The manufacture of Italian gold jewelry is a craft that dates back thousands of years. The origins of the trade can be traced back 3,000 years to the Etruscans (the people of Tuscany) who produced rudimentary pieces of fine jewelry, some of which can be viewed in the nation’s museums and exhibitions. Even these early jewelry pieces are instantly recognizable as Italian with their classical designs and the deep, rich yellow color so distinctive of Italian gold.
From these early beginnings, Italy’s gold jewelry industry flourished to become the prominent global trading force it is today: the country exports 70% of all the gold jewelry it makes. Indeed, the Italian gold industry is one of the largest in the world, processing as much as 500 tons of the precious metal annually. Despite the fact that an estimated 10,000 companies are involved in this long-standing tradition, Italian gold jewelry production is surprisingly limited to only handful of regions in the country: Veneto, Tuscany, Piedmont, Lombardy and Campania.
Within each region there are noteworthy examples of the art of fine jewelry production. Vicenza, in Veneto, is famous for its 18-carat gold pieces including chains, watchcases and hollow gold jewelry. Valenza, in Piedmont, boasts a 150-year history of hand-crafted expertise and offers high-quality items containing precious stones. And given its long heritage of quality production, it is little wonder that Arezzo, in Tuscany, is one of the major centers for jewelry and goldsmith craftsmanship in Italy today.
Italy has a well-established tradition and reputation for outstanding gold jewelry design. Keeping the skill and trade alive is essential to the national economy, and the cities of Milan and Turin both have important goldsmith design schools which help to propagate this ancient skill; places where craftsmen with years of expertise and outstanding technical skills pass on their knowledge to the next generation of artisans.
Many Italian goldsmiths would argue that little has changed between the tools and techniques of the Renaissance to those of today. Throughout history the quality of the gold content; its delicate designs and un-rivaled craftsmanship, have consistently contributed to Italian gold jewelry’s popularity and recognition. However, increasing competition from emerging gold jewelry markets including India and China has recently forced Italy from its number one position as the world's largest manufacturer and exporter of mass-produced and crafted gold jewelry. Italian manufacturers have had to respond positively to this development as their reliance on ‘standard’ jewelry pieces such as bracelets, anklets and brooches has not been sufficient to keep pace with an ever-changing marketplace.
Celebrated Italian jewelry brands including Bulgari, Damiani and Roberto Coin have sought to move on trends by introducing innovative designs and looks to inspire and engage a new audience. For instance, the trend for rings to be bigger, bolder and more daring has been driven by Italian goldsmiths; as has the contemporary and popular Y-shaped necklace. These fashionably new Italian jewelry designs can be purchased globally through various online retailers, like those listed here. Jewelry houses have also looked to design larger pieces with less weight of gold – a technique that has opened up opportunities at the budget end of the market and which has proved very successful as of late.
There can be little doubt that Italians are enormously proud (and hugely protective) of their gold jewelry heritage and trade. Their art is showcased across the country regularly and Veneto’s capital plays host to VicenzaORO, the premier International exhibition of gold, jewelry and gemstones: 700,000 square feet of fusion between Italian fashion and jewelry.
Proof indeed that Italy’s gold jewelry tradition has a few more millennia left in it yet.
***This is a guest post***