leading others as a country for gold jewelry design, production and technical skills. The craftsmen in Valenza have hand crafted gold jewelry with precious stones for over 150 years and are known for their extraordinary level of technical expertise. Arezzo, is renowned for its fine quality gold chains. Torre del Greco too has a long tradition of hand crafted gold and coral jewelry and is famous for its low-relief, elegant cameos made from semiprecious stones. Truly, Italian jewelry is something to be envied and desired. Wearing a piece of jewelry from Italy is like wearing a piece of lovely art and rich history. Simply stunning...