Italian Jewelers Focus on a Summer of Gold

Generations of jewelry fans have relied on the Veneto region in northeastern Italy as a source of high-quality gold chains, link bracelets, hoop earrings and other classic pieces — especially if they’re interested in unbranded “made-in-Italy” baubles at stores like Macy’s or Kay Jewelers, even Costco.

The region’s heart is Vicenza, one of the most famous jewelry centers in the world: According to the Italy-America Chamber of Commerce, half of all the gold imported into Italy is used in the manufacturing of jewelry in the city, which is home to more than 800 jewelry companies, 150 of which can trace the start of their operations to the Middle Ages.

What have those companies been seeing this summer? Many say chains continue to be their most popular item and, despite worldwide concerns about the rising cost of almost everything, demand is increasing for bolder, heavier styles echoing trends from the 1980s and 1990s.

“The 1980s and 1990s had big looks — glamorous, strong and seductive styles,” said Sara Basso, chief executive of the jewelry company Tre Esse on a telephone call from its factory in Bassano del Grappa, a 40-minute drive from Vicenza. “Right now, the shapes are quite like the past — door-knocker earrings, San Marco bracelets and love knot rings — but we need to adjust the design with a more contemporary touch.”

Ms. Basso’s parents founded Tre Esse — named for their three daughters, whose names all begin with the letter “S” — in 1987. “We can do the same exact designs as we did in the past,” Ms. Basso said, “but with our 3-D printing system we can control the weight of the product, as the gold content is a major part of the price.

“So instead of being all solid gold, there’s a little bit of hollowing inside to make the pieces lighter. Not too much — they don’t ‘sound’ hollow — but just enough for getting the weighty look that we need to achieve,” she added. “There are a few techniques in the finishing part as well, like if we use a diamond tip to scrape a little bit of the surface away. But this also makes the piece glitter and sparkle.” The brand’s prices range from $400 to $10,000.

In Vicenza, “creativity and innovation through technology is a key factor in its DNA,” Alberto Milani, president of the Italy-America Chamber of Commerce in New York and a co-founder of the Manhattan events space and marketing consultancy Piazza Italia, wrote in an email. “Design trends come and go, but Vicenza modernism seems to be timeless. This leads to an equal emphasis on function and form. You get more with less.”

Still, the region continues to lead the country’s jewelry sales.

Mr. Milani wrote that an internal report from the Italian Confederation of Jewelers said that “all of the major jewelry districts in Italy are experiencing a 29.7 percent increase in sales for the first quarter of 2022, compared to the same period in 2021, and Vicenza leads this trend with a 38.4 percent increase in sales.”

Vicenza area jewelers have been achieving those results with an abundance of quick-ship merchandise (think basic box chains and stacking bands) as well as bigger, bolder looks at midrange prices, thanks to 3-D printing and other technology that minimizes the amount of gold content without compromising purity or overall quality.

That balance is important, experts said, when the reigning gold chain trends are skewing chunky and bold — and the spot price of gold is currently $1,758 per ounce.

Of course, gold objects and adornments have been a cornerstone of Italian culture and industry going all the way back to the Etruscan era (700 B.C.).

“As with fashion, Italian jewelry has always been a mix of innovation, technology and craftsmanship,” Paola De Luca, chief executive of The Futurist, an Italian luxury trends consultancy based in Arezzo, Italy, wrote in an email.

“These three factors are connected, as — in order to produce medium quantities of products, a limited production or one-of-a kind jewels — technology is an integral part of the design and takes any creation to the next level,” she wrote.

For several seasons, the paperclip chain has been the queen of the retail jeweler’s case; inherently versatile, it lends itself to layering and also allows the wearer to personalize it with mix-and-match charms and medallions.

But now, many Vicenza-area jewelers — including Luigi Marostica, co-owner of Karizia — say the shift to heavier styles has revived interest in herringbone necklaces and curb links, also known as Miami or Cuban chains.

Karizia is a leading supplier of gold and silver jewelry that mainly is sold as private label collections at department stores and mass jewelry retailers in the United States. And Mr. Marostica said in a phone interview from his company’s factory in Bassano del Grappa that “men’s styles have been on fire.”

His observation aligns with trends on the runway, at red carpet events, and even dangling from necks at the beach or pool. (See Snoop Dogg’s Cuban links during the 2022 Super Bowl halftime show; Top Gun star Miles Teller in a rope chain at the 2022 Cannes Film Festival, and 2022 Wimbledon winner Nick Kyrgios’ silver dog tag and diamond tennis necklace combo).

“They want to have something different and special on the chain, and the fashion is for men to wear them in multiples,” Mr. Marostica said. “In Italy, the look is to start with a 16-inch chain, and then add a big chunky curb link and finish with a 20-inch bead chain or a diamond-cut cable chain with a pendant.”

Mr. Marostica said he was getting ready to go on vacation, but also preparing for the annual Vicenzaoro jewelry fair, scheduled for Sept. 9-13 in the city’s exhibition center. At the fair, he said Karizia will introduce new metal chain styles that incorporate color either achieved by a galvanic process, like electroplating, or are hand-finished in enamel.

“For example with a beaded chain, we will add some beads with color,” he said. “With the galvanic process, we can do the metal in colors like black, brown, blue and green. The enamel is fancier, fresh and younger, because you can achieve the bright purple, pink and yellow that appeal to the younger generation.”

Ms. Basso at Tre Esse said her brand also planned to debut a color-centric collection at Vicenzaoro, one that pairs gold wire silhouettes with a type of enamel that makes the jewel “look like the stained glass windows of an Italian cathedral,” she said.

The fair will also feature a series called Red Carpet that employs a texture that has been specially engineered to mimic the sparkle of pavé (closely set) diamonds.

Alberto Mocellin, general manager of the Vicenza-based jeweler Bizzotto Gioielli, wrote in an email that his company’s presentation at the fair will highlight its new Flow collection of elastic diamond tennis bracelets, produced in collaboration with a factory in Valenza.

It also intends to introduce a new chain called Blink, which “is nothing more than a new version of a very popular chain design from our past, improved using new production technologies that allow us to make it a lot airier and lighter,” he wrote. “At current gold prices, it would be impossible to offer this type of item made the old way at an affordable price due to its heavy weight. Plus, its lightness makes it more wearable.”

Indeed, chains still seem likely to be the link to success: “I was in the States last week and it was funny because everybody that I saw walking on the street, in the restaurants, was wearing a very simple chain,” Mr. Marostica of Karizia said. “I recognized some of mine, some of my competitors.”

“I think people see the basic chain as something like an investment. And having a big curb link chain, or another big, chunky item in gold or silver, it probably makes people feel safe,” he said. “Like during the pandemic, when everyone was stuck at home but they were all wearing their chains.”

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